Enrique Abeyta’s Path to Wall Street and Beyond
By Laura Greaver
With his tanned skin covered in tattoos, dark beard reminiscent of a pirate, and casual uniform of a black T-shirt and black jeans, Enrique Abeyta isn’t your typical finance guy…
Sure, he’s had a successful 25-year career on Wall Street – managing high-profile hedge funds and raising more than $2.5 billion in investment capital.
But the flashy money-lined streets of Manhattan are a far cry from his roots in Phoenix, Arizona, where he grew up poor in a volatile household with an alcoholic, often-absent father.
How did he go from briefly living on the streets to making it big on Wall Street – then getting out of Dodge? He says it’s easy… “It was live or die. I shut out all the noise, and I just put my fucking head down and got to work.”
That electric-current intensity was still surging when I met Enrique for the first time…
He punctuates his quick, passionate speech with laughter and curse words. He’s full of what he calls “natural energy.” He tells me he’s never had a cup of coffee in his life.
Rising From the Ashes
Enrique spent his childhood in Phoenix, Arizona, and after stints in Pennsylvania, New York, and Japan, he now calls Phoenix home again… just 10 miles down the road from where he grew up… a full circle, with plenty of twists and turns along the way.
But there is a huge distance in those short 10 miles… His life now is much happier and more stable than it was growing up. He enjoys frequent desert hikes and spending time with his wife and two young children.
His mom, originally from Uruguay, and his dad, from Mexico, met and married in Reno, Nevada in an unconventional way – a fitting story for the start to Enrique’s nontraditional life.
“My mom was going to be deported, but she couldn’t go home because of her family situation there. Like a lot of Latin America, there was a ton of political unrest, and my family ended up on the wrong side of it. My uncle (her brother) got wrapped in it. When he was just 16 years old, he got caught driving around a couple other “revolutionaries” and was thrown in jail for 7 years. He was just a young kid… But either way, she would have been arrested as soon as she got off the plane.”
Enrique’s father, known as Pepe, was a hairdresser. “This was the 1960s, so you got your hair done every week.” His mom, Selva, was in the salon, lamenting her citizenship situation, when another barber asked, “Why don’t you just marry someone to stay in the states?” Selva replied, “Who the hell would I marry?” and he said, “Pepe! He would do something like that.”
Enrique tells me, “So, they are introduced at the hair salon and Pepe says, ‘Sure… Maybe.’ He was sober that day. Two weeks later, she’s there again, my dad rolls in fucked up and basically goes, ‘Hey, you’re the one who wants to get married, right?’ And she’s desperate… “So they go get married. And this is Nevada, so you can get married in 30 minutes. Afterward, he says ‘OK, see ya. I’m headed back to the bar.’ A few weeks later, he comes to the shop and she’s there, and he’s sober again. ‘Hey. So yeah, we’re married. Do you want to go grab a cup of coffee?’ And the rest was history…”
His parents’ marriage was tumultuous, mainly because of his father’s drinking and upbringing. “My father had a long history of hardcore alcoholism and abuse. My dad had seven brothers – two died of AIDS, one of them is in life in prison in Colorado and if he gets out, he goes to life in prison in Texas. Just a very mixed-bag family.”
Enrique is realistic about his empathy for his dad: “He had a lot of abuse in his upbringing… extreme generational trauma. So I kind of give him a pass for that, but I don’t really give him a pass… I give him a 20% pass and then 80% he was just a fuckup.”
Even Enrique’s start to this world was traumatic…
A few years after his parents were married, Selva was in the hospital scheduled for an emergency hysterectomy, when a nurse insisted they give her a pregnancy test. It was positive, yet the doctors wanted to continue with the procedure. Selva and one of the nurses fought to keep the baby, and that fateful child was of course Enrique.
Enrique is often diplomatic when he describes his life growing up, something he calls “a very tough childhood.” They moved around a lot, living in various trailer parks, motels, staying with friends and family… But he fought his way through and made it to the other side.
“My dad would be fine for two or three months, then he’d get a paycheck and get drunk, disappearing for a month. I remember we had a brand-new LTD station wagon in 1979. We got it with a loan on my mom’s credit. Well, he took it and sold it for drinking money, and then we went bankrupt. We ended up fleeing the country for nine months… By then, my uncle had been exiled, so we went and lived with my grandparents in Spain. My dad would threaten my mom, ‘Oh well, if you don’t do this or that, I’m going to get you deported and you’re going to lose the kid.’ So just really nasty… He wouldn’t teach her how to drive, controlling things like that.”
In comparison, Enrique has nothing but love and admiration for his mother. She was “a tough woman,” who served as his rock, always supporting him and doing what she had to do to make it through… just like Enrique.
