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August 31, 2000

Trading in the Family

By Sanford Wexler

Denise Coleman has trading in her blood. Ever since she could remember, Coleman, head of the trading desk at Pitcairn Trust Company, had an interest in trading as well as in finance.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, she began working in her family's sporting goods store at the age of six. "I learned at a young age about money," said Coleman, a 23-year securities industry veteran.

Coleman originally wanted to become a math teacher. But her high school guidance counselors dissuaded her. "They told me computers were taking over," she said. "There was not going to be a need for math teachers."

Today, she is happy she took her guidance counselors advice. Computer literacy is naturally of paramount importance at Pitcairn and at other firms. Located in Jenkintown, Pa., Pitcairn was founded in 1923 by the three sons of John Pitcairn, a Scottish immigrant who co-founded the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company.

The 77-year-old investment management and trust company has some $2 billion in assets under management. The firm is 100 percent owned by the Pitcairin family. Pitcairn's clients include the Pitcairn clan as well as wealthy individuals and families, foundations, religious endowments and other non-profit entities.

Coleman, who is the sole trader at Pitcairn, executes hundred of trades each day, mostly Nasdaq and listed stocks. The firm has four portfolio managers who handle small-cap, mid-cap, and large-cap equities.

Coleman bases her decision to execute a trade directly through a broker dealer, or via an ECN, upon the size of the order. Like many buy-side firms, Pitcairn's trading desk uses several ECNs including Instinet and Bloomberg's Tradebook.

"I have good relationships with many broker dealers because I have known many for over 20 years. You build a rapport and you are able to trust each other," she said. "I tell a broker when I'm working something. If I am working 25,000 shares, I will tell him there is more behind it."

After graduating with honors from high school in the mid-70s, Coleman landed a job working at the trust department of Central Penn National Bank (now part of First Union). "I was running balance reports and making entries for commercial paper," she recalled.

A few years later, Coleman snared a job on the equity-trading desk at Delaware Management Company, a buy-side firm in Philadelphia. "I worked my way up," she said. "I did charting, average pricing, allocating, and different things in the trading department."

Coleman, who eventually became a full-fledged trader at Delaware Management, spent 12 years at this firm.

Her next stint as a buy-side trader was at Brandywine Asset Management in Wilmington, Del. Coleman, who worked at Brandywine for eight years, spearheaded a trading desk that went from handling $550 million in assets to $8 billion. Three years ago, she joined Pitcairn Trust Company.

Coleman admits that running a trading desk alone is at times a bit challenging. "It's difficult taking time off," she explained, "and trying to focus on the different markets going into meetings."

But thanks to her diligent assistant, Maureen Loughran, Coleman successfully manages to run Pitcairn's trading desk smoothly.

What attracts Coleman to trading is that it is far from routine. "I wouldn't say it's like a battlefield," she observed, "but it's always changing."

Coleman is a long-time member of the Investment Traders Association of Philadelphia, an affiliate of the Security Traders Association. One way for the STA to cater more to the buyside, she suggested, is for the national organization to work even harder at keeping track of buy-side members who change jobs.

When Coleman started at Pitcairn the STA was unaware of her switch, she claimed. She almost missed attending a winter conference. "They really have to keep track of people moving from firm to firm," she said.

For relaxation, Coleman, her husband, their two children, ages nine and 14, and their dog, an adorable golden retriever, enjoy their vacation home in Bethany Beach, Del. (Bethany Beach, nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the inland bays, is known as one of Delaware's "quiet resorts.")

Coleman's husband, Bruce, sells welding equipment. "It's a good thing we are not in the same business," she quipped.