Smashing Atoms and the Market

Some people zig when others zag. John is a zagger.

He's an accelerator physicist, which is exactly what it sounds like: He figures out how to build and operate particle accelerators. Wait, it's actually really cool: John smashes atoms at the Cyclotron Facility outside Chicago. And he gets paid for it!

While most of his colleagues concentrate on making minor adjustments to the particle accelerator, you'll find John wading through piles of discarded ideas scribbled on notepads -- or tackling a problem completely from scratch. For John, it's a creative endeavor that can lead to utter failure or spectacular results.

"Sometimes you come up with nothing after a couple months' worth of work," says John. "Sometimes you come up with ways of applying accelerator techniques to another area. It's like a new way of running electron microscopes. And sometimes, on rare occasions, you realize that something you're working on can make a real difference in the world ... like a way to make a better cancer-therapy machine. And that's not cool, that's awesome."

That rebellious and Rule Breaking streak -- the drive to tap dry wells, even if they may be barren -- comes naturally to John. It also permeates the rest of his life -- particularly how he invests his money.

Master of the not-so-obvious
John's portfolio is a reflection of his rule-breaking ways. Classic blue-chip values, such as Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) , which he bought when the stock tanked, live side-by-side with smaller stocks that are on the bleeding edge, such as nanotech investor Harris & Harris (Nasdaq: TINY  ) .

Why nanotech? It's part of John's philosophy to bet on firms that have a unique way of going about their business or a product that sets them apart. He says he prefers companies that "promise to really change the way the world -- or at least the part of it they're concerned with -- works." That same line of reasoning led him to invest in cancer-fighting biotech Exelixis (Nasdaq: EXEL  ) .

But before you go categorizing John as a stock-picking daredevil, realize, too, that he's a fan of income investing. "I also tend to like stocks that pay dividends," he says. "And all other things being equal, I will generally pick a dividend-payer who's growing a little slower, over a non-payer growing a little faster."

Leave the flowers and candy at the door
Just as sure, John doesn't see Rule Breakers as a pure portfolio builder: "On average, I don't go for one stock per month. That's for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I don't get how they can make money long-term, other times I don't believe the trends that will sustain them will last, or sometimes I don't like the business they're in. And sometimes I just plain admit a pick is completely outside my sphere of competence. That includes anything having to do with fashion or popular trends, which is I why I don't invest in The Knot (Nasdaq: KNOT  ) ."

Instead, John says he subscribed to Rule Breakers because he agreed with the investment philosophy -- "Plain and simple," he says.

A real, live rebel
Breaking the rules, it seems, is more of a lifestyle than an investing strategy. Perhaps John says it best: "I don't have to [be rebellious] in order to do my job. Fortunately, I like and want to do this. Even more fortunately, my bosses generally encourage me to do this. Best of all, they pay me! So, how was your year?"

Just fine, John; thanks for asking. Of course, this next year may be even better with a Rule Breaker like you around. Keep at it, Fool.

Note: You can join John and several more like-minded growth-stock investors by becoming a part of the growingMotley Fool Rule Breakersfamily. If you're not sure about subscribing, you can do what John did and start with a free 30-day all-access pass to see if it's right for you.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers only breaks the rules in his portfolio. Wimp. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what is in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile. Harris & Harris, Exelixis, and The Knot are all Rule Breakers recommendations. Pfizer is an Inside Value recommendation. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.


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