Mark Suleiman wants to be the next Warren Buffett. Don’t bet against him.


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MARK SULEIMAN’S CAREER as a business tycoon started when he was a wide-eyed 8-year-old. Growing up in the cozy heartland town of Kearney, Neb., Suleiman got a unique gift from his parents: Instead of baseball cards or a few coins to put in his piggy bank, he got shares in corporations like drug giant Pfizer and clothing retailer the Buckle.

“That was how I first got into stocks,” remembers Suleiman, now 21 and an economics major at the University of Nebraska. “Me and my 10 shares — I thought I owned both companies.”

Turns out that little gift provided pretty good training for his future career. Fast-forward more than a dozen years, and Suleiman has basically started his own small-scale mutual fund. Called the Shark Fund, it’s an investment club for himself and his fellow collegians that he seeded with his life savings of $11,000, cobbled together by mowing lawns over the summers.

When it came time for Suleiman to intern with financial firms, he had no interest in getting coffee or making photocopies. Raised on swashbuckling stock-market seers like Jim Cramer of CNBC’s Mad Money and steeped in the lore of Nebraskan investing titan Warren Buffett, Suleiman thought he could start right away and make stock picks himself. “I wanted to show that I could stand toe-to-toe with those who have been in the industry for 40 years and perform just as well or better.”

So Suleiman started the Shark Fund to prove just that. At the beginning of 2009, when even professional money managers were scared witless by a tanking market, Suleiman leapt right in. When he started making genius stock picks, like snapping up Ford at $1.94 (worth around $12 at press time) and Sirius XM Radio at a nickel (worth $1 at press time), the Shark Fund doubled in its first four months.

Word began to spread on campus, and Suleiman began to accept fellow students into the club. The Shark Fund now has eight investors and about $38,000 in assets and is up an eye-popping 341 percent
since its inception. His goal of demonstrating he can mix it up with the best money managers out there? Consider it proven. “If you can come in and shake things up and show you can produce gains, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the business 10 years or 10 minutes,” he says. “It’s all about keeping score.”

Suleiman is part of a new breed of investor, fearless even in the teeth of the scariest market. He’s also among a dedicated corps of individual investors who enjoy making decisions themselves, rather than handing the reins to highly paid fund managers. The National Association of Investors Corporation (www.betterinvesting.org), a nonprofit resource for investment clubs, now serves more than 90,000 members and 8,600 clubs around the country.

Jenna Gibson, Suleiman’s fellow student at the University of Nebraska, liked the idea of making a little extra money with the Shark Fund and chipped in her modest savings of $200. By her own admission, Gibson knew next to nothing about the world of finance. But she felt confident Suleiman would be a responsible steward of her cash. “He was so clear about what he was doing, is transparent with every trade and put it all in writing,” says the 20-year-old journalism major.