Gregg H. Turk Biography

Gregg H. Turk Biography

Gregg Harrison Turk (born August 20, 1950) is an American stock market investor, sole owner of Turk Capital Management, Inc. and former Certified Public Account.

Gregg was born in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the eldest of two children and the only son of Lila (Lee) and Fred Turk. He spent his early school years attending Patrick Henry Elementary, a public school in the City of Alexandria, Virginia located 7 miles from downtown Washington, D.C. Gregg was a good student and natural athlete excelling as a football quarterback and baseball pitcher. The Boy Scouts enabled Gregg to develop leadership skills while becoming an Eagle Scout in 1964. His mother introduced him to the trombone in 5th grade which he played into college. He was elected president of the band his senior year of high school.  

After a twenty-year career in the Army, Gregg’s father Fred became a stockbroker. The family moved to nearby Annandale, VA where Gregg entered the brand-new Thomas Jefferson High School in 1964. In 1985, TJ became the magnet school in Fairfax County and thereafter was routinely rated among the best public high schools in the United States.

Living next to a golf course while in high school, Gregg took up golf with a passion and lettered all four years in addition to being elected captain of the golf team his last two years. He also played varsity basketball at Jefferson.

Gregg acknowledges his most important hero was his father, Fred.

Gregg felt his father was largely responsible for his good fortune due to introducing him to the stock market at age 11. His investing career started in the second grade when he was instructed to buy U.S. savings stamps out of his meager allowance. Each week he dutifully purchased a few U.S. 10 cent and later 25 cent saving stamps in school and pasted them in his little booklet. When the booklet was full, he was entitled to redeem it for a $25 U.S. savings bond. Fred used to leave his loose pocket change on his dresser each evening and the temptation was just too great. Taking just a small enough amount every now and then to not make it obvious, Gregg bought as many stamps as he could get away with. In 1962, Fred started working in the evenings as a part time stockbroker while finishing his military career. Fred was a gifted communicator, and he did quite well selling mutual funds and an occasional high-flying stock. Pointing out the growth potential of investing in the stock market, Fred encouraged Gregg to cash in the bonds and invest in one of the most volatile, growth oriented mutual funds of the day, Keystone S-4. The name sounded like science fiction but when he showed Gregg the outstanding 5-year growth record Gregg promptly cashed the bonds and plunged with everything he had --- $75. Every morning he awoke with anticipation to read the quote in The Washington Post although only after first reading about the local sports teams. In those days, the stock tables immediately followed the sports pages. So as soon as he read about the Senators or Redskins losing a game (they almost always did in the 1960s) he would go to the stock market tables, read the quote and figure how wealthy he was. Then he began noticing how individual stocks “moved” faster and that the difference between the 52-week high/low price was at least double or more for practically every stock listed! “Why not buy one of those near the low and sell at the high?” he asked Fred. So, he soon rolled out of the mutual fund and bought Continental Materials (copper/uranium mining) under $4 a share on the American Stock Exchange. It was exciting to see that stock go up an 1/8 or 1/4 of a point. No need to mention how lousy that first stock at age 10 turned out—it’s not the point of this story. It did get him hooked though, and for that he gives credit to Fred. From that point on, Fred and Gregg could talk about stocks as well as play catch in the back yard most evenings.

As time went on, Fred and Gregg made every mistake that one could conceivably make in the stock market. Fortunately, they both were able to “stay in the game” by 1) his refinancing the house and 2) Gregg caddying at a local country club during his high school years.

When it was time to go off to college Gregg’s future was set: if he didn’t make it on the pro golf tour, he would have a business degree to fall back on. Upon hearing his plans, Fred said only one thing. “Whatever you study in school, learn how to read an income statement and balance sheet backwards and forwards.” That bit of advice proved to be a guiding light. As a stockbroker, Fred regretted he never learned how to understand company annual reports. He knew for Gregg to prosper in business or investing, becoming an expert in accounting—the language of business, was an absolute must.

Gregg had always wanted to attend The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg since learning of its history in grade school. He was fortunate to be offered early admission. He attributes that feat to presenting himself in a favorable manner during an interview he procured with the Dean of Admissions. Not many students bothered to do that. His high school academic marks were good but below those of the typical William & Mary student. That didn’t bother Gregg, but he knew he had to study more than his classmates to keep up. And he was determined to do well in his business and accounting courses.

In Williamsburg, Gregg developed the habit of checking the local bookstore for new investing books every few weeks and reading all the investing books in the school library.

