July 3, 2012 PARIS, France—Gregory Benac, MA ’03 had only played in one live tournament before he decided to put his skills to the test in the World Poker Tour in Paris last March. It obviously came as a huge surprise to the many professional players there when Benac – the only amateur to make it to the finals – emerged with the world title, beating out 370 other players from across the globe and walking away with the top prize of more than $120,000.
He describes the experience as “six very intense days in a row.” But for Benac, President of Gregory Benac Asset Management (GBAM) in Paris, his uncanny prowess in poker and investments are strongly related. “Both are about assessing the most efficient risk-return profile of an investment or bet. Intuition and creativity are essential, I think in both areas, and I find them sometimes underestimated by poker players and portfolio managers.”
Benac is a Paris native who took up poker 15 years ago. After graduating from Paris-Dauphine University in 2001, he worked at Rothschild Bank in Paris, after which he received a scholarship to attend Brandeis IBS as a student in the Lemberg Master of Arts in International Economics and Finance (MAief) program.
“One of the reasons I decided to go to the U.S. was to gain additional knowledge and experience on hedge fund techniques and strategies, an industry not much developed in France,” says Benac, who noted that many money managers play poker as a hobby. “Brandeis IBS offered the program I was looking for.”
Connections made at school led directly to his first two jobs. Through the Career Development Center, Benac landed a unique, one-year position in New York serving as special assistant to Ronald S. Lauder, heir to Estée Lauder, and a renowned businessman and philanthropist in his own right. The job allowed him to travel with Lauder all over the world and assess international business opportunities for Lauder’s personal investing. Following that, he worked at Fidelity Investments in Boston where he joined the international advisory team that manages the international sleeve of a $65 billion portfolio, team’s head is Wilfred Chilangwa ’91, MA ’92.
Benac returned to France in 2009, and, after a brief stint with Deutsche Bank in Paris, left to finally realize his dream of launching his own asset management firm.
It was a thrilling opportunity, not unlike playing high-stakes poker. “I find it hard to manage money without being totally independent and able to think outside the box, which can be tough with the constraints of a corporate organization,” he says. “It was good timing to start my own firm.”
It was only natural to base his company in his beloved Paris, “the most beautiful city in the world,” he says, adding, “to be efficient at work, I need some fine Bordeaux and Cuban cigars.” He lives with his wife, Virginie Feingold Benac, MA '04, a Paris native whom he met at Brandeis IBS; Feingold Benac is a Vice President at a top investment bank in Paris.
Benac is excited to grow GBAM while continuing to play poker. In both pursuits, he notes, “patience is key.”