Investing like Bill Gates

Bill Gates’ fortune has ballooned to $82 billion according to the Wall Street Journal. It puts him at the top of the Forbes 500 list of the world’s richest people. And it’s not due to the price of Microsoft stock.

Over the years, Bill Gates has done what any savvy investor does, he’s diversified. He has sold about $40 billion of his Microsoft shares and has given $30 billion to charity. So what’s he done to get even richer? He has hired a money manager. The man’s name is Michael Larson and Gates has given him his “complete trust and faith.”

Gates gave a party in Larson’s honor, toasting him by saying that “Melinda [Gates wife] and I are free to pursue our vision of a healthier and better-educated world because of what Michael has done.”

The way Bill Gates has managed his fortune is a lesson for every investor. There are three distinct things that are worth noting.

1. Diversification. The first rule of risk control – making sure you don’t lose your money –  is diversification. This issue has been beaten to death, yet we still see people with portfolios which are concentrated in one or two stocks. This is often the case of an employee who has bought his company’s stock over many years. Small business owners are even guiltier. Often their single biggest asset is their business. It’s even more important for the owner of a chain of dry cleaners, fast food outlets or a real estate developer to build an investment portfolio that will be there if their business declines. Only about 15% of Gates’ fortune is invested in Microsoft stock. If Microsoft were to close up shop tomorrow, Gates lifestyle would not be affected. He would still be immensely wealthy. Many business owners can’t say the same thing.

2. Hire an investment professional to manage your money. Gates knows computers and computer software. He’s smart, savvy and knows that he lacks investment expertise. Gates hired Larson in 1994, realizing that if he was going to diversify he had to hire someone who was an expert investor to manage his money. The Gates fortune grew from $5 billion when he hired Larson to $82 billion today. Larson has autonomy to buy and sell investments as he sees fit. His portfolio includes stocks, bonds and real estate. He has a staff of about 100 people to help him do the hard work of managing the Gates fortune.

3. Focus on what you enjoy and do best. Because they have someone they can trust managing their money, Gates and his wife can pursue their vision. Most people’s interests revolve around their family, their work or hobbies. Managing the family investments is a distraction from what people want to do. Besides, few people are investment professionals. That’s why Gates example is worth following. Unless you have Gates’ wealth you can’t afford your own dedicated, private, investment manager. But there are investment managers – like Larson – who manage the assets of multiple families.  They can take care of your investments while you focus on the things that are important to you.

Gates gets an update on his investments every two months. Not every investment has been successful, but they are good enough to have returned Gates to the top of the wealth list.

If you are still managing your own money, or have an account with a broker who calls you with investment ideas from time to time, isn’t it time to think about the way the richest man in the world handles his money? Call Korving & Company and let us show you what we can do for you.

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