To me, one of the most rewarding aspects of the stock market is finding value where others don’t see it. Does this make me a contrarian investor? I don’t think so, I would rather be labeled a value investor – a disciple of the great Warren Buffet and his mentor Ben Graham. To be a good investor, however, requires a big cross-section of skills – merely having strong financial acumen is not sufficient to be successful. To be truly great, you must possess the ability to not just analyze company financials, but also, to understand the dynamics of various industries, evaluate the ever-changing competitive landscape of sectors related to companies you are evaluating, implications of government and other regulatory actions and finally the psychology of the market. My friends and I started investing in the mid ’90s when we were Freshmen at U.C. Berkeley. The same way that Bill Gates and Paul Allen were hooked on computer programming in their high school and college years, we were addicted to Maria Bartiromo and CNBC in search of the next trade. At 20, 21 years of age, we felt like masters of the universe – each of us had turned less than $10k apiece into over $100k each and one us was approaching a million dollars two years after starting with just $25k. While our intrepid personalities and our lack of historical perspective emboldened us to take such risky bets, our hubris and lack of experience led to the eventual decimation of our portfolios by 2001. Nevertheless, our college trading days were not in vain. Not only did we enjoy exuberant indulgences few college students could dream of, we learned an invaluable lesson using real money that we really didn’t need at the time. This lesson was the reason I had converted 80% of my assets to cash and gold over a year before the markets crashed in 2009. If Malcolm Gladwell had written his book “Outliers” back in the late ’90s, we would have known that to be truly great at anything requires at least 10,000 hours of practice. When we thought we were the masters, we had maybe logged 1,000 hours at most. The good news is that we all graduated and moved on to our respective careers on Wall Street in 2000/2001 and not only got those 10,000 hours of practice, but tens of thousands more. Over the past decade, I’ve advised companies ranging from Microsoft, Electronic Arts and Verizon to private equity firms such as TPG, Cerberus and Apollo to hedge fund behemoths Avenue Capital, Harbinger and D.E. Shaw. Throughout those years, the bulk of what I did was search for drivers of growth and value through strategic investments, M&A or restructuring. One of the greatest aspects of working on Wall Street was being immersed in a sub-society of individuals who live, eat, drink and breathe finance, deals and investments. You get a unique point of view from being privy to behind the scenes discussion and negotiations that not only provide fodder for tomorrows front page article, but may even dictate the direction of the markets.While journalists and Wall Street research analysts are typically pretty good at getting facts right, their opinions are often short-sighted and sensationalist, resulting in over-reactions or worse-yet, bandwagon jumping. In either case, this is what creates discrepancies in value and provides opportunities for good long-term value investors. This is why Buffet invested in Goldman Sachs, Tiffany and others in late 2009 and this is how the P.E. funds and hedge funds I worked with looked at investment decisions. While this experience has honed my ability to analyze the fundamental value of companies, I’m still a student of William O’Neill’s in understanding the psychology of the market. While the fundamental analysis allows you to discover the hidden long-term values, mastering the technical side of trading will allow you to make better decisions regarding when to buy and sell those stocks. After all, the decision to buy or sell one month earlier or later can translate into massive gains or losses, even if you’ve found the perfect investment. Now that I’ve left Wall Street, I can dedicate more time than ever in my search for value. And, for the first time I can share my findings as well.