With the wind chill, temperatures in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, dipped below 10 degrees last week. Still, Harris Kupperman showed up for his job in a short-sleeve polo and Ray-Bans, an iced coffee in hand.
As CEO of Mongolia Growth Group, Kupperman, 32, splits his time between Mongolia’s capital city and Miami Beach, where he was last week, working from a Starbucks in the South Beach Marriott.
“I think we’re keeping Skype in business,” he joked about his company’s heavy use of the videoconferencing site.
When Kupperman, a millionaire who also runs Miami Beach-based hedge fund Praetorian Capital Management, makes the 24-hour, three-plane jaunt from Miami to Ulan Bator, he flies coach.
“I don’t take a salary as CEO (of Mongolia Growth Group),” he said over dinner at the Local House in South Beach. “I own 15 percent of the company, so every dollar we spend is like $.15 out of my pocket. Then again, if our investments do well, I do very well.”
So far, his investments have been doing quite well.
When Kupperman co-founded Mongolia Growth in 2011, he took it public with about $4 million in capital, mostly from himself, friends and family. The company raised $51 million that year, and it’s invested about $40 million in Mongolian real estate. Those investments, Kupperman said, have "appreciated quite substantially." The company ( MNGGF in U.S. OTC Market, YAK in Canada) now has more than 3,000 shareholders and more than 100 Mongolia-based employees.
Kupperman, a native of Long Island, N.Y., moved to Miami Beach in 2004 after graduating from Tulane University in New Orleans. He started Praetorian from his college dorm room and continued to manage the fund from South Florida as he sought other investment opportunities.
(The investment bug bit Kupperman early: As a high school senior, he finished second out of 9,500 competitors in a fantasy stock market game, turning $500,000 in play money into $18 million in six weeks. The winner was a professional trader.)
A three-day trip in 2010 to “kick the tires” of Mongolia’s fledgling economy turned into an intense three-week stay for Kupperman and laid the foundation for Mongolia Growth.
“I was just amazed at how much potential I saw,” he said. “As an investor, you go to where the growth is. The economy of Mongolia is set to grow 12 percent this year. There is nothing else in the world that is as close to as exciting as what’s happening in Mongolia right now.”
Kupperman and his company are banking on reaping the rewards of a massive new copper mine coming online in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert.
The mine will employ thousands and is expected to produce $7 billion worth of copper a year, giving a major boost to Mongolia’s gross domestic product, which was $10 billion last year. Several other mining projects that tap into natural resource-rich Mongolia also are contributing to what Kupperman says is the world’s fastest-growing economy.
“In the next 10, 20 years, nothing will grow like Mongolia has been growing,” he said.
Mongolia Growth is heavily invested in Ulan Bator real estate and, to a lesser extent, the insurance business. Most of the 75 commercial, retail and residential properties it owns or manages are on Peace Avenue, the main drag that runs through the crowded downtown.