In a series of interviews conducted by Hedge Funds Club boss Stefan Nilsson, we are aiming to get under the skin of interesting people related to the hedge fund industry. The interviews focus on the people and the good life. Here’s our chat with Jeb Altonaga, COO of Sandon Capital in Sydney.
From where and how do you get your daily general news updates?
I wake up very early and immediately scan the WSJ, NYT and Business Insider email subscriptions. Then read the news – WSJ and NYT – online and Business Insider and Institutional Investor for articles that catch my attention outside of the email summaries. There are also some great podcasts that I listen on my commute: The Sherman Show, Capital Allocators and Odd Lots to name a few. They’re not daily so it makes it very easy to get through them all each week. On the weekend, I read the weekend editions of the WSJ, NYT and The Australian.
What do you do to unwind on a weekend?
I actually find yard work to be very therapeutic. After grabbing a coffee, I’ll mow the land, trim hedges, rake leaves, clear the pathways with a blower, etc. Once finished it feels like a big accomplishment. That usually takes me a couple of hours until about 10.30 am so the rest of the weekend is occupied by my kids.
Can you name a great book you have recently read?
Two actually, “Rebel Talent” and “What It Takes” by Steve Schwartzman. “Rebel Talent” I really enjoyed. I’m one of those hard to manage people. Always looking for unconventional ways to accomplish something, not following the rules, etc. It was refreshing knowing I am not alone. “What It Takes” is inspirational. What Schwartzman accomplished in building Blackstone to the success it is today is extraordinary. It gives you hope for something you work hard to build, that with some luck and blood sweat and tears it’ll be a success.
Your soundtrack of choice?
Wow, this is probably the most difficult to answer actually. I listen to everything. My Spotify favourites include Frank Sinatra to Ed Sheeran, Linkin Park to Michael Bublé. But my all-time favourite song is “Master of Puppets” by Metallica. If I need energy, that song never fails to get me going. Just not while driving.
What drink do you start the day with and what drink finishes it?
I pound a 20-ounce ice-cold water first thing then make a strong English breakfast tea with milk. Some nights – but not every – a whiskey or Scotch neat.
What’s the worst money mistake you’ve made?
Wow! I’ve made many over my life. However, thinking back it would have to be spending frivolously on material things to display my perceived successes. You constantly need something new to feel accomplished. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy nice things. However, I’ve matured in my thoughts on what is truly important in life. Experiences over possessions is a liberation that allows you to truly go after what will give you enduring happiness. Now that material pleasure comes from taking my kids travelling to new places. Allowing them to discover the world at their age gives them such a great advantage, one I never had.
Have you ever had a great mentor and what did you learn?
I’ve had a few and always believe having a mentor at any stage of your career is important for continued growth. However, my most influential was Al Miralles. He always encouraged me to keep expanding the team’s and my own abilities to meet the ever-changing needs of the company. Even beyond my remit. It was on one hand extremely entrepreneurial and on the other made you extremely valuable. Continuing to solve problems witnessed provided for a unique perspective to grow your discipline and showed you as a reliable member of the team. This carried me well into Citadel which rewarded me with new responsibilities and career growth. It is also inspirational as I’ve been able to watch Al grow in his already successful career and responsibilities.
What gives you energy?
CrossFit, HIIT and MMA classes. I’m getting older and need to keep fit for our career demands and my two young children. I have a daughter who is seven and my son is three. They require you to be physically and mentally fit to keep up with their energy. Plus, as my daughter grows, she’ll eventually want to date. The MMA sparring will come in handy later.
How do you stay grounded and focused as a person in these turbulent and fast-changing times?
By always maintaining my tasks as a father. I take responsibility for the kids’ evening routine. It’s a chance for me to connect after a long day and before I get into the US market opening news. That gives me a 2 ½ hour window where we eat dinner, then bath, change into PJs and get ready to wind down. While I read to unwind, they watch some shows or read. My kids were born in Hong Kong and the night owl lifestyle has remained. Then off to bed around 10:30 pm.
Can you name a terrific restaurant that you love?
Two actually. Gin Sushi in Pasadena, California is my go-to place every time I am home in the States. I usually fly in and out via LA and will stop there as many times as possible. My second favourite is Bravo Trattoria in Sydney, Australia. It is run by an Italian migrant family and is absolutely the best family restaurant in the lower north shore. Plus their gelato is second to none globally. I’ve been going there since my first visit to Sydney in 2007.
What’s your favourite museum in the world?
It has to be the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. It isn’t on the usual list like The Louvre, The Met, The Getty, MOMA or Smithsonian which are full of tourists. This has a single person’s best collection which makes it unique for me. The display ranges from Egyptian art to Renaissance paintings to Chinese porcelains. The library has historical manuscripts, early printed books and old master drawings and prints. So just different for me.
Are you active on social media and what do you actually use it for?
Yes, unfortunately! A bit addicted maybe. Personally, I use Instagram, I like the interaction and focus on what I want to see. For business, LinkedIn. In our business, in my opinion, we need to have an online personality that complements any conference panels, white papers, etc. and makes you a perceived influencer in your discipline.
Do you have any secret guilty pleasure that you are prepared to reveal here?
Going fast… Cars, motorcycles, anything street legal. My driving record across California, Illinois, Hong Kong and Sydney reflects it.
What kind of battle dress do you normally put on for work?
I actually like to wear a suit. It gives me mental preparedness to get my work started. I also like to dress sharp. I feel too many people get too comfortable being sloppy. But a suit, never a tie, just makes me confident to conquer my day ahead.
Do you celebrate your wins? If so, how?
Big wins with a treasured timepiece. I have amassed a pretty good watch collection which started when I moved to Hong Kong. I do sell some to make room for others which given the bubble in the market has made it easier to trade one when an ad has a model I like for retail prices.
What makes you happy?
Watching my kids age. Seeing the little individual people they’re becoming. Witnessing their quirks, unique traits and observing them discover something new daily. I couldn’t imagine not being around to watch them grow up. However, I also love what I do for a career. I have an extremely competitive spirit. Transitioning to the buy-side 12 years ago has fuelled that nature. I am never disengaged from my passion for capital raising and markets. I guess that is the yin and yang of my happiness or what I’ve adopted as work-life synergies.