Getting More Bang for His Bucks: Marc Lasry Sources the Secrets of His Success

Getting More Bang for His Bucks: Marc Lasry Sources the Secrets of His Success

By Isabelle Lee


Because success could be right around the corner.

By Isabelle Lee

The story behind Marc Lasry’s success is as captivating as it is unlikely. He grew up in Morocco, moving to the U.S. at age 7, and shared a bedroom with his sisters for a decade before leaving home for Clark University. Now, he’s the co-founder and CEO of the hedge fund Avenue Capital and co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks (total disclosure? Also an OZY investor). Join Carlos and Lasry on this week’s episode of The Carlos Watson Show as they discuss what he’s learned from basketball and his best advice for overcoming adversity. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

Why Basketball?

Carlos Watson: Now, how did you get into basketball? Because I was surprised when I saw that you had played college basketball. I don’t know why I didn’t have basketball in my mind with you, but you were one of Clark University’s finest?

Marc Lasry: I played always as a kid. I played in high school, you get to college, the problem for me in school was, Clark was Division III, which was great, but the coach we had started recruiting Division II and Division I players. So, Clark went to the NCAA tournament for Division III, and we got to the final eight, final 16. We just got to … I mean, they were too good. I played a couple of years, but I thought I’d be able to play all four years, you’d be captain, you’d have a great time, but no such luck.

Watson: OK, OK. So it happens. Once you started having as much success in business as you did, were you always thinking about buying a team, and buying a basketball team in particular?

Lasry: No, it just came about. You’re always interested in it, you start getting involved. I got involved with the Nets, so I was an investor in the Nets, and then once you’re a minority investor, you realize you want to be the majority investor, and the Bucks became available, so that was really it.

Watson: What has the NBA taught you about life and business? 

Lasry: I thought when we bought the team, we owned the team. And what I found out is really, we’re a caretaker. It’s a public trust. You actually feel this responsibility, because it’s a big part of the city. It’s a big part of people’s lives. When we bought the team, I thought, “Oh, well, we’ll focus on how do we make this better, but how can we make more money?” What you quickly realize is, it’s never about the money. It’s about winning, and you focus on winning, and you focus on trying to do what’s best for the community. And that was not something I would have thought of when we got involved.

No. 2, you end up trying to make sure that you end up having players and coaches who want to do what’s right for the community. What we found with the basketball team is, “I’d rather have a team and people who are focused on doing what’s right.” So you’ll find that our players are, for whatever it’s worth, exceptionally talented individuals, but also really, really nice people, and are trying to help the community and do everything that is, hopefully, helpful for Milwaukee.

Watson: Marc, your last year, obviously, Black Lives Matter happened not only as a national conversation but a global conversation. Anything new or different you feel like you’ve learned over the last year, good or bad?

Lasry: I learned quite a bit from my players, a lot of what’s happened to them in their lives, what they’ve gone through, the issues they’ve had. I think we as an organization have actually gone out of our way to support what our players are doing to try to do things that are helpful for the community, to try to bring about social justice, to try to get more involved in it. Where I would have said to you, two or three years ago, it was something you were very aware of, but you … It’s taken on a much bigger life of its own today. … I think if you look at America, it is something that is going on in the United States where people are trying to bring about change. Which I actually think is for the positive.

Everybody Makes Mistakes

Watson: What’s the biggest disappointment, biggest failure, biggest challenge you’ve ever encountered?

Lasry: Oh, that’s a great question. I think when I look back, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I wish I’d done some things differently, but I quickly learned, learn from your mistake and just move on. Don’t dwell on it, because if you do, it’ll just eat you up. If I make a mistake, if we buy something and it goes down, OK, there’s a reason it went down, maybe we mis-analyzed something, or we didn’t take something into consideration. So I just quickly look at it and go, “All right, should we cut our losses? And let’s move on.” I think that’s a big key: Don’t focus. Learn from your mistakes, don’t focus on your mistakes.

Watson: Why didn’t you ever go into politics, Marc? I’ve known you to be someone who thinks about a wide range of things, very comfortable with a wide range of people. You like ideas. You’re not afraid to start new things, so you don’t have that hesitation there. And it would seem, in many ways, like you’d be a natural to run for office. Rumor has it you have a good sense of humor. And so why didn’t you?

Lasry: Should have. I don’t disagree. I think it would have been fun. I love politics. I think I’d love to try to help others who aren’t as fortunate, or believe that I could help others. And I think you’ve got to believe that if you’re going to run for office. I think at the time, for me, I was building a career. I loved it. Then you find you love what you’re doing, and are you willing to give it all up? I wasn’t. I was happy to keep on working. I thought it was fascinating. I was learning a lot and I got involved in politics, but running for office, I think that’s a whole other level. You’ve got to be willing to really sacrifice quite a bit, and give a lot of yourself. And I marvel at the people who do it. It’s not easy. It’s not easy being hated by half the people, because that’s what it is. And it’s hard.

His Best Advice

Watson: Marc, what would you say if you were sitting with a roomful of would-be young Black money managers, investors, entrepreneurs, and if these were your kids and you were trying to give them the very best advice, what would be the two or three things you would say to these kids in particular who were hungry, wanting to be the next Marc Lasry?

Lasry: I would tell them, “Look, at the end of the day, excellence matters.” I know it sounds hokey, but if you … I know maybe at times you believe that working really hard and doing well may not get you there, but I think today it should. I think people are going to go out of their way to try to make sure that it does. 

Watson: What advice would you give to someone about how to dream fearlessly, and maybe just as importantly, make that dream a reality, bring it alive?

Lasry: Oh, I would tell people, “Don’t worry about failing.” Everybody’s so worried about, “I don’t know if I can do that.” I just assume I’ll be able to do it. I always tell people, “Look, be shocked when you’re not able to do it, go into the situation assuming you can. And if you fail, it’s not … Don’t be bummed, just be surprised that it didn’t work, which means that you’ll try again.” I think it’s … The impossible is always possible if you believe it is. I really believe that. What’s the worst that happens? It doesn’t work out, so try again.

The problem I think today is everybody gets so, so upset, so bummed when something they’re trying for doesn’t work. I think you want to assume you can do anything, and that’s actually what I tried to instill in my kids. I always tell my grandchildren, like, “Look, you can do something,” and they go, “Mommy said I can’t do that.” I’m like, “I know, but you can, just don’t tell Mommy. Here’s what we can do.” I go, “Let’s go for it. What’s the worst that happens?” I’m a big believer, “Ask for forgiveness. Do not ask for permission.”