A vulture [has] . . . a dissipated look; a business-like style, a selfish, conscienceless, murderous aspect—the very look of a professional assassin, and yet [is] a bird which does no murder. . . . Nature should give him a suit of rusty black; then he would be all right, for he would look like an undertaker and would harmonize with his business; whereas the way he is now he is horribly out of true.

—Mark Twain, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World

Vultures have always gotten something of a bum rap. They’re ugly, they’re noisy, they prey on the sick and weak—and they feed on disgusting, rotting carcasses. But, actually, vultures are environmental good guys, getting rid of toxic waste. They can reduce putrid carrion to nice, clean bones in a couple of hours as their ironclad digestive systems kill bacteria, reducing the spread of disease. Really, the world would be a terrible mess without them.

In the economic ecosystem, we vulture investors, who deal in so-called distressed corporate securities, serve something of the same Darwinian function: we help get rid of failing companies, digest bad debt, and mop up after bankruptcies. It may not be pretty, but it’s certainly necessary, and someone has to do it. So, just think of us as corporate ecology in action.

I’ve been a vulture investor for more than 15 years, and I’m proud of what I do. It’s a style of investing ...

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