Alumni Highlight: Paul J. Alar (MKTG '78)


Paul Alar has led the way as a top investor for 30 years, focusing primarily on various alternative investment strategies. He founded his own Atlanta-based fund, West Mountain Partners LP, in 2002, which was soon recognized as the number one Emerging Manager Fund of Funds by InvestHedge magazine. By 2013, West Mountain Partners had become the best performing fund of funds in the world according to the Barclay Managed Funds Report.

Alar says the success he’s had as an investor is the immediate ability to “see through” a manager’s pitch and determine whether he or she truly understands a strategy or is simply reading from a script. He credits ECU with helping him to hone that skill – which stems from his exposure to a broad swath of students from different areas of the country and different economic backgrounds.

Before launching West Mountain Partners 12 years ago, Alar managed risk arbitrage portfolios for institutional and private clients at Bear Stearns, developed hedging strategies for Oppenheimer’s Alternative Asset Group, and introduced domestic private placement insurance to Deutsche Bank as a strategy for making hedge fund investments more tax efficient.

In addition to investing, Alar is passionate about running, which is what brought him to ECU in the first place. Growing up in New Jersey, he says he wanted to move to the south for its warm climate. His cross country coach, who was also his guidance counselor, suggested East Carolina.

“ECU offered an outstanding cross-section of students, which I found stimulating,” Alar explained. “I use this term loosely, but ‘anyone’ can get a good formal education, at almost any college, if they apply themselves. ECU’s advantage in my view was being able to assimilate one’s self to a truly diverse student body. This was ‘real world’ training and can’t be duplicated.”

Alar says he also enjoyed becoming a member of TKE fraternity and all of the related Greek activities.

Today, Alar lives in Smyrna, Ga. with his wife, Donna (ACCT ’78), who also graduated from the College of Business. Their son John attends Rhodes College in Memphis, where he runs track and field; Mark is a freshman at Texas Christian University.

In his free time, Alar serves as the community coach in track and field at Whitefield Academy.  During his 10 years of coaching, he has had three State Champions who have won 12 individual State Championships.
For budding business students, Alar has three points of advice. He said, “First, you must make good grades and take challenging courses. A potential employer will take a straight A student with honors from ECU over a B student from ‘name brand’ schools almost every time. Second, do not take your first job based solely on compensation. You should reverse engineer your career: Decide what you want to be doing in 10 years, and then determine the steps needed to get there and work backwards. Your first job should be the first brick in building your career path. Third, you must get intern work during the summer, even if the job does not pay. This will allow you to decide if the industry you had interest in is, in fact, the industry you like.”

Alar also noted that of the three State Champions he coached in track, none of them thought they were “runners” until they tried the sport.

He said, “I think that in itself offers a life lesson: Try anything once; you will never know what you might be great at until you do.”

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