Quants worth following: Alexander Fleiss

April 03, 2024
Title picture for Quants worth following: Alexander Fleiss

"Quants worth following" is our latest interview series highlighting thought leaders in the quantitative trading industry actively sharing their knowledge and resources with the community.

Today's edition features Alexander Fleiss, the CEO, chairman, and co-founder of Rebellion Research. Rebellion Research originated as a hedge fund and has grown to become a robo advisory and educational think tank. It's one of the first purely machine-learning-focused hedge funds on Wall Street.

In this conversation, Alex shares the story behind Rebellion Research, his upcoming conference with the Fordham School of Quantitative Finance, and career advice and resources for those entering the industry.

Rebellion's next conference is QuantVision 2024, held at Fordham University on April 4, 2024. Alex has been involved with the Fordham School of Quantitative Finance for about a decade and was initially brought in by his friend, Sudip Gupta, who was previously the Dean and Director and is currently a Johns Hopkins professor. After seeing the success of Rebellion's conferences at Cornell, Sudip asked Alex to hold a conference at Fordham.

Alex explains his approach to creating these conferences: "I look for great research. That's probably the number one reason I invite someone. If you're Head of Data at Point72, everyone wants you there. But at the same time, if random quant trader ABC has a great piece of research that I covered, I'm going to want to invite that person to come speak at the conference. We really try to seek out the smartest minds." He adds, "For this conference, I tried to not just bring in huge division heads, but also some up-and-comers in the hedge fund industry who are super impressive."

Here are a few speakers to look forward to at the event: Anthony Scaramucci, Founder & Managing Partner of SkyBridge Capital Dr. Guiseppe Paleologo, Professor at Cornell Financial Engineering Gordon Ritter, 2019 Quant of the Year and Professor at NYU, Columbia, University of Chicago, and Baruch College Jonathan Larkin, Managing Director of Columbia Investment Management Company Caio Natividade, Global Head of Quantitative Investment Solutions Research at Deutsche Bank Kathryn Zhao, Global Head of Electronic Trading at Cantor Fitzgerald

Alex walks us through the journey of Rebellion Research from its origins as a hedge fund to the educational institute it is today. He provides context on his inspirations for creating Rebellion and the work that went into its growth.

"Rebellion Research is a think tank which originated as a hedge fund. We still have a hedge fund, but that's just the beginning of the genesis of what is Rebellion Research, which is an educational pursuit. We became well-known and grew to five million readers last year through reviewing quant research. I have written 20 research papers, and I'm an editor for the Journal of Financial Science, which is a part of the Journal of Portfolio Management."

With a background and extensive knowledge in AI, Alex created Rebellion's initial AI, which was inspired by the works of UCLA professor Judea Pearl.

"I have been involved in AI since the '90s when I read UCLA professor Judea Pearl's probabilistic Bayesian networks. That inspired me to build my original AI at Rebellion. We have Bayesian networks that essentially monitor the global economy and create long-term portfolios."

Rebellion continued to grow within academic spaces, as its content garnered the attention of scholars and quants in the community. Alex began holding school conferences to introduce students to well-known quants and promote transparency in the industry.

"I started teaching at Cornell in maybe 2015. I did a few semesters there working on machine learning for long-term portfolios. A few years ago, the director of Cornell's Financial Engineering asked me to throw the school's first conference since Rebellion was essentially a quant media brand at this point. Over two-thirds of our readers actually have a Master's degree or PhD degree and higher. Much of our content is extremely academic and extremely high-level, and many of our guest authors have been Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Fields Medal, Turing [Awards winners], and that's what we try to do with our conversations for our own YouTube shows. Talk to intelligent people and get them to share their knowledge."

Although external factors play a huge part in career choice, sometimes people put aside their passions to pursue a role that they perceive will fulfill these external factors more than bring them joy. Alex highlights that a fulfilling career involves balancing personal interests, enjoyment, and what you're good at.

"When it comes to the best career advice, you have to be honest with yourself and say, 'What am I good at and what do I enjoy doing?' If you don't focus on what you're good at and what you enjoy, your output and your productivity over time will slip. You will not be as successful, you will not make as much money, and you will not be as satisfied. If you focus on what you're happiest with, I know it sounds simplistic, but most people just do not do this; you will be much more satisfied in life."

He emphasizes the point of pursuing what you're genuinely curious about and interested in to build a successful career.

"Take your aiming sight for pleasure, and take your aiming sight for intellectual, pure stimulation. When you can align them perfectly, that's when you're going to have a great career trajectory. You need to find what you love doing more than anything else and do that."

Alex recommends a few books for those early in their investment careers, starting with Bruce Wasserstein's Big Deal.

"First the best book, the bible of investing, nobody gives it credit is Big Deal. It's 1050 pages written by Bruce Wasserstein, a multi-billionaire who died in 2012. Bruce Wasserstein was the greatest investment banker of all time… His book, Big Deal, encapsulates how valuations move from various cycles and various decades from the 1950s to the 2000s better than anything I've ever come across." Alex notes, "It's a delicious historical portrayal of multiples and understanding why multiples go up and why multiples go down."

After reading Big Deal, Alex recommends Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis and When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein.

"My personal favorite is Liar's Poker. I'm a big John Meriwether fan. I worked for an LTCM sub-fund, so I was personally involved in August '98 when it went down. I've always been fascinated by LTCM. When Genius Failed is a good book to look at and follow up on Liar's Poker, but When Genius Failed, and Liar's Poker are nothing compared to Big Deal by Bruce Wasserstein. That is the best investment book I've come across in my entire life, that everyone must read."

Watch the full interview on our YouTube channel here.