THINKING: Profiles

Tom Sanders Jr. – European Equity Trader

Tom Sanders, Penserra’s primary European equity trader, offers his institutional customers over three decades of industry trading experience. A dedicated family man from New York who goes to work in the middle of the night, Tom also finds time to pursue his passion for golf.

Q:  You’ve worked on Wall Street for over three decades. What factors made you want to focus your career on trading international equities?

A:  My first 4 years in the business were on the domestic OTC desks at Drexel Burnham (St. Louis) and then McDonald & Co (Cleveland). My father, a lifer in the business, had just changed firms from AG Edwards to Stifel, and the head hunter that placed him asked if he knew any young OTC traders that would want to move to NY for a new operation that was opening up with a Swiss Bank. He gave them my name, and before I knew it I was in NY trading foreign stocks for UBS, who had just bought Philips & Drew in London and was starting to make a push into the US markets. I’m not sure I have ever focused on just the international side of the market. If you want to stay on Wall Street for any extended length of time, you need to be flexible and willing to learn new businesses all the time. Not that I haven’t looked at going back to the domestic side or the buy side during my career. It just so happens I’ve found the international side to be where all my opportunities have been.

Q:  You’ve been Penserra’s primary European trader since 2008. Can you describe some of the professional nuances required to execute transactions in so many different markets?

A:  I must admit that 30 years ago that was a big deal because when you were on an international trading desk the trading pads were split up by countries. You would have to pay more attention to each country’s news and economic issues. While you still have to pay attention to the individual countries, its now on a larger scope of how it affects the EU and not just that specific country. After Big Bang in the UK and the formulation of the EU, the nuances between markets have become smaller and smaller. Once MiFID and MiFID II came along, it made it even closer to being just a single market. Some of the things they haven’t coordinated fully yet are opening and closing times, settlement dates, and one true consolidated tape, but they’re getting there.

Q: Brexit is on the horizon. In what ways will its implementation affect your day-to-day trading responsibilities?

A:  With Brexit, nothing much changes as far as trading responsibilities other than now it becomes kind of like the old days where the UK’s economics matter solely on their own.

Q:  You’ve worked at large firms (Drexel Burnham, BAML) and small firms (Penserra). Which do you prefer, and why?

A:  Prior to Penserra, I was always on a trading desk that took risk and committed capital to customers which I thoroughly enjoyed. Penserra is agency only, and to be honest I find it to be a much harder trading job than committing capital. You have to be more in tune with the way the markets are moving so as to be value added for the client. I don’t have the trading pad to fall back on anymore and give a print if I get behind or something goes the wrong way.

Q:  You were one of Penserra’s first employees when you joined the firm in 2008. Why did you join a startup in the middle of a global financial crisis?

A:  For me, being part of a startup is exciting and something I’m quite used to. I was one of the first ten employees of UBS NY, and I was one of the first five employees BAML international desk. The beauty of those operations were the names, and there was plenty of money to back you, making it easier to make your way. Here at Penserra, it was as organic a start as you could get; some seed money and start plowing away. George Madrigal has done a fantastic job leading the firm’s growth and spreading the name. Ten years later, while it is never easy in this business and you can never rest, the name Penserra means something when people hear it, and they now want to listen and hear the story.

Q:  You go to work in the middle of the night and come home in the early afternoon. How has this schedule affected your work and home life?

Working European hours is second nature at this point in my career. Working the European shift for me is a godsend for family life. Being home at midday, I never missed anything my kids did at school or after school. I was able to coach their sports teams and be around when they got home from school. I’m able to do things in the afternoon with my lovely bride of 32 years and I’m home for dinner, which mattered more when the kids were younger and at home. So, for me it works great. Besides, sleep is overrated.

Q:  A little birdie told us you enjoy golf. Any favorite courses you’ve played, or courses you want to play?

Ah, golf! I do love the game, especially if I am able to walk the track. Just something special to me about being outside, smoking a cigar and hanging with a few people whose company you enjoy. Mark Twain had it all wrong! I’ve played Pebble and Spyglass and several others on the left coast. I’ve also played 13 of the Championship courses in Scotland. I’ve played in Ireland. I’ve played Winged Foot and Shinnecock, but one of my favorite courses ever was a course that no longer exists–The Links at Shirley. Now, if you live on Long Island, you know that Mastic/Shirley is a fine town but not the mecca of the South Shore by any means. Having a golf course like the Links was a bit over its head and sadly why it is now condos. I would think I played over 200 rounds at that course. It was a Gary Player design and maintained to the hilt. I can’t explain the beauty of teeing off early in the morning with a slight mist coming of the lakes and floating over the fescue, but it was truly one of my favorite places to ever play. I guess I have to find a new favorite, which is always fun too.