Today I have the pleasure of sitting down with Mark Elliott as part of the next installment of our millionaire investor series. Mark has such a fascinating story about following his dreams and having to make tough life choices, so I had to share it.
Mark is definitely a risk taker. His story starts with him in medical school at Dartmouth, where he leaves before graduating to pursue other interests. At one point, he found himself almost broke and homeless, but he managed to rebound and make it happen. You can see his current company at Elliott Asset Management.
Remember, the young millionaire series is designed to show you what's possible – and to educate and inspire. Everyone's story is a bit different, and Mark's is no exception. Hopefully you find something here that inspires you to follow your dreams no matter what your situation is.
Without further ado, here's Mark's story…
1. Tell me about yourself and what you're currently doing?
Mark: I am an investment advisor with a nontraditional background – medicine. Currently, my primary focus is on serving my clients (and maintaining what I believe to be an unmatched, audit-able, advisory track record). However, I am currently in China working inside the new free trade zone, as I believe China may be either:
- The epicenter of the next financial crisis (if their real estate bubble implodes)
- Take a new leadership role in the world through the efforts being made at the free trade zone
I have setup a company here to be able to conduct investment activities in China and I am researching potential new business investments for my clients while keeping a close eye on what I see as the pulse of the world economy.
You originally planned to be a doctor, but changed your mind at the last minute. Tell me about that.
Mark: During medical school, I made a name for myself by correctly anticipating the tech market crash in 1999-2000, and I made a strong argument for investing in real estate. Because of this, I was invited to manage a wealthy family's private fund in Boston. After this, I had many people start asking for my help, but I couldn't do it because of licensing – and so I started looking at every major financial firm in Boston to determine where I could send these potential clients to.
It was then I realized that there appeared to be little ethics in the financial industry and I wanted to do something truly new. I thought that the major firms were not only unethical, but I also thought that they overcharged for wealth-destroying products, had immense conflicts of interests, and their methods would (and could) eventually cause substantial harm to the overall economy.
Some called it foolish, and I was poor for a very long time. But my hard work and patience eventually paid off in gaining an international reputation despite my small size.
In the end, my Dartmouth medical school classmates now joke that I am the first person in the class to be able to retire – even though I didn't get my MD and left school saddled in hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.
What inspired you to trade and invest your financial aid money, and how did you turn that into enough to buy real estate?
Mark: I am a risk taker, and had been investing in stocks since I was about 7 years old (and studying them since about 5). I kept a tight budget and planned for the worst while hoping for the best. And, yes, I turned it into enough money to buy my first apartment building in 2000, in conjunction with studying Fannie Mae's rules so that I could find every loophole possible to qualify for a loan.
It sounds like you were on a roll – what happened?
Mark: By the time I started my retail firm in 2006, I was worried about a potential collapse in real estate prices, and being based in California, many of my potential clients were not prepared. I turned away most of the business brought to me and I only accepted a few clients who agreed to a sound long-term plan. I made every client promise to give me money when they least wanted to do so, if the crash I was predicting happened. But guess what? No one did. So I still had most of my debt in early 2009, and only minimal assets under management.
In the end, even those clients with a solid long term plan were as scared as everyone else.
Now share your story on getting back into wealth.
Mark: Because no one would invest in what I saw as the opportunity of a lifetime, I took out a cash advance from my credit card and made leveraged investments in stocks. Within months I had paid off my credit cards and started buying distressed real estate in Las Vegas. About a year after my initial cash advance (I believe it was about $40,000), I had turned it into about $400,000 in real estate investments and $400,000 in stock market value. After a year I had bought additional real estate and paid off all of my credit cards and student loans. Within two years I was a multimillionaire with minimal mortgage debt left.
What was the biggest risk you ever took? Do you regret it?
Mark: My biggest risk was actually leaving medical school. I actually did regret it in 2009, when the moment I had waited patiently for appeared about to pass me by. Of course, my attitude towards this has changed as my personal circumstances changed.
What do you consider to be your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?
Mark: My biggest failure was not being more patient and being too independent. I think I should have accepted more clients and offered to speak with the hedge funds that were interested in buying me out in 2010. I like no-nonsense, but I have learned to stay in and play the game a bit more.
When did you make your first million and do you think it changed you?
Mark: It was early in 2010. It happened so quickly – from almost being homeless and begging for change to being wealthy – that I hardly had a chance to blink. It took me a while to accept it was real and that I wasn't going to be poor again. But I really don't think it changed who I am. I'm still the same person (for better or for worse).
Entrepreneurship or college for today's high school grads? Which do you think is more important?
Mark: College, for what it is, is generally overpriced and many students get degrees without a goal for a job. Experience and a desire to self-teach will get those who do so further than any formal education. Of course, getting a degree from a top-rated university (like Dartmouth, which I gave up with only one year to go), can open many, many doors, and should not be underestimated. I do wish I had that degree, as it automatically lends legitimacy and legacy to you and whatever business you do.
What advice do you have for young adults when it comes to money and entrepreneurship?
Mark: Save, save, save… Don't fall into the American debt trap. Be creative with how you spend your money so you can micro-fund your own ideas when they inevitably happen. Having the money to fund your ideas will help you in the likely instance your first idea fails or takes time to get off the ground.
Mark: Never give up. When facing and attempting the impossible, with a little hard work, a good gut, and ceaseless determination, even the impossible can be achieved.
What I Learned From Mark
Mark has such a great story, and I appreciate him taking the time to share it with us! What I love about Mark is that he took a relative side hustle, and turned it into a career. What's even more inspiring is that is wasn't always easy or a given – he really struggled with it for a while. I'm a big believer that everyone should have some type of side hustle – even if it is a basic hobby that you can earn a little extra income with.
I also like Mark's theory on college vs. entrepreneurship. He highlights how getting a degree by itself isn't really important – it's all about getting the job. However, he makes an important distinction – there is still value in going to top-notch schools with huge alumni networks. However, at the end of the day, it's still about the job – and the degree just helps you get that initial legitimacy.
Finally, I don't agree with Mark taking on a huge credit card advance to invest – that's crazy to me. But it's his story, and it was his biggest risk. I think taking risks are important (maybe just not that one). However, you have to decide how much risk you're comfortable with. Either way, I commend Mark on being successful after taking that risk, and sharing his story with us today.
What did you learn from Mark Elliott's story on leaving medical school to work in finance?