Published June 20, 2014
Despite being halfway through his working life, Victor Viner is still putting the final touches on what he wants to be when he grows up
The V2 Capital founder, who began his professional life on Wall Street, didn’t know that’s where he’d start…leave…and wind up coming back.
But it was the time away from the crowded ranks on the Street that refreshed his passion, gave him clarity, and ultimately invited him back to the place he started and the career he ended up falling in love with.
As a young adult, Viner graduated high school and made a beeline for medical school, enrolling as a pre-med student at Arizona State University.
It was a career decision that wouldn’t stick. At least not right away.
“After my second year, one of my uncles was in the trading business…and I had a pretty strong quantitative math background and he said, ‘You know, you might want to think about options trading rather than medicine,’” Viner said.
Swayed by his uncle’s advice, Viner graduated from school, packed his bags and headed for the floor of the Chicago Board Options Exchange where he worked as an independent market maker.
Though his schooling was able to provide the perfect background for a life-long career as a trader, after a few years, Viner became bored with the work he was doing, and longed for something more – some kind of adventure.
Again, he packed his bags. But this time, he ditched Wall Street for a few years of travel.
“I went to Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and then I had to decide what I wanted to do,” he said.
It was in the snow-capped mountains of Colorado when a friend asked him plainly what would make him happy if he could choose any career path.
“I said, ‘Well, be a doctor because I started out that way but never had a chance to do it and I’m way too old.’” Viner said.
But he did it anyway.
At 32, Viner took a second stab at what he thought would be his dream job, enrolling at Rush University’s medical school. But like his first foray, this pursuit was interrupted by the world of financial services. After three and a half years, he left med school to begin a medical software company called Viner Medical Software, which provided solutions for patients to confidentially receive lab results without going through their physicians office.
“While I was in med school, some physicians asked if I could help them out with a business problem and I ended up growing that company into a nice, successful one,” Viner said. “So, at the end of my third year, I opted not to finish and do a residency. And I went on to build a company and sell it.”
Never Too Late
In his 25 years of professional experience, Viner has worked across an array of industries and learned many lessons along the way.
“I’ve started eight companies, and what you learn is it’s easy to spend a lot of money. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful, and it doesn’t mean you’re going to make money,” he said.
He launched one of his companies called Volaris, a multi-billion dollar equity options advisory firm, that he eventually sold to Credit Suisse, right at the apex of the 2000 tech crash.
With that came an important lesson: start small.
He started investment advisory firm V2 Capital in 2004. The firm, which is a Chicago-based hedge fund, has about half a billion dollars in assets under management. Viner built it from the ground up with only a handful of employees, and many are still with the company today -- a result of his start-small-grow-big approach.
Just four years after launching his company, Viner was forced to put his crisis-management skills to work one more time when the markets collapsed in 2008 and the country plunged into the Great Recession. Surviving a financial crisis that left investors averse to risk was a challenge for the hedge fund. But just like the tech selloff of 2000, the experience came with a lesson, this time in trading philosophy.
“What I’ve always done is focus on risk management. I’m not as concerned about what I can make, as much as managing what I can lose,” he said. “And that’s kind of how I’ve managed my career, and that’s the approach we take with clients’ money when we’re managing it.”
For now, Viner said he’s enjoying the unorthodox path his career’s taken, but he never discounts the possibility of change, but instead embraces it.
“No matter what you do, you really have to love it and have a passion for it. We all work too hard,” he said. “Working hard is no guarantee that you’ll be successful, but I don’t know pretty much anyone who didn’t work hard and is successful. “