Entrepreneurs

A 20-year-old athlete with $3.5M under management

"I want to be the greatest at whatever I do," said Sam Dhillon, standing in the middle of campus at the University of Southern California. That requires a lot of work. "I only sleep three or four hours a night."

The Sacramento native is a junior at USC and a walk-on to the basketball team. He doesn't lack confidence or ambition, even though he only played in six games this season. Still, the Trojans made it to March Madness this year, and while the team lost in the first round, the 6-foot-8 Dhillon had a separate victory. He was honored at the Final Four by Allstate insurance and the National Association of Basketball Coaches for his "good works" off the court.

Here's a quick list of Dhillon's off-court activities:

Human biology major with plans to become a brain surgeon "and cure Alzheimer's."

Founder of a nonprofit called Deep Roots Foundation in his hometown aimed at urging kids in high school to excel in academics, athletics and community giving.

Leader of a mobile medical clinic focusing on the homeless in downtown Los Angeles.

CEO of Quest Investment Firm, which he created in 2014, with over 40 clients and $3.5 million in assets under management.

He passed the test to receive his Series 65 license when he was 18, allowing him to manage other people's portfolios (CNBC confirmed this).

Oh, and he plays violin, piano, and guitar.

Sam Dhillon
Source: USC
Sam Dhillon

"I know it sounds crazy," Dhillon said. "I take on too much."

Biology, nonprofits, basketball, the violin, yada, yada, yada ... wait, portfolio manager?

Are people really giving this kid money? "I was skeptical at first," said Debbi Hill, an human resource specialist who has invested over $200,000 with the 20-year-old student. "I've been thrilled with the results." In a little more than a year, her portfolio is up 12 percent.

For someone so young, Dhillon has been in the stock market for a while.

"I started investing back in high school," he said. "I bought Facebook stock and did pretty well."

He came to USC to study biology and play basketball, and that's where he got the idea of trading other people's money. Dhillon said a football player who has since turned pro noticed that the basketball player wore a nice watch. He wanted to know how Dhillon could afford it. The freshman explained he earned money in the stock market, and the football player suggested he do that for other people. Dhillon said "a light bulb went off" and he immediately called his father. "Dad, dad, dad, I have this idea," he recalled. "'I can get paid to have investments for these people."

In July 2014, he passed his Series 65 test, "the greatest day of my life."

Sam Dhillon #13 USC Trojan (3rd player from left).
Source: NABC/Kingshots
Sam Dhillon #13 USC Trojan (3rd player from left).

At first, however, it was difficult to convince anyone to give money to a newcomer who wasn't even old enough to drink. "It was tough," Dhillon said. "I probably only made $45 in the first six months of business." He didn't want to take money from his family, but a friend of his uncle's eventually gave him $20,000 to invest. "It was a tough grind, but I did pretty well on that account. He got me a few more of his friends ... and from there it kind of grew." That first year, Dhillon paid a "hefty referral fee" for new clients.

Since then, Dhillon said his customer base has expanded to a mix of professionals and student athletes who are transitioning to the pros. "I've seen an investor put in $10,000 and now he has $450,000 with me." He said two of his clients are about to enter the NFL draft, one from Ohio State and one from UCLA. A Trojan taking money from a Bruin? "I'm taking their money and making it grow."

Hill, Dhillon's client, said she heard about Quest Investment from a co-worker. She had been disappointed in the results and service she was getting from the brokerage she'd been with for years. "They were doing nothing but charging fees." With Quest, she is paying lower fees and getting better results, and she likes the personal service. "It's really a good business model," she said. When asked if she's ever made a withdrawal, she said she hasn't wanted to. "I even gave him more money last week."

Dhillon credits a lot of his drive to his father, an entrepreneur, and his mother, who works in the computer industry. "My dad always told me, 'Sam, with hard work, anything is achievable.'" In high school, he became student body president and was valedictorian. "People these days want everything handed to them in their laps, it's not that way at all. You have to go out there and take what's yours."

Dhillon hopes his $3.5 million under management grows to over $8 million this year, after his two football-playing clients turn pro. He said Quest outperformed the S&P last year by 9.8 percent. "This year we're up year-to-date 4.5 percent," thanks in part to playing the rebound in oil. He still credits Facebook with being his best investment. Chipotle was the worst. "Funny thing I've actually never taken a finance class in my whole life."

Up next, Dhillon is thinking of starting a real estate venture and a media company. "I can't say anything more than that, but I think it's going to be a cool company."

Sam Dhillon #13 from the USC Trojans plays a basketball game with Special Olympics kids.
AP
Sam Dhillon #13 from the USC Trojans plays a basketball game with Special Olympics kids.

Which probably means even less sleep. But, hey, time is money. "In 10 years, this is what I envision, OK?" Dhillon summed up. "You have a huge building. One side is Quest Investment Firm, and the other side will be my whole health practice." No word yet on where he'll put the real estate and media ventures.