He remembers being six or seven years old when he and his mom tried to separate from Pepe. “We were homeless for a short time… We were staying at a motel and our money ran out, so we slept in our station wagon.” He tells me she worked two or three jobs at a time, and he remembers her trying to kill herself once, but he says it with a shoulder shrug like “shit happens, ya know?”
A Binary Brainiac Is Born
As a kid raised in such trauma and hyperstimulation, constantly under stress, Enrique developed his own coping mechanism… a sense of structure within the chaos.
It began with his baseball card and comic book collections at age 13. He created a spreadsheet on his Atari computer (Excel premiered in 1985, but he didn’t have it yet) and methodically categorized his comics. Accessing The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide from the local library, Enrique hand-calculated the price and grade data each month.
The structure of the numbers and the methodology of the math was a type of calm in the storm for Enrique… and a binary brainiac was born.
Enrique excelled in school, choosing the “fight” instead of “flight” response… He was the student body president and salutatorian his senior year. He founded the Phoenix chapter of Teen Age Republicans.
He recalls winning a stock-picking contest in his Economics class when he was 16. “The contest had a loophole that no one understood… Stock purchases were done using Wednesday’s closing price. So I would either find companies that were involved in a merger after the close Wednesday, or reported great news after the close that Wednesday, or IPOs that were pricing Thursday morning. The Econ teacher didn’t know all that much about stocks, and every week I won by a landslide…”
A big part of Enrique’s motivation to excel in school and ultimately in his career was his tough home life: “Being poor sucks. Being on food stamps sucks. So I came up with a plan to not be poor.” He settled on “Wall Street as a place that seems to make people rich.”
He got accepted to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the top business school in the entire country. As Enrique puts it, Wharton “produces the best of the best professional athletes on Wall Street.”
“There was a free Bloomberg machine and about 20 of us that used to linger around it… I didn’t have any money of course… I didn’t own any fucking stocks. But we’d just sit around and bullshit about stocks. By the way, those 20 guys have now probably managed like $100 billion through the years.”
He stayed focused and excelled in college too, graduating top of his class with a triple-finance major. After graduation, Sponsors for Education, a group that pairs minorities with Wall Street internships and jobs, placed Enrique at Lehman Brothers in the fixed-income division. (“A great program because guess what, Mexican kids from Phoenix don’t have a lot of connections to get Wall Street jobs…”)
He’d had a taste of the Wall Street life, and he liked it… and wanted more. After Lehman, he moved into hedge-fund investing and portfolio management, eventually launching his own successful hedge funds. His binary math-orientated mind was a perfect fit for a money manager and stock picker…
Enrique touts that he’s made money in every down market, a hard thing to accomplish. “I made money in ‘98. I made money in the melt down. I made money in the melt up too – not a lot of people can say both of those. I made money on September 11. I made money in the financial crisis. And I plan on making money out of the coronavirus fallout.”
Enrique’s first expensive splurge purchase speaks volumes about him… “I paid off my mom’s debt, gave her a very generous chunk of change, and told her she never had to work again if she didn’t want to.”
Structure in Chaos
“I’m very high-energy. I’m very high stimulus. That’s actually partially an outcropping of what’s called extended childhood trauma… It’s basically PTSD. But what happens is, your body is hyper-stimulated for such a long period that it literally rewires your brain.”
Enrique’s near-compulsion with structure can be seen in his food journaling taken to an extreme… He has logged every single thing he’s eaten or drank for the last 10 years in a spreadsheet.
He has a similar Excel spreadsheet for the concerts he’s attended… more than 750 so far in his life.
In keeping with the theme, Enrique is a fan of aggressive exercise… He practices Muay Thai kickboxing and is a long-distance runner, running more than 1,000 miles a year.
He’s even completed five of the six major world marathons (New York, London, Boston, Tokyo, and Chicago), setting a new personal record at each one.
Much of Enrique’s upper body is covered in tattoos. He estimates roughly 100 sessions of pain in the tattoo chair. His favorite tattoo is his daughter’s name in Hebrew on the side of his head, and sometimes he likes to shave his hair into a mohawk to highlight the ink. (Gone are the days when he made sure his ink was hidden under long-sleeved suit jackets on Wall Street.)
His first tattoo was ONE LIFE across his chest – basically a reminder to take the risks and have no regrets in life. Also, as Enrique puts it simply, “Do the work.” Enrique combines hard work and big risks in his life… But there’s no shortcut for putting in the hours. He told me, “In a negotiation, the guy who has prepared more usually wins.”
