Forbes recently released its list of the world's billionaires. As you might expect, a significant number of folks on the list made their fortunes by investing, including Warren Buffett (worth $52 billion), Carl Icahn (worth $15 billion), and Jim Simons (worth $6 billion).
So here's Important Lesson No. 1: You can make a lot of money if you learn to manage your portfolio like a pro.
Easier said than done ...
Of course, that collection of billionaire investors offers no clue on the strategy that is most likely to make you a billionaire. Warren Buffett is a dyed-in-the-wool value investor. That strategy has helped him achieve annual returns greater than 20% at Berkshire Hathaway for more than 40 years, on the back of investments in boring companies such as GEICO, Washington Post
Jim Simons, though, can point to 34% annualized returns at his Medallion fund since 1982, net of what are believed to be some incredibly stiff fees -- and his is a mechanical strategy, based on computer models that are constantly refined by an army of Ph.D.s.
So while there is no best strategy, Important Lesson No. 2 is obvious: You gotta dance with the one that brung ya.
Colloquialisms aside, what's made all of these investors astoundingly successful is that they've figured out how they make money best, stuck with that strategy in good times and bad, and refined their best practices over time.
Buffett was mocked during the technology bubble, when companies that he avoided and professed not to understand as well as others, such as Intel, were zooming to the moon. But they've come back to earth, and Buffett's still doing just fine today.
Icahn has a reputation as a corporate raider; he's made a lot of money instituting changes at underperforming companies -- and now he looks to do the same at Biogen Idec
And Jim Simons doesn't try to analyze businesses the way Buffett does, because that's not where his expertise lies.
Mimic the masters
The secret to successful investing, then, is not in a particular strategy, but in finding the strategy that works for you and executing it faithfully. As lauded NYU finance professor Aswath Damodaran writes in his book, Investment Fables, "Each strategy has the potential for success if it matches your risk preferences and time horizon and if you are careful about how you use it."
That's it. That's the secret. Because if you get too cute -- chasing hot sectors, buying high and selling low, and only giving yourself six months or less to master a given investment strategy -- you're simply setting yourself up for failure.
Allow me to introduce ... myself
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This article was originally published on Sept. 30, 2006, as "Join the Billionaire Boys Club." It has been updated.
Tim Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Intel and Berkshire Hathaway are Inside Value choices. Berkshire and Biogen Idec are Stock Advisor recommendations, and Johnson & Johnson is an Income Investor pick. The Fool's disclosure policy assures you that no stocks were harmed in the writing of this article.