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August 31, 1999

Happier in the Heartland

By Gregory Bresiger

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  • Happier in the Heartland

Head hunters please take note: Jeff Albright, vice president and head of equity trading at Waddell & Reed Financial Services in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, has no desire to head for the big time. He wants no supervisory work at the trading desks of Fidelity, American Century or at some other fund giant or even at a wirehouse in New York City.

He is very happy heading a medium-size desk of five traders--a desk in which he trades as much if not more than he supervises. He is enthusiastic about a trading firm with $25 billion in assets--about $19 billion in equity and the rest in bonds--and primarily working on the firm's mutual funds. His desk handles about 50 trades a day.

Those numbers mean Waddell & Reed's trading desk is small potatoes compared to the heavyweights of the trading business, and even though Waddell poses no immediate challenge to the Vanguards, Fidelitys and T. Rowe Prices of this world.

"It's fun to go to work. That's very important to me," Albright said. And one of those pleasant elements of his job, says Albright, is working in the same region in which he grew up.

Uproot

Albright, who is a Topeka, Kansas native and now lives in Overland Park, Kansas, has always wanted to stay in his state. At roughly the mid-point of his career, he is exactly where he wants to be. At 36, with 13 years in the trading business, Albright doesn't want to move away to a huge firm and uproot his family.

Albright's experience, primarily, has been with small to mid-size trading firms. He came to Waddell last year after three years of building a trading desk from the ground up at AAL Capital Management in Appleton, Wisconsin.

He is comfortable with Waddell's multi-style trading desk. Before that he was senior trader at Munder Capital Management in Birmingham, Michigan.

"Waddell is the kind of firm I like because I can get involved in everything. I basically consider myself another trader on the desk. My philosophy is that we all should be able to do everything. And here I can participate in all kinds of trading," he said.

Left unsaid by Albright: It is not a big, impersonal firm with bigger rewards, but huge personal costs. Albright clearly thinks there is a better culture at Waddell, as well as smaller trading operations, that is healthier than at the bigs. For instance, in recruiting and evaluating traders, Albright emphasizes professionals who work effectively in a team environment and who work with portfolio managers.

"You can't be concerned with where you're going on the next job. You can't be focused on yourself," he said. "A good trader is a genuine person. Someone who is focused on the job, but also has a life outside of the job." He adds that traders must also have a sense of responsibility. Whether they make a good trade or a bad trade, they must be able to justify their actions, he adds.

Albright says humor is the best way to combat the stresses of daily work. "We have jobs to do, but we also laugh a lot on the desk. That's very important."