Mario Gabelli is used to asking questions.
It is that curiosity about things big and small that has helped make the longtime value investor a success, enabling him to make a financial gift to Fordham University that led to the business school being named after him.
So when Gabelli, BS ’65, the founder of Gamco Investors, a firm that manages nearly $40 billion in assets, visited a group of Gabelli School of Business MBA students recently, it was natural that he asked questions of them – questions about heart, ambition, risk and vision.
Did they want to run a business? Why did they come to New York? What did they want to do 10 years from now?
That last question is one that Gabelli himself answered: “The answer is, I still don’t know what I’m going to do 10 years from now.”
The audience laughed, but Gabelli wasn’t kidding.
“You’ve got to be flexible in life,” Gabelli added. “Whatever works today may not work in the future.”
The companion of flexibility is risk.
“You have to take risks. There’s no reward without it,” the businessman said.
Gabelli told the students of his beginnings at Gamco, the early years when he operated close to the bone financially. He had a vision, kept his options open, remained flexible and asked questions. Even now, when he is worth more than $1 billion, Gabelli remains inquisitive, searching for patterns and opportunities.
What will a minimum wage of $15 an hour do to companies such as The Cheesecake Factory?
Why is today’s consumer not buying apparel?
The opportunities lie in the answers. So does the risk.
At age 73, the challenge, the thrill and the passion for Gabelli still come from exploring both.
Perhaps that was the greatest lesson of all for the MBA students, presented in a slide of musician Paul McCartney, also 73 and still rocking. On it was a quote from the former Beatle:
“Keep doing what you love.”