Play money: Benj Gallander (MBA’83)
By Stephanie Taylor
Benj Gallander (MBA’83) is a true contrarian. For the past 35 years, his success in the world of contrarian investing has garnered him international recognition as a financial expert. He has authored three books: The Canadian Small Business Survival Guide, which has sold more than 50,000 copies and is currently in its 10th edition, as well as two others about the stock market. He is also co-editor and president of the Contra the Heard investment letter and is a columnist for The Globe and Mail.
He’s also written half a dozen theatrical plays—yes, plays—beginning in 1991 with a show titled The Death of Parent God, which revolves around a protagonist grappling with religion. That same year Gallander, along with a group of friends, created and launched The SummerWorks Theatre Festival in Toronto.
For a man who graduated with a master’s in international business and marketing, becoming a playwright began as a wish on a bucket list and then turned into a passion. “There aren’t many people who work in both the financial and the creative world,” Gallander says. Taking on new challenges was nothing new for the Toronto-born investor who once, at age 20, joined a women’s ballet class simply because he thought learning the dance would be worthwhile.“I knew nothing about writing a play. I had never even taken a course,” he remembers. “In terms of writing, I wasn’t much of a writer at all. But I worked at it.”
To Gallander, theatre and investing have much more in common than most would think. He sees an inherent theatrical element in the stock market. It is a stage where real human drama unfolds in a pageantry of greed, fear and ambition, driven by a cast of larger than life characters, who investors—such as himself—strive to understand. Gallander believes his ability to read people comes from years spent travelling to more than 30 countries, and working in five while being exposed to a variety of personalities from both the business and art worlds.
“When you write a play you’re developing characters. In terms of investing, you have the way that people look at things and the ways that minds work,” Gallander says, explaining that investing in stocks involves predicting how people are going to react and what their next move will be. “Creating theatre, it’s a lot how people act and react to things too.”
And while the worlds may appear to be very different, Gallander suggests that they are populated with similar types. He uses the example of his time spent living in an artist co-op in Toronto. “You go to the AGM for the artist co-op and you see certain personality types. You go to an AGM for a major corporation and you can see a lot of the same types, but in a different world,” he says.