I want to thank my good friend Andy for putting this conference together,” Steve Wynn told the packed ballroom at the Encore Hotel (WYNN). “These are very tough times. And it takes a lot of courage for him and his team to be out here—in Las Vegas—putting on this magnificent event.”
The crowd erupted in applause. But I was distracted. My body tensed up as I looked over at my business partner.
“Did Steve Wynn just call me Andy?” I asked with a plastered smile on my face.
“Andrew,” he paused pensively. “Andrew, on behalf of Las Vegas, I want to thank you.” More applause.
Yup, he definitely got my name wrong. In front of 500 people. A group that included industry thought leaders, hedge fund billionaires, prominent investors, and friends. People who—until that moment—knew me as Anthony Scaramucci. Maybe the Mooch. Certainly not Andy; and, never as Andrew.
But, it didn’t matter. After all, at that very moment I was witnessing what could only be considered a minor miracle.
It was May 2009. Steve Wynn had just made the opening remarks at the inaugural SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference. His newly opened Encore hotel was opulent, filled with celebrity restaurants, gorgeous bars, and an abundance of fiery-red gaming tables, all of which stood empty as the Great Recession wreaked havoc on America’s adult playground.
If you told me that just two months earlier I would be standing in Las Vegas, listening to Steve Wynn speak to 500 members of the alternative investment industry about my firm’s courageous audacity to host an event during an economic crisis, I would have said you were nuts.
Flashback to March 2009. The Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 had hit rock bottom. The world, it seemed, was on the verge of collapse. And, I feared that my investment firm—SkyBridge Capital—would soon be among the casualties. I founded SkyBridge—an alternative investment management company, focused on seeding and partnering with emerging managers and mentoring Wall Street’s next generation of Wall Street’s entrepreneurs—in 2005. And now, just four years later, I feared it I was going to lose my business—and worse, my clients’ money. As redemptions starting flooding in, I knew that if we didn’t do something proactive, something aggressive, something strategic, we weren’t going to be SkyBridge—we were going to be “NoBridge.” I was beginning to feel hopeless as my partners and I faced an all-but certain death I wasn’t sure if SkyBridge was going to survive.
I was scared. Actually, I was terrified. But I was not panicked. Panic is a different emotion. Panic implies that there is no rational thought taking place. That we are frozen and incapable of adjusting. Powerless to logic, and subject to seemingly unthinkable behavior.
Amid the chaos, my business partner Victor Oviedo came to me with an idea. He explained that a business acquaintance was running an alternative investing summit in Las Vegas and was struggling to fill seats. In addition, he continued, many major financial institutions were scrambling to cancel their upcoming conferences and Vegas-related business travel after President Obama sounded the warning bells on Wall Street and corporate America, saying, “You can’t take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime.” Against this seemingly dire backdrop, Victor had a plan.
“What if SkyBridge threw a hedge fund conference in Vegas?” he suggested.
I smirked . . . thinking he was joking. But, by the look on his face, I could tell he was serious.
He excitedly continued, “We’ll call it the SkyBridge Alternatives Conference, or ‘SALT.’”
Victor is an extremely creative and strategic person. He sees around corners and anticipates trends before other people do. He’s also one of the most deliberate people I know . . . and I mean that in a good way. He doesn’t open his mouth unless he has something important to say. He doesn’t throw things to the wall to see what sticks; rather, he is thoughtful and measured in his approach to business. With that in mind, I thought it was rather strange that—as our business was failing—he would come to me pitching the idea of a glorified party in Sin City.
I continued to look at him in utter disbelief. A conference? In Vegas? During an economic crisis? What would our clients say? After all, we were in the seeding business; not the conference business. Besides, we could barely make payroll and were maybe two phone calls away from closing up shop—how were we going to finance a conference? The idea—even to me—was outlandish . . . bizarre . . . crazy! Or was it?
“Come on, Vic,” I said. But as the words fell out of my mouth, I knew we were on to something. This was the time to take a calculated risk. This was the time to ignore political rhetoric and bring together members of the financial community to identify solutions that would allow us all to capitalize on tomorrow’s opportunities. This was the time to dive in with both feet and hop actually, leap—over the rabbit hole. Suddenly, Victor’s idea was beginning to make sense. If fact, the contrarian in me suddenly found it brilliant!
If we didn’t change the way we were doing business, we wouldn’t even have a business. We needed to think outside the box. We needed to be creative; adaptable; entrepreneurial. Reinvent ourselves. We needed to play offense, while the rest of the industry was playing defense. And while there was no tangible relationship between the conference business and the hedge fund business, I did, however, recognize the void in the marketplace as well as SkyBridge’s need to move in another direction.
It was becoming more and more clear to me—this conference would give SkyBridge the opportunity to send a message to our clients, our competitors, and the industry that we were hopeful about SkyBridge’s future . . . that we were hopeful about Wall Street’s—and America’s—future. We’d be instilling confidence, optimism, and perseverance— something no government official, policymaker, or central bank was willing to do in 2009. We would be sending a message that we may have encountered a roadblock, but we were going to come together to overcome it. And as a firm, SkyBridge would be leading this charge.
As the founder of SkyBridge, I also saw SALT as a huge asset to help us grow—actually, save—our business. If we were going to survive the Great Recession, the only way to get the message out was to operate on the balls of our feet, not our heels. Call it “fake it ’til you make it.” Call it “smoke and mirrors.” Call it whatever you want. The message was clear—we were not going down without a fight.
As I looked out the window at 36,000 feet, my mind was racing. Although I am an optimistic person, I couldn’t believe the transformation that had taken place in such a short time. In just one year, my company and I went from almost going out of business to hosting a wildly successful conference, appearing regularly on top business news networks, acquiring a fund of hedge funds business, having a cameo in an Oliver Stone blockbuster, and publishing a book. It was a lot . . . and we were trying to generate a return on our luck and good fortune.
And suddenly, amidst the clear blue, endless sky, I realized something— we were seemingly hopping over the rabbit hole. Rather than spiraling, twisting, and turning down an endless tunnel toward an illogical, nonsensical, and unknown demise, we were strategically taking control of SkyBridge’s future by embracing our potential failures and turning them into potential successes.
It would have been easy to throw in the towel during those dark days and give up on the business, but that would have been selling out at the bottom. I take pride in the resilience our team showed and strive never to forget the tough times.
But even I must admit that I have never imagined the extent of my company’s turnaround. Luck certainly had a hand in my good fortune. I can’t deny that. But it came down to more than luck. I had stopped waiting for good things to happen. I had gone out and made them happen. Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “The best way to predict your future is to create it,” and never before had I felt so in control of my own destiny. At least the parts I could control.
Excerpted from ‘Hopping Over the Rabbit Hole: How Entrepreneurs Turn Failure into Success‘ by Anthony Scaramucci.