Despite recent setbacks, Amerindo’s Alberto Vilar says the world is on the verge of another technology revolution.
By Derek Reveron
HISPANIC BUSINESS® magazine
Alberto Vilar, founder and president of Amerindo Investment Advisors, is a study in contrasts. He was a self-described shy nerd as a youth. Now he loves to talk. His professional passion is technology investing. But his personal obsession is opera. He admires world-class musicians as much as star portfolio managers, and he is one of the most generous opera philanthropists in modern history. Given the anemic stock market, you might expect Mr. Vilar, 61, to pore over financial research every night. But he attends more than 130 operas a year worldwide. In one week, he might jet between London, Austria, New York, and Russia. He splits his time between his 30-room apartment in Manhattan and residences in London, Colorado, San Francisco, and Puerto Rico. Yet Mr. Vilar finds time to be one of the world’s top technology portfolio managers. He’ll do it forever, he says. “In this work, you can die with your boots on – pick stocks until your mind is no longer intact. Whereas if you run a corporation, they want you to leave at 65.” Along with Amerindo executive vice-president Gary Tanaka, Mr. Vilar was among the first money managers to tout the potential of Internet companies to institutional investors in the early 1980s. Today, Mr. Tanaka oversees day-to-day portfolio management. Mr. Vilar also picks stocks, but specializes mostly in deal-making and client relations. Each owns about half of the company. Like other portfolio managers, Mr. Vilar has watched his investments plummet in value along with the stock market. Amerindo manages a total of about $1.5 billion, down from $8.5 billion in March 2001. Institutional investors account for more than 90 percent of the total. The rest comes from mutual funds, which have taken a beating in recent years. The Amerindo Technology Fund’s annual return fell from 250.6 percent at the end of 1999 to minus 50.7 percent at the end of 2001. Through it all, Mr. Vilar has remained an unrepentant technology bull. While he has trimmed Internet holdings, his investment strategy remains basically unchanged: Invest in emerging hightechnology and health-care companies as well as businesses that stand to benefit from technology. He clings to the notion, discredited by many, that traditional stock valuation methods such as price-earnings multiples don’t apply to technology businesses. “I could easily say the hell with technology and invest in media companies or electric utilities. But we haven’t changed our stripes,” he says. In fact, he predicts that the world is on the verge of another technological revolution that will last through the decade. “We went too far up in exuberance and came down too far. Companies in the internetworking, broadband fiber-optic, B2B and chip spaces will stabilize over the short run and then rise. There will be an explosion over the next few years,” he says. Mr. Vilar grew up in Cuba, although he was born in New Jersey in 1940 during one of his parents’ short trips to the United States. His father helped run a sugar company and his mother was a socialite. Young Alberto grew up with two older sisters but spent lots of time with his grandmother, who lived with the family. “She was the one who really raised me,” he says. And she introduced him to European classical music when he was 7 years old.
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