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Asset Manager Blends His Career in Investing with Academia

Jason Hsu (Ph.D. ’05) leverages his research as both investor and professor
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Jason Hsu (Ph.D. ’04) is founder, chairman and CIO of Rayliant Global Advisors, a quantitative asset manager based in Hong Kong, as well as co-founder of Smart Beta leader Research Affiliates. He works at the forefront of the smart beta revolution and is one of the world’s most recognized thought leaders in that space. An alumnus of UCLA Anderson, Hsu joined the faculty in the fall of 2008 and teaches Financial Policy for Managers and Quantitative Asset Management.

  • Jason Hsu’s asset management company, Rayliant, focuses on investing in China
  • His UCLA Anderson faculty appointment gives him access to the school’s talent, and Rayliant has employed more than two dozen alumni
  • As a member of UCLA Anderson’s Board of Advisors, Hsu looks to influence programs and curriculum

Like the rest of us, Jason Hsu (Ph.D. ’05), founder, chairman and CIO at Rayliant Global Advisors, has spent the last year and a half managing life during a pandemic. “From a business perspective, it is certainly challenging times, right? So many things are different,” Hsu says. “You don’t work in the office anymore, so you’ve got to modify your technology, your workflow. I think we got to a place where we’re just as effective, but still there was cost associated with coping and adapting, and adopting new routines.”

Hsu’s “routines” are not limited to his work at Rayliant. As an adjunct professor at UCLA Anderson, he finds time to teach finance courses in several of Anderson’s MBA programs. He estimates Rayliant has employed 27 Anderson alumni, including MBAs, MFEs and Ph.D.s. At the request of Dean Tony Bernardo, himself a finance professor, Hsu has also joined the school’s Board of Advisors. Even though the pandemic disrupted his professional responsibilities, Hsu looks to the positives. “There are a lot of blessings in disguise,” Hsu says. “I used to travel quite a bit. I’m able to stay home and spend more time with family. I used to make trade-offs that erred too much on the side of spending that extra day on the road on business. But with technology, now that trade-off is easier to make.”

Q: What brought you to UCLA Anderson to get a Ph.D.?

Well, there were two things that were super super important to me. One was family. My family, my parents, my sister — they are L.A.-based. A Ph.D. is a four- or five-year journey and I wanted to be nearby. Location was vastly important in my decision. The other reason, of course, is that I wanted to be at one of the top research programs in the field of asset pricing. That is my passion and UCLA Anderson is definitely in the top three in terms of asset pricing. Anderson was a perfect choice. It was a phenomenal program, and it was geographically the right place for me.

Q: What is life like for a Ph.D. student at Anderson?

It’s enormously fun, you have great autonomy. You can manage your schedule the way you want, and clearly it’s an outstanding research environment. You get to do the things that you are genuinely curious about and you really have the faculty members as your resource. If you want to talk to them, if you want to find out something, they’ll help you. Otherwise, they’re very hands off.

Your peers in the Ph.D. program are curious researchers in their own right, and so you hang out all the time. You talk, you learn from each other, you discuss ideas. You can be alone when you need to or you can come together and, of course, the coursework is all there for you, to find out the tools that are available.

It’s also, in some ways, one of the hardest things you could be doing. You move into a realm where there are no known answers to the questions that you are interested in, and that takes quite a transition in how you think about things. This is no longer about getting the right answer. This is about asking the relevant questions and figuring out if you can find the right answer.

Q: What made you decide to pursue a Ph.D. instead of an MBA, and when did you realize your life could include working in both the private sector and academia?

Prior to earning my Ph.D., I was actually in the private sector. I was at a big investment bank. I had some intuition about the way the market works. You see patterns, but you don’t have time to think deeply. It just wasn’t right for my type of personality. I need to know why things work the way they do. I’m curious about it. I want to know.

Coming back to get a Ph.D., in part, was to understand more about economies and markets, and to understand how we all sort of fit together to make it work. To question, does it always work? What happens when it doesn’t work? At the time of entering the program, I was absolutely more interested in being a research scholar, being in the academic profession, teaching and researching. It really is a total coincidence and happenstance that I deviated and returned to the private sector.

Q: How would you explain to someone what it is that your company does and what you do?

Rayliant is a quantitative asset manager that specializes in China.

Quantitative investing — literally, it’s about taking the empirical research out of asset pricing and then applying that to investing. It’s probably the most direct application of the things we research and teach in finance courses. It is a very direct application of the research we do at Anderson.

At Rayliant, we take the tools and the methodologies and the the structure and look at why things should work a certain way. And when it doesn’t work that way, we ask, “What does that mean?” Then we take that knowledge and apply it to China and China’s markets.

Q: What are the biggest challenges to doing business in China, which is a very different economy than the economy of the United States?

Well, I am Chinese, and I speak and read Chinese. But I was educated in the U.S. and, culturally, my frame of reference is very American. So, when I go to China, I think I have a deeper appreciation than anyone else about the assumptions we make as Americans and how they don’t translate at all when you are in China. Many people, American or western business people, get super frustrated because things work differently. Of course, it’s supposed to work differently, right?

It’s a very different culture. Language is different. The literature, the art, the history are so different. That’s when I realized, as someone who is very America-centric, I lack the structure to really understand another culture.

I start with a very American way of seeing things and make assumptions that I myself am not aware of. So, I have hidden biases that must be true. That must be how the world works. And it takes me awhile to realize, no, that’s not how other people naturally assume the world works.

It’s a little embarrassing, I have to confess. Oftentimes, I lean on my Chinese colleagues to be very sympathetic because many of them were educated in the U.S. So they can kind of understand why I think the way I do. That’s probably the biggest challenge for me and, I think, for many western people operating in China. We are extremely America-eccentric.

Q: What are you hoping to accomplish with your students and what do you get out of that experience?

I think I’m built to be a teacher, an educator. I get more happiness and a sense of purpose when I do that.

As I teach and try to make the research that I do and the research that other people do easy to understand, I also gain a deeper insight by breaking really hard things down to their very core essence. I feel like every time I teach, I also get a little smarter.

As a business owner, I have benefited from hiring many UCLA Anderson students. Being here in the school environment allows me to interact with them. It gives me an advantage, certainly in recruiting. That’s definitely great for my business as well.

Q: How did you come to join Anderson’s Board of Advisors? Why did you think it was important to be a board member and how do you contribute?

I was approached by Dean Tony Bernardo. I have known Tony a very long time, since I was a Ph.D. student. Tony has always been incredibly kind, not just to me but kind and helpful to all the Ph.D. students. I feel a debt to Tony and I want to repay that debt. It’s a debt to all the faculty members I’ve interacted with and all the benefits that have gotten me to where I am today in my career.

Obviously, there are many far more experienced, skillful, resourceful people on the board. Because I was a Ph.D. student, I know the importance of that program and how it may be underemphasized. I’ve taught in the EMBA program and the MFE program, and I think I can be an advocate for both, and also for their innovations, so that we continue to develop programs that are likely to serve the business world better.

I think where I can be useful is in program design, curriculum design, because as an employer, I’ve definitely seen how our needs have changed over time and how the school has reacted. I can help the school be faster and perhaps more on target to evolve the curriculum and programs.