FOR someone who runs a multi-million euro international investment group, Robert Tomei is a laid-back and affable man to sit down and talk to in the Connaught Hotel bar. Tomei’s Milan based international investment company has over €1bn of assets under management. As the group chairman, Tomei is responsible for the approval of every group investment, and for evaluation of investments in venture capital, private equity, and strategy and debt strategy placements.
Tomei says that he originally set out with the aim of becoming an academic, starting out with a degree in logic and analytical studies from St Bonaventure University, followed by graduate studies at both Yale and Columbia. After becoming disillusioned by the politics of academia, Tomei saw the world of finance as being perfect to apply his studies in a practical environment, starting out with Kidder Peabody’s international department of fixed income as an institutional adviser on structured finance: “I saw Wall Street as a place that would present a variety of challenges, and I feel that I was able to take a step back and analyse situations rather than taking them at face value.”
Sitting down to talk to Tomei, it is hard not to see why he has managed to amass an impressive list of clients – Tomei has become the “go to” man for Italy’s wealthy individuals and families. Far from being a bland number cruncher, Tomei’s contrarian views and insights make him an engaging man to interview. “In the markets, there is a tendency for perception to become reality. There is a lot of propaganda out there. I’m not saying that you should ignore the popular consensus, but you should hold it up to scrutiny.” Tomei raises an interesting point – should you pile into an investment or jump onto a bandwagon just because of popular wisdom? According to Tomei, he constantly questions any financial decision. And he doesn’t just question the fundamentals of a popular market direction; he also looks at the wisdom of areas that are being ignored. “We are committed to seeking absolute returns in all market conditions and in doing so go to places where other managers aren’t going.” For example, Tomei explains: “post-2008, there is a reticence from investors to buy into US debt. But I see real opportunities in distressed debt – buying into senior real estate with AAA tenants – giving solid returns. Because many investors have followed accepted wisdom, it is a chance for those investors who can see the opportunities out there.”
Tomei also takes the scrutiny that he applies to the decisions of others, and uses it on his own investment decisions and those of Advanced Capital Group. “We don’t drink our own Kool-Aid,” says Tomei. “We don’t shoot a decision to pieces just for the sake of it, but I want all of my decisions to be scrutinised. If there are flaws in the decisions that have been made, I’m not just going to follow the crowds into a decision.” Though this could be seen as an easy claim to make when sat in the bar of the Connaught Hotel, how does Tomei respond when sat with a client brandishing a newspaper article about the inexorable rise of gold and demanding that he joins in every gold rush that makes the headlines? “We work on a three year plan with our clients and take a long-term outlook. The majority of our high net worth clients are principally concerned with capital preservation, and they trust us to manage their money.” And Advanced Capital’s results speak for themselves. It was recently ranked second globally out of 134 finds in Prequin’s recent private equity fund of funds annual performance analysis. Recently announcing a €50m joint seed investment into the mCapital European and Asian special situations fund, Tomei’s fund seems set to go from strength to strength.