The local Legg Mason stock brokerage office provided a convenient way to check quotes on the one stock Gregg owned, another Fred recommendation, 100 shares of Computer Sciences selling for about $4/share. It was “worthwhile” to walk a mile after his Tuesday/Thursday finance class to punch up the current stock quote and get a milkshake at Baskins/Robbins next door for the walk back. Gregg diligently maintained a daily stock chart over his headboard for all to see in his fraternity house. In the end, the stock price dropped to $1 and fell off the chart. Gregg could only maintain a sheepish grin about it. He discarded the chart and eventually the stock, taking a "significant” loss.

As a postscript, it took 8 more years for Computer Sciences stock to recover to $4/share. After the company became a major software provider to IBM, the stock price reached $85/share in 1999. It eventually merged into another company in 2017. Holding the stock rather than selling in 1971 would have taken enormous patience but watching the $200 grow to $8,500 would have resulted in a 14% compounded annual return over 28 years.

It was in college that Gregg started noticing the daily horse racing results next to the stock market tables. Naturally, he began looking for ways to beat the races and did extensive research in William and Mary’s library looking at past races on microfilm. When he figured out how to beat the races, he spent the summer of 1971 going to Charles Town Racetrack in the evenings after working ten-hour days loading and unloading furniture vans. Having the same “gambling” gene, Fred enjoyed accompanying him on many of these horse racing adventures. However, when it was time to return to school, Gregg had pretty much blown his entire earnings for the summer “beating the races.” Of course, no one knew the extent of his losses, not even Fred. It was on their last late night trip home from the races (with Gregg feeling rather glum) that Fred reiterated his advice: “well, you can’t go wrong if you learn how to read an income statement and balance sheet backwards and forwards.” For you see, a year earlier Gregg had changed his major from accounting to management. Although he had received A’s in the beginning accounting courses, receiving a D in first semester of intermediate accounting spelled the end of his accounting education, or so he thought. Fred was amazing because he just nodded with a smile, when Gregg told him of the switch to an easier major. He knew what Fred must have been thinking but Fred had the wisdom not to say it.

A big reason for the poor accounting grades was Gregg being too busy selling inflatable furniture to his college classmates. During his junior year Fred and Gregg owned a stock called Class Student Marketing. The small brokerage office Fred managed helped IPO this “hot” little local Rockville, MD company. The company made money or more correctly tried to make money wholesaling inflatable furniture to college student salesmen who in turn sold to their classmates. This inflatable furniture was “high tech” stuff at the time, and it was easy going door to door in the dorms unloading it. It was also Gregg’s first experience in business, dealing with a real businessman in Rockville. Their relationship became strained though when he kept trying to push more inflatable chairs on Gregg than he could sell. He didn’t like the idea of carrying a large inventory with uncertain sales. Eventually the company went belly-up. As an “insider” Gregg felt he should have seen it coming and shorted the stock.

So, with Fred’s gentle reminder on the way back from the racetrack and broke again, Gregg changed his studies back to accounting and spent a 5th year completing the accounting program. With nose to the grindstone and taking fewer classes, he aced the course that previously did him in. Incidentally, the professor who taught that toughest of accounting courses had a mandate to weed out all but the best students. That is why William & Mary had/has a national reputation for having the highest percentage of accounting majors who pass the CPA exam while in school. Receiving one of the few As from Dr. Quinn’s class after having done so poorly the first time around was one of Gregg’s proudest achievements. It gave him enormous confidence there was nothing he couldn’t understand or learn if he did it at his own pace. Gregg has Fred to thank for that.

Gregg received his B.A. in Business from William & Mary in 1973. In 1974 he received a Master of Accountancy from VA Tech. From a job interview on campus, the accounting firm of Price, Waterhouse, offered Gregg a job in NYC as a staff accountant immediately upon graduation. In New York, Gregg audited banks and mutual funds in the Wall Street area. This was an exciting time because the 1973-74 stock market crash was in full swing and he was watching the ‘blood flow’ on Wall Street, literally. On January 24, 1975, a terrorist bomb went off in historic Frances Tavern on Broad Street, a block away from The New York Stock Exchange, killing and maiming several people. Gregg’s office desk shook from the blast and he witnessed the plight of the pedestrians in the area. It was about this time that he read Ben Graham’s The Intelligent Investor, widely considered the best investing book ever written. That was a major turning point. He began to look at stocks not as squiggles on charts but as businesses with measurable values. It was then that he purchased his first of many “Graham bargain” stocks. At that time there were hundreds of publicly traded companies selling for less than their net cash after subtracting all debt! While it was a great time to invest in the stock market it was a horrible time for stockbrokers—trading volume dried up. Fred was taking math courses to prepare for another career as brokerage firms were going out of business left and right, including his! Gregg could only imagine how Fred must have felt. But Fred was always upbeat saying, “after going through France in 1944 every day alive is a joy.”

