As a kid, George Dai often hung around the lab that his father, a physician, ran at a hospital in China’s Jiangsu Province. Dai’s experience there sparked an interest in chemistry, and he decided to study it at the University of Science and Technology of China. His professors who had visited the US told tales of high-end instruments and grocery stores with entire aisles dedicated to bread. The promise of cutting-edge science (and abundant carbs) lured Dai to Johns Hopkins University for his doctorate. The best advice he got from his mentor, Gary H. Posner, was to improve his English skills. “In order to play a bigger role in this society, your language has to be good enough,” Dai says. “I have been improving my verbal and written English ever since.”
After earning his PhD in 1993, Dai moved to Ohio for a job in Procter & Gamble’s pharmaceutical division. He worked on anti-infectives and osteoporosis treatments. In 1995, one of his P&G colleagues gave him One Up on Wall Street. The book sparked something in Dai, and he made his first investment—$3,000 in a small company called Gilead Sciences. “Before that I actually didn’t know anything about investment.” He continued working at P&G but found his interests increasingly diverted to his investments. By 1997, he decided to pursue finance full-time, so he quit his job to earn his MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. It wasn’t an easy decision,” says Dai (left, at a business-school internship). “We were making good money, and then we had to give everything up.” He sent his oldest child to China to live with his parents. And his mother-in-law came from China to help care for his youngest child while his wife, also a chemist, worked as the breadwinner. “Without strong family support, especially my wife’s support, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Dai took a job with a small investment firm in Philadelphia after graduation, but soon he was recruited to Weatherbie Capital in Boston as an analyst, researching companies for potential investments. Dai sees a lot of parallels between that work and what a scientist does. “In both fields, you are dealing with fresh information every day,” Dai says. Investing and science both require understanding the big picture while at the same time drilling down into the area that you are researching, he says.
Twenty years later, Dai is still with Weatherbie, now as its chief investment officer in charge of all the Boston office’s investments—around $4.5 billion. He says scientists have a great skill set for the finance field, even more so now than when he started. “These are even better days for scientists to branch out because the world is becoming more geeky,” Dai says. And he offers this advice for others looking to pursue a similar path: “Be open minded, follow your dream, and be courageous.”