Wesley Gray is an educator, entrepreneur, and CEO of Alpha Architect, LLC, a research-intensive asset management firm focused on delivering sophisticated tax-efficient active exposures at affordable costs. After serving as a Captain in the United States Marine Corps, Dr. Gray earned an MBA and a Ph.D. in finance from the University of Chicago where he studied under Nobel Prize Winner Eugene Fama.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up on a cattle ranch called Adam’s Rib Ranch. The ranch was located near Eagle, CO, deep in the Rocky Mountains. This experience shaped my life and gave me a sense of adventure and a strong work ethic. My dad eventually left the ranching business to become a large-animal veterinarian. Our journey had us moving multiple times, which was a nightmare at the time – having to get new friends and leave old friends – but the experience made me more resilient and flexible.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
To buy bitcoin when it was launched. Kidding, although that would have been a good idea.
I have always tried to live my life with no regrets. And when I’ve had experiences that I wish I could have changed after the fact, I am always reminded that these ‘difficult’ experiences actually made me better. In short, I would not redo anything in my life – especially the things that sucked – because I’ve learned more from my terrible decisions.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
“The money is great. You should do it.”
Ironically, I became obsessed with investing at a young age solely because I didn’t want to be poor when I grew up. I was all about the money! But then something crazy happened – I loved the intellectual pursuit of understanding financial markets. I ended up getting my Ph.D. in finance at the University of Chicago and pursued a path as a finance professor before shifting gears and building an asset management company. I would be in the finance industry even if I weren’t getting paid.
But I got lucky. The financial industry is a hyper-competitive business with a lot of sharp-elbowed players. If you join the business for the sole purpose of ‘getting rich’, but you do not really enjoy financial markets, then it should be avoided. You will likely have a tough time climbing the ladder and you won’t be happy along the way.
Of course, I should note that I do not recommend one follow another terrible mantra:
“Follow your passion”. Following your passion, if your passion will not put food on the table, which can lead to a lot of stress in your life.
The ideal situation is to find a career that you enjoy and pays the bills. Save your most interesting passions and pursuits as your ‘hobbies’. As my dad always told me, “If you turn your hobby into a job, it eventually becomes a job, and you’ll no longer like your hobby!”
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I experienced some hairy things while I was a Marine. To include watching an Iraqi soldier getting shot in the chest about 10 feet in front of me while on patrol in Al Anbar Province. But my time in the Service wasn’t “dark,” if anything it was illuminating!
My darkest moments were during my childhood and revolved around common themes for kids from my era – playground bullies. Like others who experienced this sort of thing, we learn from them and carry on.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
The ability to grind it out for long periods of time. I think I have developed this capability because I am focused on taking care of my mental/physical health: I eat clean, sleep well, and exercising intensely.
What is your morning routine?
My primary focus is on effective sleep. So I listen to my body. I gave up on the “Jocko” wake up at 0430 everyday mantra. If that works for others, great, but I gave that up long ago. Sometimes I wake up at 530am…sometimes I wake up at 7 am. I avoid sticking to a set alarm if my body says otherwise. Getting good sleep is a key step in getting good performance (I’m not a doctor, but it works for me).
Once I’m up, I usually hit a light stretch/mobility routine with my wife. Real easy. Just get the blood flowing and shaking out the cobwebs. Next, my wife and I drink our morning cup of coffee and grab a bit to eat. Finally, I start working.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Focusing on an 8hr+ sleep routine and smart exercise recovery. As I’ve gotten older and read more about how the body and mind recover from work/stress, I’ve become more and more convinced that “less is more.” Grinding yourself into a bloody pulp via a job that requires you to work 7 days a week and hit 15hr days or an exercise routine that has you waking up sore every day isn’t a long-term viable solution. A more enduring approach, for me, is working equally hard on my actual work as I do on my recovery. Unfortunately, this is something I’ve learned later in life that would have been more useful when I was younger.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Prioritizing my tasks and saying “No” more often.
Also, as previously discussed, maintaining a strong dedication to rest/recovery, while time-consuming, makes my ‘productive time’ much more productive.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The Intelligent Investor by Ben Graham is an ultra-dry and dense investing book – not exactly the type of book that generally has a heavy influence on a person’s life. But my situation was odd. My late grandmother gave me this book when I was 12. I had stumbled across some money after I sold my steer at a 4-H auction several years back and she was the only person in my family who knew anything about investing. Prior to getting the book, I had been living on a cattle ranch for a while and my desire for more manual labor was waning. My family was also on food stamps and I was tired of being embarrassed in the lunch line (in those days you had to show them your free lunch card and the other kids would make fun of you). So, I was strongly motivated to figure out how to make money and stop being poor. This book gave me the confidence to believe this was possible. Specifically, the book inspired me to learn more about the ‘value investment’ philosophy, which resonated with me at a personal level.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
Never give up. (inspired by my time in the US Marine Corps)
Golden Rule: Treat others like you’d like to be treated (beat into my head via my grandmother)