Money makers: The bike that makes Keanu Reeves giggle
It wasn't enough for Hollywood actor Keanu Reeves to have the perfect motorbike. He had to have the company too.
Hollywood actor Keanu Reeves doesn't do things by halves.When told by his friend, motorbike designer Gard Hollinger,that he couldn't have the "sissy-bar" (the back rest forthe passenger seat) he wanted for his Harley, because, inHollinger's words, "that really wasn't my thing", Reeves hadto make do with Hollinger's suggested alternative. The Matrixstar loved it. "That's when they started talking about buildinga completely new bike that would look beautiful... a gleamingsilver prototype with thick tyres and a gas tank curved likethe fender of a Bugatti," says Hannah Elliott in BloombergPursuits.
Reeves persuaded his friend to go into business,designing bikes in keeping with his vision, with the actorroad-testing them. The Arch Motorcycle's KRGT-1 was born.That the duo have only sold a handful of the $78,000 bikesmight have something to do with each KRGT-1 being tailor-madefor its buyer. But then it was never about the money,says Hollinger. "It has to make you giggle when you ride it."
The Watcher's military operation
Virtu Financial is not as well-known as the large investment banks, such as Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan. But in global financial markets, it is a dominant and secretive player, valued at $2.4bn and making several million trades every day. It is also one of the most consistently profitable firms ever to grace Wall Street, says Bloomberg.
The business was founded in 2008 by Vincent Viola, now 60. The son of a truck driver, he has never set foot inside a business classroom. He previously worked for the US Army in its Airborne Division, where his squadron was known as the Screaming Eagles. His company also has a militaristic feel. Virtu is at the forefront of America's vast automated trading industry, using lightning-fast algorithms to steal business from established banks.
The company trades everything from shares and bonds to options and metals, making profits of $190m last year. Between 2009 and 2014 it only lost money on one day, when its computer system forgot to account for one company's dividend. Virtu has just 148 employees, but its computers trade on 230 markets in 35 different countries.
Precisely how Virtu makes its money, however, remains something of a mystery. As a rule, Vincent Viola does not speak to the media. If the computer encounters a trading problem, a computerised voice sometimes rings out across the office trading floor in New York. "Something's wrong," it says. The voice is known as "the Watcher".
Fighting the fund Mafia
Ajit Dayal is one of the wealthiest fund managers in India, but even on long-haul flights, he flies economy class. He then donates to charity the money he saves by not travelling in business class. He's made this company policy at Quantum Advisors, a fund-management firm he founded in 1990.
Dayal doesn't have a personal secretary either, preferring to book his own appointments and interviews, which he uses to hit out at the lavishness of the financial sector. Fund managers in India, Dayal tells the Financial Times, deal only in "cronyism". The same is true in the US, he says. "Most Wall Street firms don't care what happens to their investors, so long as they can make money."
Dayal's style has made him unpopular with fund managers, but it benefits his business. Quantum sells its funds to investors directly online, avoiding middlemen because Dayal refuses to pay kickbacks. As such, his funds are cheaper. "What we're doing is fighting the mafia."
The MoneyWeek audit: Lou Pearlman
How did he start?
Louis Jay "Lou" Pearlman, the "Big Poppa" who launched 1990s American boybands The Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and LFO, died last Friday, aged 62, while serving a 25-year prison sentence for running a $300m Ponzi scheme. Pearlman was born in Flushing, New York, in 1954. An early business venture involved persuading Jordache, a clothing firm, to advertise on a blimp.
The blimp crashed, but Pearlman channelled the insurance money into starting an airship company that later went public thanks to a "dodgy penny-stock scheme", according to Tyler Gray in Billboard magazine.
What was his big break?
Pearlman entered the music business in the early 1990s. One of his most successful creations was The Backstreet Boys, featuring Justin Timberlake. Despite the band achieving worldwide fame between 1993 and 1997, Pearlman told the band members they had made $12,000 per year each, all the while paying himself millions as their manager and, bizarrely, sixth band member.
Pearlman's career was also dogged by allegations of sexual impropriety at his $12m Orlando mansion. "Honestly, I don't think Lou ever thought we would become stars," Rich Cronin, the late member of LFO, is quoted as saying in The New York Times. "I just think he wanted cute guys around him... It was all dumb luck."
How much did he steal?
Pearlman's music career came to be characterised by the near-constant lawsuits brought by the acts he had represented. But it was an elaborate Ponzi scheme involving a fake airline that landed him in jail in 2008. Pearlman had set up a company called Trans Continental Airlines, which on paper owned 49 aeroplanes. In reality, it had no assets.
Over a period of 20 years, he persuaded individuals to invest a total of more than $300m in the fictitious firm. His victims only got back around five cents on the dollar, and are unlikely to get more. "The likelihood of there being a golden pot somewhere is remote," said one bankruptcy trustee.