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February 1, 2001

The Happy Warrior

By Sanford Wexler

Forty years in the trading wars haven't changed Geoffrey Ward's enthusiasm for the business. The 62-year old Ward, the head trader and senior vice president at Kobrick Capital Management in Boston, still has the same zest and zeal for trading as when he began back in the early 1960s.

"I love doing what I am doing," he beamed in his hearty and distinguished Boston accent. "I love working with the people that I am working with."

Ward is highly admired in the Boston trading community. For 20 years he was with State Street Research and Management, where he was a head trader and partner. He joined Kobrick in 1997, when it was founded by three former State Street executives, including the noted portfolio manager Fred Kobrick. The firm has about a billion dollars in assets under management comprised of equities, including listed and Nasdaq stocks.

Ward manages a three-person desk that executes trades for four mutual funds, including Kobrick Capital Fund, Kobrick Emerging Growth Fund, Kobrick Growth Fund, and The Star Fund. His desk, which performs about 40 to 50 trades each day, also trades for the firm's hedge fund.

Born in Winthrop, Mass. and raised in Hingham, Mass., Ward attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., where he majored in psychology. During his summer vacations he worked as an intern at the brokerage firm of H.C. Wainwright in Boston, where his father was a trader and partner. Today, Wainwright is part of Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown.

"I really fell in love with trading at Wainwright. I was on the trading desk learning the trading business under my father," he recalled. "One of my jobs was to change the ticker tape so it would reflect against the wall. There were numbers on a board that would change over when there was a price change."

Young Ward, then 21, joined Wainright's five-person trading desk in 1960 and four years later switched over to the buyside firm of Boston Management & Research, which is now defunct. In 1969, he moved to Wood, Struthers & Winthrop in Boston, where he was the firm's sole equity trader. Then in 1977, Ward joined State Street to head up its three-person trading desk.

Ward moved to Kobrick Capital because he was impressed with Fred Kobrick's management strategy. At State Street, Kobrick ran the firm's aggressive funds. "I loved his style and loved what he did and how he did it," Ward said.

The veteran trader has indeed witnessed a number of remarkable transformations over the past few decades. "It's been a hell of a ride," he said. Ward amusingly recalled that back in 1958 a fellow trader told him that one day he was going to see three million shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Ward finds the volatility of the marketplace to be one of his greatest challenges. "In the older days when you had a 10 point swing in the market, you'd say, Oh my God, what's happening,'" he said. "Now you have a 10 point swing and it's like a hiccup. I've had to adjust my mentality to the new environment."

Ward deals with some 35 broker dealers. ECNs are never used. "I feel that because of our size we need to have verbal contact with a handful of brokers that can help us in obtaining our objectives," Ward said. "These [objectives] are moving stocks into and out of a portfolio. We have a lot of personal contact with the brokers."

He is delighted to find tons of research coming his way via email from the sellside. But he suggests that sales traders should remember the old-fashioned way of staying in touch: the telephone.

"Before you used to get a call from a broker saying we're upgrading General Motors, we're downgrading Ford,'" he recalled. "It's important for firms to give us a follow-up phone call to let us know that they are alive. When we get an order, we say we've heard from this and this guy, but we haven't heard from this other guy.' So you call one and two, but you don't call three because he hasn't bothered to call."

Ward's four adult children are following in their father's footsteps. His three sons and daughter are all pursuing careers on the Street. "This is a trading family. I guess it's in our blood," he said proudly. "But I didn't force them. I just steered them in the right direction."

The advice Ward gives to his children and other younger traders is to simply follow the Golden rule: Treat people like you would like to be treated. Ward added, "Be honest and work hard."