Cramer Protégé Finds Niche Mixing Money Management & Media

Sep 22 2006 | 12:28pm ET

By Kate Mcgregor 

Hedge fund manager Cody Willard is a bit of an anomaly within the traditionally tight-lipped world of alternative investments—he pens TheCodyBlog.com daily, is a frequent contributor to the Financial Times, TheStreet.com and RealMoney.com, and occasionally appears on the talk show circuit as a guest on NBC’s “Kudlow & Company.”

Fortunately, the dozen or so high net-worth investors in Willard’s eponymous hedge fund, CL Williard Capital Partners, don’t mind all the attention he garners.

“Most of them get a kick out of it,” Willard said during a recent interview. “They’ll say ‘Hey, it’s Cody on Kudlow & Co.’”

Willard is best known for his stock picks, his casual commentary and his Jim Cramer-esque persona: that of stock picker and market commentator. On Sept. 15, he launched Cody’s Digital Revolution Newsletter with the headline story focusing on the top five stocks he expects to be cash cows in the “digital revolution.” Again, he says, his investors don’t mind because at the end of the day, even if someone knows what he’s buying, they don’t know how he’s buying it.

The 34-year-old self-promoter, who also has a rock band, The Cody Show, says the strategy of his hedge fund since its inception four years ago through May had been tech-centric. Then, on May 10, he sold everything and loaded up on cash and Microsoft. But after a summer spent regrouping that ended with a fishing trip to New Mexico, his home state, Willard began “putting the cash back to work.”

He continues to invest in Microsoft, “by far the fund’s biggest position,” and added Apple, Cisco and News Corp., which, following its acquisition of MySpace, Willard believes has the potential to become the next Google.
Willard describes his investment style and approach as a “break from the herd,” in that he refuses to take institutional money because he doesn’t want to be locked in to a certain investment strategy.

“I have to keep flexible,” he says. “Investors invest in me, not a strategy. I don’t tailor my product to meet the system.”

To that end, investors in the fund are limited to a couple dozen high net-worth individuals wiling to gamble on Willard. The fund’s assets hover in the tens of millions, though Willard declined to disclose specifics about performance fees, minimum investment requirements or lock-up periods.

“I’ve put myself in a place where I don’t need to label myself,” he says, adding that he has no firm amount of assets under management he’s striving to achieve. “I just need to keep fighting.”

So how does a laid-back Westerner end up running a hedge fund and becoming one of the most prolific bloggers in the financial community, a position that has earned him minor celebrity status? To hear Willard tell it, it’s simple: Buy a one-way ticket to New York and never look back.

Willard settled in Harlem in 1996 after graduating with a degree in economics from the University of New Mexico. He took a job at Starbucks, and when he read Confessions of a Stockbroker by Andrew Lanyi, he was motivated to ditch the coffee gig. Within three months, Willard had a job with the former head of Lanyi Group at CIBC Oppenheimer.

Five years later, after that relationship had run its course and Willard was working for a telecommunications company, he read a postscript on the end of one of Jim Cramer’s articles on TheStreet.com seeking good writers.
 
Willard responded and Cramer has become “sort of a mentor” to him. When Willard, after Sept. 11, 2001, began considering launching his own fund, Cramer encouraged him to do it.
 
“He graciously invited me into his office and told me to get out the product,” Willard says.

Four years later Willard describes the fund as “successful enough to make a living,” though he confesses that he’s never going to be one of those billionaire hedge fund managers that the public loves to hate.

“There’s no need to sellout,” he says. “I don’t want to be part of a mindless system.”


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