Salmon famously swim upstream. It makes little sense, but the very propagation of the species depends on it.
America has set herself apart from so many other nations largely because of that same mentality, that survival and prosperity alike depend upon trading what is easy for what is needed. This nation, at the heart of it all, started as a great experiment, and it was only through the free market system and the the resulting ability to adapt and thrive through hard work and ingenuity that the United States of America has grown more in less than 250 years than the rest of the world did in a millennia.
But it takes more than just a free market — it takes a system of government carefully designed to counteract the very weaknesses of human nature as it relates to matters of power and governance, and it takes a special kind of person, displaying quintessential American traits and values, to take the opportunities provided by liberty and willingly add equal parts hard work, ingenuity and personal sacrifice, all in the name of a dream.
To find those inherent traits and values, look no further than the American entrepreneur, a unique type of person willing to risk everything to follow that dream, a dream which can only be realized through freedom and unbridled opportunity.
Meet Geoff Bennett. A little more than ten years ago, Geoff left Colby College in Maine with a degree in economics. The inevitable life in finance began to take shape, with stints in Boston and Philadelphia leading to completion of a professional certification program–Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)–but took a turn for the inspirational with a long-awaited migration south to Charleston, South Carolina.
Why Charleston? “The fishing,” Bennett says. Even when he was at Colby in Maine, study time was balanced with time on the water, a passion first instilled in him during childhood fly-fishing expeditions to Montana with his father. “Maine is a much different place than where I am now. The fishing season was shorter, but we still had great fishing for a few months out of each year. It was there, actually, that I began fishing more in saltwater than freshwater, and that’s something that’s carried over to what I do now.”
That’s right — his experience with saltwater fishing has lent itself to what he does now. While a chance meeting upon reaching Charleston in 2004 with a man starting up a small hedge fund led to more than four years of work as a junior partner and corporate bond trader, Bennett knew that things needed to change, and that he needed to follow his heart and pursue his dream. And he did.
“There was a lot to like in what I was doing, both in Charleston and before in Philadelphia and Boston” he says. “Things were constantly changing, literally minute by minute, and I was always engaged and actively learning about a wide variety of companies and industries through trading corporate debt. It was my background, and I found it fascinating. Ultimately though, I realized that while it provided a nice standard of living for myself and my family, I was rarely around to enjoy it or them.”
Work-weeks, he says, ranged from fifty to sixty hours and more, and that didn’t include work which needed to be done over weekends. By the time he has spent two years in Philadelphia, Bennett considered that a change in climate would make up for the burdens of a heavy schedule away from family. In many ways, it did, but according to Geoff it took a complete career change to make him truly happy. Besides, he says, it was becoming increasingly apparent that capital markets were in for a rough time due to a faltering economy.
“It was late in 2007 when I intuitively knew that I had to give it a shot,” he says. But it was a process that would consume more than a year, and he finally left his firm in early 2009. “The economy and the uncertain political climate were both things that I needed to make peace with before making the leap. As poor as the prospects may have been, I didn’t want to wait until the economy was in an ‘expansion’ or the right person was in the Oval Office.”
“I could have been at the same desk for the next five years, still waiting to time my jump,” he says. “I’ve always thought that this would only work if I really hustled and was truly realistic about the prospects of my earning power for the first few years. As I’ve seen this administration and the last pumping massive capital into our economy and reinforcing the idea that people can rely on the government to be their backstop, it just reaffirms in my mind that I never want to be in that position.”
And so he jumped, taking and passing the requisite courses and exams, paying the necessary fees, gathering the right documentation and waiting the six-plus weeks for his application for a captain’s license to be processed and approved.
And it was. Geoff Bennett the bond trader, formerly employed by a small hedge fund, had officially given way to Capt. Geoff Bennett. And with his new company, Charleston Charter Fishing, he made the improbable transition from the cubicles and constraints of corporate finance to the wide open possibilities of a professional fisherman in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
Still, while business over the peak season this past summer was more brisk than expected, Bennett insists that he doesn’t expect the waters to be completely placid. Government-mandated health care could mean added costs for his new business, the inevitable rising cost of fuel creates further overhead, and the recent creation of a federal Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force by President Obama has some professional anglers worried. While the president stated that the agency’s purpose was to “succeed in protecting the oceans, coasts and Great Lakes” through a “comprehensive, ecosystem-based framework for the long-term conservation and use of our resources,” many fishermen are concerned that the new entity could facilitate closure of sport fisheries both inland and along the coasts.
“From my experience, I’m already wary of what happens when politics and science intertwine,” Bennett says. “It gets worse when politics and conservationism tango.”
As it turns out, his senior thesis at Colby was a cost-benefit analysis of the removal of a dam from the Kennebec river in Augusta, Maine. Environmental economics and natural resource valuation are not sexy processes, he warns, and they take time. The 90-day window for analysis afforded to the brand new task force will allow for little of the correct and essential methodology to be applied. And the shame of it all, Bennett argued, “is that the recreational sportsman is the best ally a species or resource could ever have — nobody has a more vested interest in being a good steward of the environment.”
As for the possible pitfalls associated with a floundering economy, Bennett insists that he “refuses to buy into doom and gloom,” and that his decade in the capital markets gave him the perspective and opportunity to “watch sentiments swing massively over a short time span.” His goal, he says, is “to be ramped up and ready for the time when the economy begins to stabilize or even expand.” Citing the plight of many mortgage underwriters, he notes that switching careers only when another industry is booming and the money is easy “can be lucrative for a while but can often be a lousy trade.”
Despite all of the changes in his life, despite the changes in income and adjustments in lifestyle which accompanied a timely decision to follow a dream, one thing has remained constant for Capt. Geoff Bennett — his diet.
“I don’t eat fish,” he says, a sheepish grin on his face.
“I never ate a lot of fish growing up and that hasn’t changed,” Bennett says. “Of course, I get more than a few squirrelly looks while out on the water and even on shore when people discover this. I can’t explain exactly what made me so passionate about the sport; that passion has just always been there since my father first baited my hook when I was young. There’s no real certainty in fishing, see, and it is the mystery and the hope of what-might-be that keeps people coming back. Fishing, to me, is potential. It’s risk and reward and relaxation, all in one. And that I get to put other people on fish is even more enjoyable than catching them myself.”
And, quite certainly, it beats the rigors of the financial world, even on a bad day. Some people, it seems, are content with slapping an “I’d Rather Be Fishing” bumper sticker on the rear bumper of the car they commute in every day. Knowing the hard work, sacrifice and uncertainty he would likely face, knowing that good things often come to those who swim upstream, Geoff Bennett actually made it happen.
For more information on Geoff, or to book an excursion with Charleston Charter Fishing, visit his Web site at www.charlestoncharterfishing.com, or call (843) 324-3332.