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Investing is similar to pharma research. Both deal with fresh data every day.”
George Dai’s mission growing up in China was to do something meaningful for society, and he was certain a career path as a scientist was the right choice. Having earned a degree from the top-flight University of Science and Technology of China, he was awarded a scholarship in the United States to pursue a doctorate in organic chemistry at Johns Hopkins University. He was well on his way to a successful life as a research scientist, and already had four patents by the time a friend gave him a copy of “One Up on Wall Street,” a book about investing by legendary Fidelity Portfolio Manager Peter Lynch. “The book opened my eyes,” George said. No longer a scientist in the traditional sense, today George is co-chief investment officer and portfolio manager at Weatherbie Capital, a subsidiary of Alger. On the surface, George’s two careers look radically different, but he will tell you there are important parallels between the two.
What got you interested in coming to America?
I had professors in college who had been to the United States and came back with fresh information, uncensored by the government. One talked about the access he had to great scientific instruments. To get your hands on things like that in China, you had to schedule it months in advance. The other professor told us he had been to a supermarket where there was one whole aisle with nothing but bread. I heard that and said, “Wow. There is a country like that? It’s unbelievable.”
When you first came to the United States, did you think you would stay here?
Yes. Before I came to the U.S., I read as much as I could about America and the “American dream.” I was fascinated and inspired by the immigrant story; this country is made up of immigrants and I wanted to be a part of that.
When you read Peter Lynch’s book, did you know anything about investing?
I knew nothing about stocks or bonds. I had my money in a savings account that paid about five percent interest. I didn’t know there was a mutual fund industry. From there I started spending my nights and weekends reading up on investing. I would go to the library to read Value Line and The Wall Street Journal. That was the seed and it really blossomed from there.
What was the appeal of investing?
First of all, it was a brand new world to me and I liked that. Second, it had similarities to what I was doing in pharmaceutical research. In both fields you are dealing with fresh information and ever-changing environments every day. You need to have a big picture view of what is going on in the landscape. At the same time, you need to put in a lot of detailed work involving day-to-day blocking and tackling. In both fields you solve problems and deliver great value. In one you help people stay healthy; in the other you help people put their kids through college and retire comfortably. Someone once asked me if I stopped working in money management, what else would I do? I said I would run a biotech company and develop new drugs for society.
I know you use your science background to analyze health care stocks. Is it useful in other ways?
It is. When you do science research you learn to deal with failure. There are days and nights when you are pulling your hair out because no matter what you do, you cannot make it work. You check, double check and triple check your hypothesis. You develop a rigor, a perseverance, and a focus on detail that is helpful in investing. Science also taught me to respect the facts more than people’s opinions, including mine. That helps me distinguish real growth companies from potentially fake ones that might have a good story.
And you still pay close attention to science, right?
Periodically I go to the library to read Science and Nature, two cutting edge journals. They put me into an intimate dialogue with some of the brightest minds in the world. They exercise my mind the way going to the gym exercises my body.
Is it true you were a serious bridge player in college?
Yes. I was on the Johns Hopkins team that won a silver medal in a collegiate championship. Bridge has some similarities to money management: In both you need to be agile to adjust to new information, and in both you win, not with one big bet, but by delivering consistent results over time.
Do you still play?
I don’t play as much bridge because it can be taxing on the brain. Investing is a brain job. Instead I focus on physical activity. I do yoga once a week and golf when I have time. I’ve found that an hour of yoga gives me the quiet time for myself that I need to keep my body and mind in check. Golf does the same. When I spend five hours playing 18 holes, it also opens my mind. It’s my time to clean out the gutters of my day-to-day worries.
Are you also involved in raising money for education?
Yes. My wife and I are involved with Harvard University in Boston. She organizes fund-raising events and I participate whenever I can. I speak with new students and families about how to adapt to the new environment. I came to this country penniless. In fact, I borrowed money to buy my plane ticket, so I was actually in the red. I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship. I like to think that when I contribute now, I am paying it forward for the next generation. As an immigrant I hope that I can support more scholars who hope to come to the United States to study.
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The following positions represented percentages of assets under management as of 6/30/20 Fidelity Investments, Inc., 0%.