We are pleased to host Ciccio Azzollini, CEO of Italy-based investment firm Cattolica Partecipazioni and co-founder of the annual Value Investing Seminar in Molfetta (Bari), Italy. Ciccio is a graduate of the University of Bari and has completed the Value Investing Program at Columbia Business School. In this interview he share his story on how he became an investor and also offer recommendations on what books to read and which investors to follow.

MOI Global: When you were thirty years old, you founded the Value Investing Seminar in Italy, which recently held its seventh annual event. How did you become interested in value investing?

Ciccio Azzollini: I’m self-taught so it was very tough because no one in my family had an investing background, and a value investing course didn’t exist in Italy. When I bought my first shares at the age of 16, attracted by the freedom of this business — if you’re successful, of course — I was foolishly doing technical analysis, momentum investing, etc., and within four years had lost all the money my father gave me to invest. Fortunately, near the end of this period, I happened to read an article on Warren Buffett that was published in an Italian financial newspaper. In 1996 on my first trip to the U.S. and Canada with my parents, I visited a bookstore in Toronto and bought my first book about Warren Buffett, The Good Guy of Wall Street. This was how I first learned about value investing.

Through Cattolica Partecipazioni I try to acquire assets or cash flow at a discount — the proverbial fifty-cent dollar…

Thanks to the Internet, I was able to learn much more about Buffett when I returned home, including the fact that he attended Columbia Business School. Unfortunately, my English wasn’t (and still isn’t) very good, but I did email Joel Greenblatt. I had read his first book, You Can Be a Stock Market Genius, and he was teaching a value investing course at Columbia, and he kindly said it would be okay with him if I sat in the back of his classroom. So, speaking barely any English, I moved to New York in the spring of 1999 at the peak of the Internet bubble, when value investing was deeply out of favor to learn the art of value investing from one of my heroes. At the end of the course, Greenblatt suggested I sit in on Richard Pzena’s class, which I did, and then I attended Professor Bruce Greenwald’s Executive Value Investing Program. I owe a debt of gratitude to these three great men.

In addition to the three men who taught me at Columbia, I owe a debt of gratitude to Ben Graham, Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, and Seth Klarman, from whose books and shareholders’ letters I have learned a great deal. Special mention also goes to Whitney Tilson and Glenn Tongue, who are mentors and like brothers to me.

MOI: Tell us more about your investment vehicle Cattolica Partecipazioni. How did the firm get started and what are its objectives?

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