In early May 2018, the SEC settled with Visium Asset Management in a non-admit non-deny order with findings that Sanjay Valvani, Christopher Plaford, and Stefan Lumiere broke federal regulations. While this has been widely reported on, less well-known are dynamics surrounding these individuals. Using old presentations, interviews with former Visium staffers, and reported news, we look at some of the personalities and activities of people close to the teams and individuals involved.
The CIO of Visium, Jacob Gottlieb, M.D., emerges as a victim in the matter. He was exonerated by the government but probably lost the most as a result of the investigation. Gottlieb was well known for investing in the Visium funds directly, famously seeding the global fund with $50 million in 2007 and generating returns of over 20% for a decade. He has spent the greater part of two years (after a harrowing ordeal trying to save the firm) liquidating the funds while most others have been able to move on. Gottlieb is reported to have started investing his substantial personal capital. Recent reports indicate that he has begun to speak with outside investors. Gottlieb did not return phone calls or emails.
The former CFO of Visium, Steven Ku, was slapped with a failure to supervise charge for not responding to possible red flags regarding valuation. Ku was also barred from the securities industry for one year. He has emerged as a minister of NexGen Church. Ku previously worked at Balyasny Asset Management, Moore, Caxton and E&Y. Ku did not return our phone calls or emails.
Former President Jason Huemer, who was at Visium from 2009 thru 2014, was responsible for managing personnel and served on the marketing and investor relations team. Huemer had frequent dialogue with Plaford and Valvani, taking investor meetings and traveling together. Huemer, a Columbia University graduate, previously worked at York, Synthesis Funds, Merrill, SAC, and Atlas. After Visium, he worked at Paloma and has since founded Matau Capital, an investment firm.
Christopher Plaford, who pled guilty in the case, has been spending time investing in various cannabis ventures and real estate. He pled guilty to both mismarking and insider trading, and though he seems to be the worst actor in the matter, is happily continuing to invest in cannabis and real estate ventures. He avoided jail time by testifying against Lumiere, Valvani, and Deerfield Capital. Interestingly, he has found investors who are willing to give him their money to invest, although his upcoming sentence may restrict such opportunities in the future. His former employers include Goldman Sachs and Balyasny Asset Management and WHW Capital.
Other members of Plaford’s team have landed surprisingly well given the circumstances. Bryan Wisk, who departed in 2012, is currently CIO at Asymmetric Risk Capital, a money management firm focused on hedging tail risks. He previously worked at Citigroup and Sabretooth Capital.
Ameesh Shah was responsible for China Medical, a security that was central to the regulatory issues discussed in the case. Shah, a longtime member of the credit team, is now the managing member of Tjori Capital, a hedge fund firm. The Wharton grad worked at Tennenbaum Capital Partners before Visium.
Andrew Han is a credit analyst with an economics degree from the University of Chicago. He worked at Credit Suisse prior to Visium and has since worked at Heinz, Spot Trading, FNY, and now Diag – a captive fund of Schonfeld Capital helmed by David Lohman, a close associate of Sanjay Valvani.
John Shoemaker, Ph.D. and senior analyst for Plaford, worked at Hap trading. He joined Evan Sturza at Millennium after Visium, but the pair moved to Hudson Bay after a difficult stretch at Millennium.
Lee Brown, a former Captain for the US Marine Corps and Harvard Business School grad, was a senior analyst for Plaford. He worked at Merrill Lynch and Highland Capital before Visium and has emerged as the CIO of Reef Knot Capital.
Sanjay Valvani’s team was much smaller and worked very closely together. While it was reported that Valvani committed suicide in 2016, his partner Joshua Brown graduated from Indiana University Bloomington with Christopher Plaford. He worked at Chase H&Q and UBS before getting an MBA from MIT. He joined Visium in 2006 as Valvani’s first associate and rose to become Valvani’s partner. Brown and Valvani were the entire Specialty Pharmaceutical team until 2010 when Neetu Dhaliwal and Ron Belldegrun joined the team.
Neetu Dhaliwal, a Wharton grad, joined Visium from JP Morgan. She was very well liked by Valvani, but not by others at Visium since she was reluctant to share meetings and resources with other analysts at the firm. In addition to working for Hillary Clinton, she moved to Hutchin Hill Capital before starting at a Family Office in 2018. Possibly the family office is Bellco, the family office of the Belldegrun Family or of Neil Chriss, founder of Hutchin Hill.
Ron Belldegrun, also a Wharton grad, joined Visium around the same time as Dhaliwal and rounded out the Specialty Pharma Investment team. His position caused some waves at Visium due to issues with his father, physician and biotech CEO Arie Belldegrun. Arie Belldegrun was the founder and CEO of Cougar Biotechnology and Kite Pharmaceuticals as well as a board member at Teva and other companies. This led to tension with other teams at the firm that covered these securities, as well as frequent restrictions on trading securities according to traders at the firm.
Ryan Ogg and Jerry Wu
Ryan Ogg and Jerry Wu were very close with Valvani and Plaford, all working together and sharing ideas for over a decade. They started together at Balyasny Asset Management and became partners at Visium at the same time. When the investigation began, it was Wu and Ogg who were most concerned, with either one or the other disappearing for weeks at a time. Colleagues believe that Ogg will move back to the West Coast, having retired from investing.
Hartaj Singh and Ann Daub
Analysts that worked with Wu and Ogg have moved around a bit, with Hartaj Singh surfacing as a managing director at Oppenheimer & Co after a stop at BTIG LLC. Singh was particularly close with Valvani and would spend off time together, especially weekends. Ann Daub has found her way to Soros Fund Management after a brief stop at Citadel. Mark McInerney, who joined Visium from Deerfield, has surfaced at Manor Pond Advisors.
The traders who worked closely with Wu, Ogg, and Valvani and their teams have landed on their feet as well. Lesley Kelly is a managing director at RBC Capital markets. Justin Lee, the former head trader at Visium has joined Gasima Global, a special situations fund, as head trader.
Lastly, Visium’s private equity effort, renamed Madryn Asset Management, was spun out in late 2016. The founder, Avinash Amin, was very close to Valvani but disliked by other people at the firm. Reports indicate that Amin forced the spin out of the fund after the investigation started. Investments in the private equity fund include equity investments in Venus Concept, Somalogic, and Pernix.
One question that will likely remain open is whether any of the employees around the rogue employees knew what was happening. Investment teams working on a portfolio are usually closely-knit groups, and many eyeballs looked at the securities in question. While Steven Ku was hit with a failure to supervise, didn’t the numerous players involved with the securities offer reasonable assurance that one or two rogue employees would have a hard time covering their tracks? And why didn’t Steven Ku use that as a defense?
Over time, more information will leak out about the investigation as staffers and service providers close to the situation move firms and share information. We hope one day to have a more complete picture of the firm and the dynamics that led to the success of the firm over many years as well as the end.