Brian Portnoy, PhD, CFA, is an expert at simplifying the complex world of money. In his two books, The Geometry of Wealth and The Investor's Paradox, he tackles the challenge of not only making better investment decisions but also how money figures into a joyful life. He is currently the Director of Investment Education at Virtus Investment Partners and has spent the last 25 years as educator, investor, and strategist. He holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago and currently lives on the north side of Chicago with his wife and three children.
What do I do best?
Professionally, what I work on the hardest is simplifying complex topics related to money and finance. I’m passionate about it not just because I find it inherently interesting, but because it’s an area of great confusion and stress to many people. Me being good at my job can directly translate into a higher quality of life for others, which is a fantastic win/win scenario. I’ve worked deliberately on this craft for years and I think I’m better than I used to be. But there’s still so much remaining to be done.
What makes me the best version of myself?
The combination that has worked for me is curiosity and hustle. The intense desire to figure things out and the choice to spend energy to pursue what I care about give me focus and a sense of meaning. I can find stillness and joy in this flow. I’m a huge believer in, maybe advocate for, the adaptive self – figuring out who you are and who you want to be, often in circumstances beyond your control. Curiosity and hustle give me what I need to adapt.
What are my aspirations?
I want to keep pushing in the same path I’m on now. I want to simplify the complex, I want to discover and refine better ways to communicate with others, and I want to find ways to express generosity and gratitude. I’m quite lucky in a number of ways, so at this stage in life I think it’d be unethical to not spend considerable time and resources on others.
My Biggest Success?
Finding and then cultivating the relationship with my wife. She’s a wonderful person whom I love deeply. She gives me the opportunity to be a better version of myself, one with which I have had mixed success. We have three children who are good-hearted and I believe we are putting them in a position to lead meaningful lives, so I have to consider that as part of our success.
My Most Challenging Moment?
I quit academia after earning a doctorate at a top-tier school and even finding some success on the academic job market. I took a long look in the mirror and forced myself to admit that I was not enjoying what I was doing, and perhaps more importantly who I was becoming. There was unbelievable empowerment in not only quitting that “job” but recognizing I didn’t have to live others’ scripts for me and could write my own story however I chose to. To be honest, I didn’t think of it in those terms in the moment. What I knew was that I was miserable and I wanted to try something different. In retrospect, constructively quitting something you’re not enjoying is wonderful and something I’d encourage others to try.
I’m not a motto guy, but if you ask my kids what’s the one word I want them to think about and pursue for the rest of their lives, they’d say: Hustle. If you work your rear end off at something you care about, you’ll almost undoubtedly find success. The recipe is not complicated.
My Favorite People/Role Models?
There are many people I find inspiring, ranging from my wife, Charlie Munger, the ancient Stoics, the Rooney family (they own the Pittsburgh Steelers), my sister, and a handful of true friends. There’s also my grandmother, who passed away years ago, but whom I still love and think about all the time.
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
I love to explore. I love to get lost and find my way back. We lived in London for a while and it was a place where I could do just that. I still miss it. Arizona has a special place in my heart as well, especially to hike in the high desert. However, I could buy a plane ticket right now and go anywhere, it would be to any number of spots in Asia, where I’ve spent a fair amount of time. The energy I feel when I’m in the region is unparalleled elsewhere, in my experience. And the food. Good lord.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
There are lots of little things in my life that give me moments of happiness: my Moleskine notebooks (I use the small format ones that can fit in my pocket), a pair of Keen’s sandals that I’ve had forever and could not be more comfortable, my Bose noise canceling headphones as I’m on planes all the time, Evernote for me to upload countless sources of content and all the little nuggets I no longer scribble on Post-it notes.
My Current Passions?
Same as it ever was: Reading and learning. I believe we live in a golden age of content – not just books but blogs, podcasts, and even Twitter. My study at home has stacks and stacks of books. By a wide margin, I buy more than I can read (I think I have a problem). Beyond that, I absolutely love board games and my “fun” project on the side now is to design my own. It’s kind of cool to think through how we engage each other in games and then come up with my own original take on bringing people together. I’ll admit it’s going slowly!