Fred was able to stay in the brokerage business by joining A G Edwards in 1974. Returning to Northern VA in 1976, Gregg became the comptroller/treasurer for a local real estate brokerage company, Coldwell Banker Realty. The hours were long and while he found the work rewarding, he wasn’t satisfied reporting to a boss who determined his salary or reporting on business results that were not his own.

Since age 12, Gregg was aware of an intense desire to be rich and in charge of his destiny. He dreamed of freedom and the means to do anything. If he awoke one day wanting to see the pyramids of Egypt, he wanted the capacity to do it now. He had a sense of how short life could be. Also, at that age he was dumbfounded to learn that his grandparents had little to show for a lifetime of hard work. How could that be? It led Fred to observe that parents had a moral duty to never be a burden on their children. As if to say Gregg wouldn’t have to worry about Fred and Lila.

The stock market recovered from the 1973-74 crash but basically moved sideways for the rest of the seventies. Meanwhile Fred earned a good living and Gregg enjoyed buying a new condo each year, first residing, then renting each successive year. Real estate prices were skyrocketing, and he eventually purchased 5 brand new condos with 5% down payments and expensive mortgages with 9%-12% rates. Due to generous depreciation allowances and high interest rate deductions, Gregg paid no taxes. He was audited twice by the IRS in the 1980s, but no deficiencies were found.  In recent years, millions in taxes have been paid with no regrets.

After Lila died suddenly in 1979, Fred started making waves about retiring from the brokerage business. They talked about the possibility of Gregg taking over Fred’s clientele at A G Edwards. While he knew the downside of the brokerage business, Gregg thought this might be fun compared to what he was doing as an accountant. He had always considered the accounting profession to be a steppingstone to his own business someday. Gregg hadn’t found that business yet, but he was ready to leave accounting.

Coincidently, Gregg had just finished reading John Train’s classic The Money Masters which would shape the rest of his life. The book detailed the lives and investment philosophies of nine legendary stock market investors. In addition to a chapter on Ben Graham, there was a chapter about a fellow Gregg had never heard of, Warren Buffett. Reading the chapter on Buffett was an epiphany. For the first time, how to invest in stocks made sense. A stock should only be viewed as a fractional interest in a business…a living organism. Buffett believes the business world is divided into a tiny number of wonderful businesses worth investing in at a price—and a huge number of bad or mediocre business that are not attractive long-term investments.

After reading Train’s book and with his knowledge of accounting and Graham’s criteria, Gregg believed he knew how not to lose in the stock market. He also felt he could help other people with that knowledge even though he had made all his money in real estate up to that point. After passing the requisite brokerage exams, Gregg joined Fred at A G Edwards in 1981 with the idea he would eventually take over his “book.” The timing could not have been better. The stock market would soon begin its fantastic 18-year bull run—the greatest period in stock market history.

Gregg appreciated Graham’s approach and successfully practiced it for a while in the early eighties when even good companies were buys using Graham’s criteria. Many of Gregg’s early clients came after attending his seminars on Graham. Gregg was so enthused by the wisdom offered in The Money Masters, that he ordered 400 paperback copies which he gave to all his clients and acquaintances. After just a few years he had only one paperback remaining.  It remains along with his original well-worn hardcover copy.  He also has 8 other well read John Train titles.

On January 1, 1985, Gregg left the brokerage business to manage money working out of his condo through his solely owned, Turk Investment Counsel, in Mclean, VA. He decided to use Warren Buffett’s lifestyle as a model because it so seemed to suit him. Early in his career, Buffett worked out of a small sitting room next to the master bedroom in his house. No employees, no distractions, no wasted time……incredibly efficient.

Gregg went a huge step further by deciding to copy Buffett’s important positions after meticulously studying Berkshire Hathaway’s quarterly *13F filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He became keenly aware of Buffett’s greatness after reading everything about him and attending annual meetings in Omaha. The trick was buying those positions for less or little more than Buffett paid. It was not hard when Buffett was not widely followed. Even better was being able to accumulate Berkshire Hathaway stock with confidence during market dips. Buffett’s style of investing seemed so simple, understandable, and powerful that Gregg had no interest in doing anything other than following Buffett. Since the early eighties, Gregg and his clients have been disciples of the greatest investor of all time. Buffett has been a generous teacher eager to share his guidance on investing and life in general. It’s been so obvious to Gregg since learning of him 1979, that Buffett was a man to be seriously studied, copied, and who deserved to be everyone’s hero.

