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May 31, 2001

Still a Beantown Star

By Sanford Wexler.

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  • Still a Beantown Star

Trading is sometimes compared to competitive sports like football and baseball.

Leo J. Smith, Jr., 41, a managing director and head of equity trading at Putnam Investments in Boston, Mass., knows what it takes to compete on the gridiron and the baseball diamond.

Twenty-three years ago he was considered to be the best two-sport high school athlete in his home state of Massachusetts. Smith was a star baseball and football player at Boston College High School. While attending Boston College, he was a leading rusher for the school's football team, the Eagles.

Today, Smith runs a desk that is staffed with 17 traders, including seven domestic and six international traders. His sporting background has helped him with the ups and downs that every trader must face.

"There are a lot of things that you learn as an athlete," Smith said. "You learn to take hard-knocks, to dust yourself off and to get back in the game. You don't ever stay on top of a sport or anything else unless you continue to work at it."

Putnam manages some $350 billion in assets, with some $300 billion in equities and about $50 billion in fixed income. Smith's desk handles from one thousand to two thousand trades each day.

Born in Boston and raised on the city's South Shore, Smith graduated with a marketing degree from Boston College's Wallace E. Carroll School of Management in 1982. He started out his career at Fidelity Investments as a registered representative. After six months, Smith jumped at the opportunity in 1984 to join the trading desk at Putnam.

"I was fortunate enough to join Putnam even though I had no trading experience," Smith said. "I was brought up the Putnam way. Here, your word is your bond and we are straight shooters. The best way to assess dealing with us is that we are tough but fair."

Smith said that Putnam provides a very challenging environment for the hundreds of broker dealers that work with it.

"But we are also very easy to cover," he added, "because what you see is what you get. We look at the overall relationship that we have with firms and it transcends just an individual trade."

In recent months, the switchover to decimals has irritated many on the buyside. But Smith thinks that decimalization "was the right thing do." The issues that have come to the forefront as a result of decimalization, noted Smith, are nothing new. "They have just been exasperated by decimalization," he said. "Now, it is just more difficult from an institutional standpoint to best determine where institutional size and demand is on a stock."

The former football player complained that the buyside is faced with unfair rules. However, Smith does think there is a way to achieve a fairer marketplace.