Leaving a small town to pursue big opportunities can be intimidating, but it can also be rewarding. Just ask Richard Hunt, Columbia Business School (CBS) MBA class of 2014. Hunt, who hails from Franklin, Kentucky, earned the top prize in CBS’s Pershing Square Challenge — an annual, three-month-long investing competition founded by Bill Ackman, founder and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management. But winning $100K is not all he accomplished while chasing his MBA in the Big Apple. With his charming southern accent (clearly unaffected by two years of city living), Hunt humbly shares how he honed his skills as a value investor in CBS’s Value Investing Program, became co-president of Columbia’s largest student club, appeared on CNBC, and even found himself face to face with his idol of all idols—the Oracle of Omaha himself—Warren Buffett.
Here’s his story.
Two years have gone by, and I’m now reflecting on my time as an MBA student at Columbia Business School. This definitely has been a transformational experience from beginning to end. From not knowing how I’d fit in (having grown up in such a small hometown) to winning $100,000 with two of my classmates in last year’s Pershing Square Challenge, it has been a terrific ride.
I come from Franklin, Kentucky; a little town of about 8,000 people. Thanks to my older brother, my love for investing was sparked early in my childhood. I was 12, and he was 19 when he first exposed me to it. I bought my very first stock a year later. I was just 13 at the time and I lost money on it, but my interest in the world of investing never diminished.
In fact, it intensified. By junior year at the University of Kentucky, I was already sure I’d one day pursue an MBA. After reading The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, I was twice as sure. Graham’s book introduced me to value investing and gave me an area within finance that I knew I wanted to focus my energy. That area was uncovering and investing in stocks that the market undervalues. It was also around this time that I began to follow and cultivate my admiration for the great Warren Buffett.
After undergrad, I landed a job at New Constructs in Brentwood, Tennessee, as a financial analyst. Five years in I decided it was time to go get my MBA. I applied to Columbia, Vanderbilt, and Penn. Two out of three let me in (CBS and Vanderbilt), but CBS was the only real target. Being that it’s the epicenter for value investing—and where Ben Graham founded the concept—I probably wouldn’t have gone to B-school had Columbia not accepted me.
As excited as I was to be attending CBS, the prospect of living in New York City was overwhelming to say the least. I still get lost in my hometown! Even so, the thought of learning value investing at Columbia quickly overshadowed all my anxiety. I arrived at CBS in the fall of 2012 with very high hopes for the journey ahead.
This school has far exceeded my expectations and afforded me some truly rich opportunities that I’ll hold dear for the rest of my career—and life. In 2013 I entered the school’s annual Pershing Square Challenge, an investment management competition that’s open to MBAs taking a course called Applied Security Analysis. More specifically, the competition is for students who are pursuing careers as value investors. With my two classmates, Stephen Lieu and Rahul Raymoulik, we honed our value investing skills nearly nonstop for about eight weeks. Lots of 2 a.m. nights analyzing and refining our pitch, even presenting at hedge fund companies around the city to get feedback.