Howard Marks was failing miserably. It was 1977, and the research group he oversaw at Citibank had recommended Nifty 50 stocks that lost 90 percent of their value over the previous decade.
Peter Vermilye, Citibank’s chief investment officer, gave Marks an option: He could quit research and start a fund focusing on convertible bonds, a niche where neither the New York bank nor Marks had any experience. He jumped at the chance.
“It changed my life,” says Marks, wearing light-brown tortoise-shell glasses and spiky, sandy-colored hair. “If he hadn’t pushed me out of the research job, where would I be today?”
Marks, 65, is chairman of Oaktree Capital Management, the biggest distressed-debt investor in the world. Oaktree oversees more than $80 billion for pension funds from Massachusetts to Florida and the world’s biggest sovereign-wealth funds, such as China Investment Corp. Oaktree’s 17 distressed-debt funds have averaged annual gains of 19 percent after fees for the past 22 years — about 7 percentage points better than its peers tracked by Boston-based consulting firm Cambridge Associates.