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Robertson interconnects wealth and social capital

The meaning of wealth depends on how it is expended, said Julian Robertson, philanthropist and billionaire investor.

Robertson, founder of the Robertson Scholars Program, said that learning to use money to enhance social well-being is much more pivotal than knowing how to make money. He addressed members of Duke Venture Forward and Robertson scholars at an event Monday afternoon sponsored by DVF, an organization that mentors and prepares students for the business world.

“With wealth can come a lot of good, and I’m always trying to make sure that people are using it in the right way,” Robertson said. “That is something you get addicted to, and you want to keep going with it.”

Once commonly known as the “Wizard of Wall Street,” Robertson founded and managed Tiger Management Corp., a hedge fund he started in 1980, which was most successful in the 1980s and 1990s. Since retiring from the hedge fund business, he has worked with a variety of public welfare organizations and university boards. Since he closed the hedge fund—also known as the Tiger Fund—in 2000, Robertson has made substantial profits betting on the fall of credit default swaps on subprime debt, Fortune reported in 2008.

In 2000 Robertson donated $24 million to create the Robertson Scholars Program, a unique merit scholarship offering participants an opportunity to study at both Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“We invited Mr. Robertson to talk because he has an incredible story that members of our organization could learn a lot from,” junior Ina Li, vice president of public relations for DVF, wrote in an email Sunday.

Robertson said that the most important credo he extracted from his 40-year career was that wealth should not be seen as a goal in itself.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with trying to pursue wealth, but it is worthwhile only because money can be used for great things,” Robertson said.

Sophomore Jack Schrager, who attended the event, said he agrees with Robertson’s belief that both the availability and limitation of wealth should be kept in mind.

“[Wealth] could never define yourself, but I think it definitely [encourages] you to pursue a lot of things and help a lot of people,” Schrager said.

Although Robertson founded Tiger Management himself, he noted the important role others played in the business.

“We were very fortunate to hire a lot of young people who were really capable and passionate when we started the Tiger Fund,” Robertson said. “We’ve never made a mistake in letting them take great responsibility.”

Robertson added that trusting his collaborators’ ideas helps to cultivate a “common spirit” in the workplace, which not only increases comfort but also encourages innovation and productivity.

Freshman Tony Chau said that Robertson brought up a lesson essential for but often neglected by aspiring businesspeople.

“Surround yourself with people who are motivated and smarter than you, who can help to define the culture and define your success,” Chau said.

Robertson concluded his talk by saying that business should never be the only focus in one’s life. The older people become, he noted, the more value they see in their personal and familial life.

“The only thing I want to say about my life is that it’s a lot of fun because of my career as well as my family—there is nothing like a great wife and a great family,” Robertson said.

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