Before North Korea trip, Otto Warmbier helped run student alternatives fund

  • Warmbier was third-year student in commerce at UVA
  • Was managing director, special situations group, at school’s Alternative Investment Fund
  • Intended to go into investment banking

Before he became a pawn in the high-stakes confrontation between Pyongyang and Washington, Otto Warmbier had his sights set on a career in finance.

The 22-year-old University of Virginia student died on Monday, less than a week after being sent home from North Korea in a comatose state, with severe brain damage.

Warmbier spent 17 months in captivity, after he was detained at the Pyongyang airport on January 2, 2016, for allegedly attempting to steal a propaganda poster —“perpetrating a hostile act against” the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in the parlance of Kim Jong-Un’s regime. The government accused Warmbier of acting under secret U.S. direction to undermine the country’s “single-minded unity.”

Before he took that fateful trip to Asia, Warmbier was majoring in economics, with a minor in global sustainability, as well as studying finance and business management at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce. Neither UVA nor McIntire returned requests for comment.

Outside the classroom, Warmbier was on the leadership team of the university’s Alternative Investment Fund, a student-run organization that “strives to expose members to the full spectrum of financial instruments and trading strategies, beyond the long-short equity model commonly employed by student investment funds,” according to its website. The group did not return requests for comment.

Warmbier’s LinkedIn profile gives his title as managing director, special situations group, and lists activities including, “Managed AIF’s $20,000 portfolio as a voting member of the Investment Committee” and “Led weekly meetings and taught lessons on modeling, mergers, acquisitions, IPO’s and spinoffs.”

The fund has taken long positions in Blackstone Group, Live Nation, and Hilton Grand Vacations, and shorted stocks including Etsy and Whole Foods. From 2013 to 2015, Warmbier pitched trades in Oi Telecommunications (long equity), Caesars Entertainment (put options) and Lumber Liquidators (short equity).

According to the Cavalier Daily, UVA’s student paper, Warmbier planned to pursue a career in investment banking.

He would have graduated this spring, had he not journeyed from China to North Korea with an agency called Young Pioneer Tours. The company, whose website formerly declared North Korea “probably one of safest places on Earth to visit,” has said it will no longer accept American tourists following the “tragic outcome” of Warmbier’s detention.

Action Item: Check out the corporate relations page of the Alternative Investment Fund at the University of Virginia.

Otto Frederick Warmbier (center), a University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea in early January, is taken to North Korea’s top court in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo on March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Kyodo/File Photo