St Pete Catalyst

Jeff Vinik’s deep dive on stocks, startups and ‘Florida man’

Drew Graham (left), managing partner, Ballast Point Ventures, interviewed Jeff Vinik at the Florida Venture Capital Conference. (Photo credit: Stuart Rudolph, ScaleUp Executives)

Jeff Vinik opened up about getting back into money management, his investment philosophy and the infamous “Florida man” during a candid interview at the Florida Venture Forum’s Venture Capital Conference.

It was the first public interview Vinik has done since announcing earlier this month he would relaunch Vinik Asset Management, a fund he ran between 1996 and 2013.

Vinik, who owns the Tampa Bay Lightning and is partnering with Cascade Investment on the $3 billion Water Street Tampa development, became a well-known name in the investment community when he managed the Fidelity Magellan Fund in the mid-1990s. Vinik — who described himself as “relentless”—  said he still spends five or six hours a day reading Wall Street reports.

“I love it so much I can’t stop doing it,” Vinik told Drew Graham, managing partner of Ballast Point Ventures, during the interview. “I don’t put many trades in, but I follow companies. Today is the busiest day of earnings season. There will be 300 companies that will report earnings today and from my analysts I’ll get Wall Street research on every one of them. I’ll spend 10 seconds on some,  two minutes on others, looking for ideas.

“I’ve been doing that for the last two years and I thought, as long as I was doing all this work I might as well get paid for it.”

The market has shifted from active money management to passive management and computerized trading strategies. Vinik said he sees opportunity in active management.

“The story that I’m telling is that active has underperformed for so long and competition has decreased, that we are now finally at the time for active to outperform passive and I’m going to be taking advantage of that. I don’t really believe that,” he said. “I actually think passive will still outperform. I think the human emotions of greed and fear are every bit as strong as they were 20 or 30 years ago. I see hedge fund managers making the same mistakes, buying high and selling low … but reading so many hours a day like I do and having people feed me information, like a point guard in basketball, and being such a generalist, I think I can make it work for me, but I’ve got to prove it.”

He described his investment philosophy for public companies as simple — buy good companies with good earnings and good management. He’s industry agnostic  but singled out Software-as-a-Service as a hot sector right now.

Vinik also has been active in private company investing, including putting money into local startups such as digital health firm Peerfit and educational technology company Knack. He’s also backing Embarc Collective, a downtown Tampa hub that will bring together entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and other funders, and academic resources in one space.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for entrepreneurs to get to the next level. Many won’t but some will,” Vinik said.

Vinik – who has called on everyone in the area to be an evangelist for Tampa Bay — said he was speaking to a group of high school students a few years ago and was surprised by how many of them said they wanted to leave Tampa after graduation.

“That was like a light bulb going on. How do we keep talent here and attract talent, which I believe we can. It’s education, it’s getting this entrepreneurial movement. It will build on itself as we go along. It’s still early, but we do have momentum.”

Florida traditionally has been better known for tourism and for “Florida man,” a Twitter handle and a euphemism for weird news that comes out of the state.

“There’s an Arkansas man. There’s a Texas man. But it’s the Florida man that’s getting published every day … We’ve got to do a better job of getting the word out,” Vinik said. “I moved from Boston and it’s fantastic here … People don’t know what they’re missing.”

He predicted growth in Florida’s business community and the venture industry would outpace tourism over the next 20 years.

He touched on a couple of other topics in response to audience questions.

Sports. “If sports were a stock, it wouldn’t be the first stock I would buy.” That’s because young people spend less time playing and watching sports than they used to, as the internet has captured more of their interest. He has an investment in an e-sports company, Team Liquid, and said he’s bullish on that investment.

Attracting entrepreneurs to the area. It’s key to build critical mass, Vinik said, so that someone moving here from out of town knows there’s a fallback to go to if their venture fails. “The type of people we attract are early adopters,” Vinik said. “Tampa Bay is not Miami, which has blossomed and exploded. I’d like to think we have that ahead of us. People who are the early adopters come in and want to be part of that movement, as do I.”