“If we’re not going to get one of those villas, we should certainly get the high-roller penthouse, so we can have parties after Maroon 5 and the pool party,” Anthony Scaramucci is saying into his cell phone, as the SUV taking him to a speaking engagement at Columbia University rumbles through midtown traffic. The SkyBridge Alternatives Conference, a.k.a. SALT, his company’s annual hedge-fund bacchanal in Vegas, is coming up, and he’s ironing out the details. He has already secured the No. 1 band in America along with an array of starry speakers, including the unenvisionable duo of Sarah Palin and Al Gore. “We gotta invite some Morgan Stanley brokers, we gotta invite some of the politicians,” he says into the phone. “What?” He laughs and hangs up.
“A lot of people are upset with me about Sarah Palin,” says Scaramucci, his white, even-toothed smile suggesting this couldn’t make him happier. “I am a total shit-stirrer,” he confirms. “My middle name could be Shit-stirrer, except then my initials on my shirt would be a.s.s., and I can’t have that.”
Stirring shit gets attention, and Scaramucci, the founder and managing partner of SkyBridge Capital, CNBC contributor, and all-around Wall Street booster, thinks attention is an undervalued commodity. While his peers in the hedge-fund industry only occasionally emerge, groundhoglike, to declaim somberly on the markets, “the Mooch,” as he is known, is a petite man-shaped fireball of energy, constantly orbiting the public sphere and blazing a trail through social events with a steady stream of charmingly self-effacing stories. “When Alicia Keys honored me at the Keep a Child Alive Benefit … ” or “I told Mitt Romney, I said, ‘Guv … ’ ” In addition to his frequent appearances on television, he paid to have the SkyBridge Capital logo featured in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street 2, and his face, still boyish at 48 and framed by a swoop of brown hair, could be glimpsed in several scenes. When Jon Stewart lampooned him as a “Jersey Shore breakout star,” after he complained to President Obama on TV that Wall Street felt like a piñata, Scaramucci was nothing short of delighted.
For him, there are advantages to being visible. Hedge funds are traditionally the province of the superrich, but Scaramucci aims to make SkyBridge—a “fund of funds” that creates portfolios of hedge-fund investments—the first company of its kind to target “the mass affluent.” That is, investors who have the $200,000 annual income or $1 million in net worth the SEC requires of “accredited investors” but aren’t connected enough to get in with a Daniel Loeb or a John Paulson. “Say there’s a dentist and he’s got a million dollars and he wants to have $50,000 in hedge funds,” says Scaramucci. “Well, he can do that through SkyBridge.”
By his estimation, at least 63 percent of SkyBridge’s 17,000 investors are of this type, but “I want to bring the industry to more and more people,” he says. He’d probably have billboards if the SEC would allow him to, which it doesn’t, at least not yet: Pending the agency’s approval, the new jobs act will lift the ban on hedge-fund advertising. “Maybe then we’ll get an Aflac duck,” he says.
Until then, it’s “guerrilla marketing.” Scaramucci speaks nearly everywhere he’s asked. (“Try not to laugh. They let me speak at the Iraqi Woman’s Chamber of Commerce.”) He’s written two books, most recently The Little Book of Hedge Funds, which extols the sexiness of alternative investing. “Mutual funds are Berlin with the Wall,” it reads, “while hedge funds are Berlin with all the swank art galleries.”
The crown jewel of this multiplatform strategy is SALT, which Scaramucci launched in 2009, in defiance of Obama’s warning Wall Street to stay away from partying while the rest of the country suffered. This year, nearly 2,000 industry participants will attend talks by Gore and Palin, as well as investors like Kyle Bass and Philip Falcone, and dance to “Moves Like Jagger” in a ballroom at the Bellagio that Scaramucci has had decorated to resemble the Feast of San Gennaro.
The car pulls up at Columbia, and Scaramucci leaps out to greet a gangly professor who’s been waiting on the corner. “Let’s go rile some kids up,” he says, slapping him on the back with an alpha confidence that causes the professor to smile like a math geek in the presence of a member of the football team.
Which Scaramucci was. Part of what makes him good at selling hedge funds to ordinary Americans is that he still acts like one of them.* “I grew up on Long Island,” Scaramucci tells the class. “Big Italian family. I was a bad student. I was chasing girls. I want you to picture this,” he says. “I had a black T-shirt. Gold chains.” He pauses, building to the crescendo. “I had a ’79 Camaro—with a power-booster.” The room erupts. One guy, inexplicably wearing bunny ears, pounds his desk.
*This article has been corrected to show that Scaramucci did not say he was part of the one percent.