Q&A with Max Salk, Photographer and Investment Analyst

Max Salk

Max Salk is a photographer, investment analyst, and dedicated volunteer. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in finance, Salk pursued multiple professional avenues in order to explore of his many passions, which range from economics and markets to history to landscape photography. Originally from Chicago, Salk currently lives in New York City, though much of his photography incorporates landscapes from his travels as opposed to his home city.

In addition to his professional pursuits, Salk is involved with the Navy SEAL Foundation, which provides a wide variety of programs to support Navy SEALs and their families, and intends to become more involved in volunteering for both active duty and veterans.

What was the vision behind Max Salk Photography and how did you start?

My interest in landscape photography started during my semester abroad in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Whenever I traveled, I found myself drawn to dramatic backdrops and landscapes, so I began to take pictures. After college, I printed and framed some of my photographs in my apartment. I enjoyed sharing them with friends and family, and came up with the idea to start a website. At the time, I didn’t think I had a large enough collection of photographs to fill a website, but over the years that collection grew, and I eventually moved forward with the idea.

What is a key strategy that you use to ensure success of your endeavors?

I find that the better I understand something, the easier it is to present/explain to others. I’ve also found that the more effective a presentation is, the more others will come to rely on and trust your work product over time. Sometimes an effective presentation involves taking weeks off work, and boiling it down into a clear and concise 5-10 minute overview. Other times, an effective presentation may need to be longer in order to thoroughly cover all of the relevant points of consideration. In either case, the process usually involves taking a lot of gathered data, and picking and choosing the most relevant and important pieces of information.

Therefore, I try to approach whatever I am working on with great attention to detail, and I am not afraid to ask questions. The more data I’ve gathered and the more questions I’ve asked in the process enable me to better understand something, and ultimately present it more effectively.

What’s your favorite position you’ve held in your career?

My first job out college was with a company called Morningstar in Chicago. The company sponsored a volunteer opportunity, whereby junior employees could apply to lead a semester-long investment seminar at one of two Chicagoland area high schools. I was selected, along with a colleague, to teach one of the investment seminars at Northside College Preparatory. The seminar met once every 2-3 weeks for a few hours, and typically involved a lecture/presentation from the teachers, as well as a guest lecture from another employee at Morningstar. We would incorporate other activities into each seminar as well, such as current events quizzes, class discussions, and student presentations.

I found the opportunity to present and teach students about finance and investing to be very rewarding and enjoyable, and it’s something I hope to do again in the future.

What are the personal habits or routines that make you productive and successful?

I try to be thorough and diligent in things that I am working on, and if I don’t understand something, I am not afraid to ask questions. Also, before a presentation, I will usually draft an outline for myself to follow along while I present. This helps me stay on track, and cover all the relevant points of consideration in a concise and effective manner. I’ll also usually bring back-up data and research to the presentation in case a question arises that I am not able to answer off the top of my head. 

How did you become interested in investing?

I first became interested in the financial markets late in college, watching CNBC and researching/trading stocks on my own time. As time went on, I realized that I was really interested in understanding how companies and industries worked, and how that translated into what those companies might be worth. Soon after graduating, I also became interested in the concept of credit, and how that impacts companies, industries, and markets around the world.

What are some traits that makes someone a good investor?

I think that a good investor is diligent and curious, and truly wants to understand how companies and industries work. I also think that a good investor can step back and see “the big picture”, meaning that he or she is able to recognize and spend time on the most important issues, risks, and opportunities facing a particular company or industry.

Why did you decide to study/minor in history in college? Has that helped you in your career at all?

I’ve been interested in history for as long as I can remember, and I wanted to pursue that interest in college.

To me, it is really important to understand the people and events that preceded us, and how those things shape who we are and the world we live in today.

Over the years, I’ve come to believe that having a strong understanding of history – whether social, political, or financial history – has indeed helped me in my career and in making investment decisions. I think that understanding events of the past can aid one in better understanding what might happen in the future, the likelihood of those events occurring, and the consequences of those events.

What are the basic principles behind the Navy SEAL Foundation and what made you interested in getting involved?

The Navy SEAL Foundation is a non-profit organization that raises money to support Gold Star and active duty SEALs and their families. The life of a Navy SEAL can be particularly demanding on families, as SEALs are often deployed overseas for extended periods of time. The Navy SEAL Foundation has created a variety of programs to aid and support these families. Support programs include academic scholarships for SEALs and family members, social programs for the children/family of SEALs, counseling programs, childcare programs, and transition support, among many other programs.

Like all members of our armed services, Navy SEALs embody an unparalleled level of selflessness, hard work, sacrifice, and dedication. They risk everything to protect our country, and their bravery and sacrifice can often be demanding on their families and loved ones. I believe that whatever support we can return to these soldiers and their families, in exchange for what they have given up for our country, is an extremely worthy cause.

What can we expect from Max Salk Photography and your work with the Navy SEAL Foundation in the future?

I plan to continue to travel in my free time and take pictures of beautiful landscapes. My favorites will ultimately make it on to my website! I would also like to eventually set up a function on the site where visitors can purchase prints.

With respect to the Navy SEAL Foundation, I plan to continue my work with and support of this great organization. I would also like to get involved in other organizations that support active duty military and veterans.

What’s the one piece of advice would you give to other aspiring leaders in your field?

Pursue your passion relentlessly, expect setbacks, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

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