Enrique has always been a fan of heavy metal music and any “extreme music.” Growing up in Phoenix may have helped foster this, as he tells me that “Arizona is the most metal state in the country.”
Metal magazine Kerrang! supports his theory…
“Fueled by living in a landscape out of a sci-fi novel with temperatures that rival those of Hell itself, and fostered by marginalized groups living in a largely conservative area, Arizona’s metal scene is not only creatively fertile, but also pure in its appreciation of heaviness.”
Finding Silence in the Music
In 2017, Enrique started a new business venture that combined three of his biggest passions: metal, tattoos, and business. He founded and is the current CEO of Project M Group, a digital media and e-commerce company focused on the metal and tattoo artforms. (Incidentally, the “M” stands for monetization, not metal.)
Project M purchased Revolver magazine, an aging pillar in the rock-publication industry. Enrique was a subscriber long before he owned it. “Our world of rock and metal is actually much bigger than people understand in terms of dollars… It’s super vibrant… Yet the media that serves it is just kind of old school.”
The plan was to refurbish and relaunch the magazine, with an added digital ad agency layered on top. Since the acquisition, Revolver’s audience has increased 1,500%.
“I’m very passionate about heavy music.” Enrique finds loud metal music calming… Studies have shown that listening to extreme kinds of music helps to purge emotions like anger and depression, and it acts to sooth people with traumatic pasts.
He heard the band Tool playing in a record store in 1991 and fell in love… He’s since seen Tool live in concert 47 times. Tool is known for their 15-minute-plus songs, and although Enrique tells me he doesn’t actually listen to the lyrics, the music is like therapy to him… “Their songs are like these giant narratives where you can really lose yourself. Look, I guess you can lose yourself in a Ramones song, but a Ramones song is like doing a shot… A Tool song is like smoking a cigar and drinking a fine wine or some absinthe for a whole evening.”
Yin Joins Yang
Last year, fellow investor Whitney Tilson reached out to him with a new business opportunity. Whitney and Enrique are “kindred souls” who’ve been friends for the past decade.
At first glance, the two finance gurus appear quite different. Tilson, with zero tattoos and a fondness for easy-listening radio stations, had a much more conservative and traditional upbringing. Yet these two different paths led them both to the same place, and they share an intensity and passion for life and all things investing. Enrique is the yin to Tilson’s yang…
Tilson started an investment-research business called Empire Financial Research, and the chance to write a trading newsletter was a perfect fit for Enrique.
Whitney enthusiastically introduced Enrique to his readers…
“Enrique is neither a value nor growth investor… He’s a stone-cold moneymaker. He’ll buy beaten-down, old economy big caps or high-growth tech small caps – he doesn’t care. He just has a nose for stocks that will go up.”
The investment-research industry was a natural pairing for Enrique. In addition to running a digital media company, he was the editor-in-chief of the second-largest newspaper at Wharton. Even in his hedge funds, he’d write informative and entertaining investor letters.
“I actually love education. I love media. I like engaging with people. I like entertaining and educating and informing and I like, you know, making people money. Those are all things that give me great pleasure and enjoyment.”
And now, he’s bringing that approach to Main Street, rather than simply keeping it on Wall Street.
“I like winning… I’m very mathematical. Also, it’s nice to make money, too. But it’s the chance to take all the stuff I’ve learned and all that experience and all those connections, with my very unique insight… and offer that to my readers.”
He is quite philosophical when it comes to success. “It excites me that I can share my knowledge and unique perspective with readers. I legitimately enjoy it.”
‘Everything Else Is Gravy…’
Looking to the future, Enrique’s goals are fairly simple, perhaps because he’s in such a good place in his life right now.
Professionally, he wants to continue to build the Empire business, focusing on new products and making subscribers money… He sees this as something he’ll want to do for a long time.
Personally, his five- and 10-year plans are fairly simple: “Raise happy kids, keep my wife happy, stay healthy, and enjoy life.” He tells me, “Life isn’t just about making money. It’s also about the things you find intellectually fascinating and growing as a human being.”
He also wants to continue to explore other interests in business and life, like digital media, rock and metal music, tattooing, and Jewish studies. He’s also ramping up his involvement with Native American charities. (Enrique is 11% Pueblo, which as he puts it, “doesn’t mean shit,” but it’s an area that really intrigues him.)
Despite his traumatic past, Enrique is one of the more optimistic people I’ve ever met…
“Every single moment that goes by is the single best moment in human history on almost every measure. There’s a line that’s suffering, starvation, violence, all these things. And then everything else is gravy… Today’s the single best day that’s ever existed for all of humanity.”
Personal photos provided by Enrique Abeyta.