On being a good father, Warren Buffett said “love is the greatest advantage a parent can give.” Gregg believes he received that “in spades” from both parents. He hopes his children feel they have received an abundance as well.

Another common interest Fred and Gregg shared together for many years was playing against each other in a twice weekly poker game. They tended to stay out of each other’s way because they both played strong a game. The camaraderie shared with the other players allowed Gregg to see Fred in an unfiltered light. For during those games, he was not his father but a rather tough opponent. They did not play each other softly. With his “fast” mind, Fred instinctively knew how to read opponents and play properly. Whereas Gregg had to memorize the best poker books before being successful. It was during these games that Gregg recognized Fred’s ability to be well liked by almost everyone. His gift of quick wit and easy temperament could defuse even the tensest of moments. He had a way of settling arguments that appeased everyone. Incidentally, winning at poker and winning in the stock market require many of the same skills: patience, discipline and pouncing when one knows they have way the best of it. An air of indifference after suffering losing hands is paramount. 

In the late 1990s, Gregg was drawn to poker tournaments learning how to play no- limit hold 'em, a vastly different game than 7-card stud played predominantly on the east coast at the time. Making the transition was only possible for Gregg by studying and absorbing books written by poker masters. On trips to Las Vegas for poker tournaments, there was no time for anything other than eating, sleeping, gym workouts and studying. That was the prep for 12-hour tournament days. It required discipline to be in top shape physically and mentally.

After Gregg’s net worth reached eight digits in 2007, tournament poker held less allure. Taxable poker winnings were a tough way to get ahead. Compounded unrealized long term capital gains were far superior. The stock market crash of 2008-2009 marked the last time Gregg played tournament poker. He didn’t miss it but enjoyed high stakes “home games” for many years after.

In 1997 Gregg incorporated his investment advisory business as Turk Capital Management, Inc. Nothing changed as he continued to operate out of his home being the sole employee basically reading for a living. He seldom interacted with clients other than providing quarterly performance reports and annual letters reinforcing his (Buffett’s) investment philosophy. Assets under management steadily grew from $5M in 1985 to $70M in 2020. Gregg was unusual in not being interested in expanding his client base other than accepting the occasional referral. His primary focus was following Buffett and a few other legends and being ready to pounce every few years or in the event of a big market swoon. He and his clients owned just a few stocks with Berkshire Hathaway being his largest.  It was sitting on his hands most of the time that made the most amount of money for Gregg and his clients. Gregg prized the freedom and simplicity his lifestyle offered to be most in control of his time. That included being able to play a lot of golf, coach his children’s sports teams, play poker and engage in numerous family activities. In 2021, Gregg had the opportunity to transfer his clients to a well-respected local money manager and longtime acquaintance who also has a deep respect for Buffet. They would often connect on their annual treks to Omaha to hear Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger speak at the Berkshire Hathaway meetings.

Gregg notes some parallels to Warren Buffet’s life. As a child, Buffett also was “animated by controlled greed.” However, Buffett was a wizard at making money right out of the gate. He purchased his first stock at age 11 when his father was a stockbroker (later to become a U.S. Congressman). In high school Buffett’s grades suffered from his business interests. He delivered The Washington Post, owned a pinball operation and put together and sold a racetrack tip sheet called Stable Boy.  He figured the correct way to “beat the races.” Buffett studied stock charting, but it made no real sense to him. When he read Graham’s The Intelligent Investor “the light went on” and he transferred from Nebraska to Columbia University to take Ben Graham’s course. After receiving his degree in accounting, he returned to Omaha and worked in his father’s brokerage office. After a short time, he went to Wall Street and worked 2 years for Ben Graham. When Graham retired, Buffett moved back to Omaha to start his investment partnership and raise a family. Buffett also loves cards—namely bridge. He plays about 10 hours a week, sometimes with Bill Gates over the Internet. One of Buffett’s heroes is also his father.

*Form 13F must be filed within 45 days of each quarter's end.  Those wanting to study important money managers' holdings are given the info to do so.  The financial press often reports their buying and selling by comparing changes in quarterly filings.  A big caveat is recognizing the approximate price paid for stocks the previous quarter.  13F disclosures often generate price moves requiring investors to be patient and wait months or quarters to get comparable prices.