November 11, 2009
News & Opinion: Riches Among the Ruins
Robert Smith is likely the only author who has a picture of himself in a bullet-proof vest on his website, but it's justified. This guy has spent his life traveling the globe and finding opportunities in countries some of us might never consider. His book is called Riches Among the Ruins: Adventures in the Dark Corners of the Global Economy, and it details these travels, experiences, and the heart of the global economy and the possibilities that exist within it. Fascinating stuff. We sent Mr. Smith a few questions about the book and here are his answers: How you started your business is an interesting story. How did it start? I was a collections lawyer, as I say in my book; I took a chance on an assignment to collect on a debt in Turkey. One thing led to another, and soon I was trying to figure out how to turn Turkish bonds into greenbacks. It was serendipity, really, but I always say that luck is when opportunity meets preparation. Once I got started with the debt trading business in Turkey, I couldn't stop. How did the business change? When I began, the trade in emerging market debt was a niche, an unknown corner of finance where I profited from a lack of information, transparency or liquidity. Now it's a modern, electronic, $5 billion a day business and all the information is instantly available. What were the drivers in that change? Technology is the biggest factor here; being able to see the supply, demand, and prices of all these bonds instantly completely changes the game. I certainly wouldn't be able to sell bonds from one floor of Lloyds Guatemala to another any more! What are you doing now that is different from twenty years ago? These days, I spend most of my time managing the funds of sophisticated institutional investors and writing. Where did this book come from? I wanted to share some of the great adventures and experiences I had traveling around the world. I also wanted to try to explain this area of international finance in a clear way, and to give young people the inspiration to find what they love and make a living doing it. Most of us aren't going to jump on a plane and begin our own version of what Mr. Smith turned into a lifestyle, but it's great to read a book like this and live vicariously through some of these incredible stories.