Max Salk is an investment analyst living and working in New York City. He graduated with a degree in finance and a minor in history from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2011. After graduating, Max joined Morningstar in Chicago before leaving to join PPM America, where he spent 3 years as an investment analyst. Following his time at PPM America, Max left to move to New York to work for Blackstone in June 2015.
Max’s interest in the financial markets began later in college, and eventually, he was researching and trading stocks in his free time. His interest in and understanding of the markets greatly expanded during his time at PPM America, where he first had the opportunity to closely follow companies and research and recommend investment opportunities for a living.
Max volunteers with and supports the Navy SEAL Foundation, which is a not-for-profit organization that raises money to support active-duty and Gold Star SEAL families. The mission of the organization is to provide financial and other support resources for the families of Navy SEALs.
In his free time, Max likes to travel, exercise, listen to music, golf, bowl, follow the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago Bears, and spend quality time with friends and family. Some of his most memorable travel moments come from his time with friends on road trips across the western United States, including drives to the Grand Canyon, southern Utah, and Yellowstone National Park.
How did you get started in this industry?
I first became interested in investment management later in my college years. In my free time outside of class, I would spend time reading and keeping up with financial news, and researching and trading stocks with money I had saved from summer jobs.
After college, I began my career with Morningstar in a role that was closely tied to investment management, but wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do longer-term. In order to better position myself for the investment management role I ultimately wanted, I began studying for the CFA exam and took financial modeling courses in my spare time outside of work. I also networked and used recruiters until I came across the right opportunity.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Yes. I think it is entirely natural and common for people to doubt themselves periodically. The important thing is how you manage and overcome that doubt. If you are able to leverage any periodic doubt you have into motivation to work even harder and to better yourself, that can be a very powerful tool for success.
How did you get your first job out of college?
My first job out of school was with a company called Morningstar. I actually job shadowed at Morningstar during my freshman year of college, which was a very positive experience. Throughout college, I stayed in touch with the people I met during that job shadow, and later was able to land an interview with the company early on during my senior year in college.
What is one strategy that you use to help you succeed in the workplace?
I think being reliable and trustworthy are invaluable characteristics in the workplace. If you work hard, pay close attention to detail, and deliver a quality work product consistently over time, others will come to rely on you and trust your opinion. I think this can go a long way in being successful in any work environment.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
With the spread of COVID-19 in the US and globally, there have been several challenging investment-related decisions that I have had to make with my team over the past month or so. I won’t go into any specifics, but it is certainly a unique and challenging time in the world to navigate both personally and professionally.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I’ve always placed significant value on hard work, honesty, and integrity. I think the characteristics of reliability and trustworthiness, along with integrity, a strong work ethic, and being a good communicator can go a long way. It can be difficult to work with people who aren’t reliable, as I’m sure many people know. I also work hard at and hope to be seen as someone my colleagues, bosses, and subordinates can rely on.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
I can’t point to a specific moment, but I get satisfaction out of doing a lot of work/research on a specific project or assignment, arriving at a conclusion/recommendation, communicating/presenting that information and recommendation to others, and then acting on that work/recommendation. At the end of the day, success in my industry is rooted in protecting clients’ investments and trying to earn an appropriate return for them. I derive a great deal of satisfaction helping clients meet their goals through the research and work our team does on a daily basis.
What does the future hold for your career and industry? What are you most excited about?
What I like most about the industry I am in is how dynamic it can be and how much there is to learn. Rarely is any day the same as the prior day, and there are always new and unexpected challenges. I’d say I am most excited about continuing to learn and expand my horizons.
What business books have inspired you?
Ben Bernanke’s “The Courage to Act” was incredibly informative and inspiring. Mr. Bernanke’s bold leadership throughout the 2008-2009 Global Financial Crisis had a profound impact globally in stemming the credit crisis the world was facing, and preventing it from worsening further and avoiding an even deeper recession. In dire times/situations, it is critically important that we have leaders in place who are prepared to make bold, aggressive decisions that may not be 100% popular at the time.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Life is full of a variety of different opportunities, and there is no one path to success or satisfaction, however you want to define it. Find something that you love doing, and pursue it relentlessly. If it doesn’t work out, try something else. Time is on your side.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
Definitely. I really enjoy mentoring and helping others professionally. The advice I would give and have given in the past of course usually depends on the individual’s situation. Generally speaking, however, I’d say that being consistently reliable, paying close attention to detail, and going the extra mile in your work always pays off and is typically visible/noticeable to others.