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October 18, 2010

Thomas Quinn & Sons

By John D'Antona Jr.

Wlliam Quinn, head trader at HighMark Capital in San Francisco, is the third generation in his family to work on Wall Street. And to be sure, Quinn has seen his share of changes in the marketplace over the years. He remembers when the stock market was primarily the Big Board and the American, and their data was displayed on peg boards. Today, he's seen those two primary markets and the Nasdaq evolve into a fragmented and technology-based market.

William Quinn

But since the May 6 "flash crash," Quinn has had a sense the market might return to a simpler form. "I think the genie is out of the bottle," he said, adding that he expects fragmentation will be addressed by the powers that be. "I think we'll see some consolidation in the amount of dark pools and exchanges, so trading can be better regulated or overseen. A lot will have to do with future regulation."

A simpler marketplace might restore client confidence, he added.

Quinn's family of Wall Street veterans includes his grandfather, Thomas, a bookkeeper at Thomson McKinnon, and his father, William, a clerk for De Haven Townsend on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. As a teen, the younger William got his first dose of the Street when his father brought him onto the NYSE trading floor-which is when he became enamored with trading. 

"That's when one million traded on a handshake," the Brooklyn native said, a hint of nostalgia in his voice. "And that's when I said, 'This is what I want to do for a living.'"

He began his financial career as an over-the-counter market maker at Merrill Lynch. His current employer HighMark Capital Management is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Union Bank, which was bought in 2008 by Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group. Now that the dust has settled from the deal, Quinn can upgrade the desk's technology. 

First on the agenda is a new execution management system. Already comfortable with his LongView order management system, Quinn said an EMS can help the firm access more brokers' algorithms. Currently, HighMark is testing both Instinet's Newport 3 EMS and UNX's Catalyst.


Quinn said HighMark also plans to expand beyond its current small- and large-cap portfolios and move into mid-cap stocks.

He has worked the last five years alongside Merritt McGann, a former veteran sales trader. And their combined experience plays into every aspect of Quinn's trading philosophy, whether it is trading sectors or managing his limited commission budget. 

"We want to make sure our preferred brokers are getting paid for their [research] services rendered," Quinn said. HighMark does not look for broker capital to trade. Quinn believes it is more expensive than the agency route. And keeping costs low is critical.

"It is what I hear and read from publications," he said. "Clients want return of capital, not return on capital."


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