In Episode 125, we welcome famed short-seller and early stage investor, Tom Barton.
We start by going way back, after Tom graduated from Vanderbilt. He walks us through his early career experiences which helped him sharpen his business analysis skills, as well as his operational skills. He developed a great understanding of different industries, yet also what it was like to actually work in them. This was the foundation for the short-selling career that was soon to begin.
In 1983 Tom went to work for a wealthy Dallas family, and in the process met one of the original fraud short-sellers, nicknamed “The Mortician”. Tom knew nothing about stocks at that point, but under the guidance of his new mentor, realized that his analytical skills aligned perfectly with sniffing out short-selling candidates. He reasoned “isn’t it easier to spot something that’s going to fail than be certain on something that’s going to succeed?” He then began digging into the research, and finding slews of fraudulent companies.
What follows is an incredibly entertaining story-after-story of the various frauds Tom sniffed out (and made money on). There was a company claiming it could change the molecular composition of water… one deceiving customers about building-restoration after fires… a biotech claiming it could cure HIV… By the time 1990 rolled around, Tom’s returns were over 80% and he had generated a couple billion dollars.
There’s a great bit in here about “The Wolf of Wall Street” (Stratton Oakmont). Tom is the guy who took them down. Related, the “Wolf” himself snaked an apartment out from underneath Meb a few years ago out here in Manhattan Beach, CA. The guys share a laugh over this.
Eventually the conversation morphs from short-selling to when Tom’s strategy changed to going long. It involves managing money for George Soros, and some of Tom’s early long winners.
This dovetails into how Tom got into biotech, which is where he’s spending lots of time today. Tom tells us about his introduction into gene therapy, then successes with the company Intrexon. He talks us through some small companies he’s been a part of that have already sold for huge paydays…for instance, one purchased by Novartis for $9B.
This is a must-listen for any short-sellers, market historians, private investors, and biotech investors. And Tom’s most memorable trade is a doozy. This one involves buying puts for a hundred and something thousand dollars…which he sold for $13M.
These details and far more in Episode 125.