In 1972 Congress passed the Alaska Native Claims settlement act, which ‘settled’ the long-standing land claims Alaska Natives (Indians, Aleuts, and Eskimos – their western eponyms) held for the many thousands of years they occupied Alaska. It was a novel settlement. Instead of setting up reservations, as was done in ‘the lower 48,’ the Act set up for profit companies with the lands held as a corporate asset and the Alaska Natives were corporate shareholders. Success in business for Alaska Natives became crucial. Bob Snigaroff’s education was, as were many of his generation, largely financed by his Native group, the Aleut Corporation. His dream was to manage one of these corporations and he obtained an MBA at USC. However, fortuitously, he ended up in the field of asset management by starting his career, after a Wall Street internship, at the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation. There he realized he could apply the economic ideas he read and loved as a kid in Kenai, Alaska, to the practical problem of managing portfolios of investments – a truly fascinating endeavor. He was hooked.
Mike Munson’s fascination has always been games, puzzles, and probability. He studied mathematics at the highly competitive Harvey Mudd College where he co-authored what eventually would become a chapter in a quantitative gaming text concerning “The Optimum Doubling Strategy in Backgammon.” Mike studied optimization at Stanford and was considering applied mathematics, but he was inexorably led to pursue an MBA at UCLA when he realized he could apply his love of puzzles to the challenge of finance. For a brief time, Mike participated with a ‘betting team,’ a group of math nerds that traveled to Las Vegas to successfully win money – before his new wife kyboshed that scheme.
Bob found Mike through an internship program and brought him in to help manage a portfolio of stocks he had started. Together, they also puzzled over the heady valuations of the late 1990’s and co-authored an argument titled “The Late 20th Century Great Growth Bubble.” Then, at the peak of the bubble they obtained venture backing to finance the 2001 start-up of Denali Advisors, an investment shop that would specialize in finding mis-valued earnings streams.
John “Bert” Cuthbertson grew up in Missouri watching Star Trek and dreaming of inventions. Being a smart, studious fellow, he became a physics nerd and obtained a PhD in physics at Princeton. He came to California to work at Sandia National Lab and UCSD’s fusion energy research lab, and made inventions and wrote papers about them. But meanwhile, he became very intrigued with the stock market and wondered, ‘could he invent a method to beat the market?’ He joined the field of investment management as a model researcher to begin a new life’s work: designing models to beat the market. As part of his widening curiosity, Bert’s knowledge has expanded far beyond hard sciences. As an example of his encyclopedic knowledge, he was one of six finalists in the Ultimate Tournament of Champions on the television game show Jeopardy!.
Bob and Mike had known Bert for nearly fifteen years before they were able to bring him into Denali. Together, and with other team members, they work on building portfolios for clients that exceed client mandates. (They also play the occasional game of Settlers of Catan – where Mike is the most frequent winner.) This is a life’s work they all love.