Quantifying investment

Through his generous financial contributions, Fisher—pictured at center with students during a campus visit—established the Fisher Research Collaborative in the School of Management to encourage multidisciplinary research collaborations by providing students and faculty access to essential sources of data and analytics. Photos: Douglas Levere

As a kid in the early 1980s, Gregg Fisher, BS ’92, worked for his family’s tax prep business in Brooklyn, entering investment transactions on about a thousand returns each year—by hand, with a pencil.

Fisher by the windows in Alfiero Center.

Most returns had about 10 of these transactions, and each transaction had four boxes to complete: date of purchase, date of sale, purchase price and sale price.

Fisher admits it got a bit tedious filling in 40,000 of these boxes every year. Luckily for him, the computer revolution hit and those returns went digital, allowing him to not only enter the data faster, but also sort and analyze it to notice patterns.

By the time he arrived at the School of Management in 1988, Fisher was armed with years of data and a drive to use technology in the investment business.

“I saw how unorganized people were,” says Fisher. “The idea of using empirical data and research to invest wasn’t in the conversation anywhere, with anyone.”

His lightbulb moment came when his finance professor, Joe Ogden, handed him a copy of the book, A Random Walk Down Wall Street, which describes the efficient-market hypothesis, a financial economics theory that illustrates how it is impossible for investors to consistently “beat the market.”

“That was the moment when I totally understood what I was experiencing when looking at all that investment data—and what I was going to do with it,” says Fisher.

After graduating in 1992, Fisher sold his childhood drum set and used the $900 to buy a computer and printer to start his own firm, Gerstein Fisher.

“When I looked around the industry, everybody had two names: Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs,” he says. “I didn’t have a partner, but I called it Gerstein Fisher so I’d seem bigger than I was. Gerstein is my mother’s maiden name and my uncle Ed Gerstein’s name, the man who inspired my career path with the family tax business we still own and run today.”

The name—and Fisher’s hard work—paid off. Through an ever-changing market environment, including the dot-com crash, 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, he built the firm up to $4 billion in assets under management and a team of about 80 people.

Then, after nearly 25 years owning and leading the firm, Fisher navigated the successful sale of Gerstein Fisher to People’s United Bank in 2016.

Today, he serves the firm as portfolio manager and head of research, managing and overseeing the investment process, including portfolio management, trading, risk control and investment strategy development. He also hosts a podcast, “The Q Factor,” in which he speaks with thought leaders about how data and quantitative methods are transforming different fields.

Throughout his career, Fisher has stayed involved with UB and the School of Management, including serving on the Dean’s Advisory Council and the UB Foundation board, sponsoring and hosting New York City visits for students in the Terese Kelly Investment Group, and making financial contributions to establish the Fisher Research Collaborative.

“For me, it’s about mentoring young people and being someone who can help them, spend time with them and get to know them,” he says. “That’s been very satisfying.”

Fisher says his favorite way to relax is with a good economics book in the backyard, but he makes time for other activities too. He enjoys snowboarding and has even picked up the drumsticks again.

“I bought two drum sets and built a music studio,” he says. “I want to be able to play ‘Hotel California’ on the drums and sing it at the same time. I’m not sure I’ll pull it off, but it’s one of my goals.

“Then, it’s right back to work because I have a lot more energy to think about strategies to help investors, and that’s still my life’s work.

Written by Kevin Manne