Q&A: Preston Athey, Portfolio Manager, T. Rowe Price

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" I just love stocks, I love the stock market, I love investing. So I'm in the right job for me."

What led you to choose a career in portfolio management?

My father was an investment counselor. I grew up in a household where you talk about stocks with your father. I invested in my first stock at age seven, and I determined at age 16 what I wanted to do in life. I began my career with T. Rowe Price in 1978. Today I manage more than $9 billion - $6.5 billion in a small-cap value mutual fund, and the rest in separately managed accounts using the same small-cap value strategy. I just love stocks, I love the stock market, I love investing. So I'm in the right job for me.

What's your typical day like?

I typically work from 8 until 6 when I'm in the office. I meet with the management of companies I'm invested in, once a day on average, for 60 to 90 minutes. I'll have five or six conversations with individual analysts here about stocks they're working on. I'll review e-mails and voicemails from Wall Street and from companies. I get an average of 250 each day, but I only care about those that bear some relation to one of the roughly 300 companies in my portfolios.

I average five days a month out of the office, visiting companies or going to conferences.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Staying on top of the information flow and juggling zillions of balls in the air all the time. For a lot of people, the most demanding part is the pressure of knowing you're responsible for billions of dollars of people's life savings. So if the market goes down, it starts to eat at them. But in my case, the only time I couldn't sleep because of something the market did was in the crash of '87.

What advice would you give students who want to work in this field?

Take all the courses you can that are relevant. Go to the best schools you can, because it's an extremely competitive industry. Get good grades. Do personal investing. It will not only make you a better investor, but it will look good on your resume, it will give you an edge over other candidates who have not done that. And bring a copy of your brokerage statement to the interview.

We get 1,000 resumes a year in the equity dept. We hire maybe six people. One of the things we look at is personal investing experience. We don't look at their performance, because they could have been lucky and, for example, bought Google in the IPO. Instead, we'll look at their holdings and ask them to explain why they invested in a particular company. The quality of their answer helps us see whether they understand how to analyze a stock.

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