THINKING: Perspectives

We Are Penserra: Ten Years Ago, Today

Hanging on a wall of Penserra CEO George Madrigal’s spartan office is a photograph of him cocooned inside a blue sleeping bag, snoozing away on the floor of Penserra’s original office in Orinda, CA. Suspended above him is a simple “Penserra Securities” sign scrimped from a local FedEx, a gallant distraction from the three old-school analog clocks doing a very poor job of keeping tabs of the time in New York, London and Tokyo. Serenaded by the white-noise of telephones and computers, George has sacrificed a decent night’s sleep to ensure the successful execution of Penserra’s first program trade in New York, an emblematic act of stewardship catapulting Penserra to a decade of growth and promise.

March 4, 2019 marks the ten-year anniversary of Penserra’s first equity trade, a significant milestone for any broker-dealer. On that day, executed by European Trader Tom Sanders at precisely 3:44am EST, an institutional client bought 5,000 shares of Brit Insurance Holdings on the London Stock Exchange. The quaint innocence of George Madrigal’s photograph is an appreciative reminder of how far Penserra has traveled during a decade of unfathomable change, where the odds were long that a small institutional financial services firm focused on strategic management, and committed to a culture of diversity and inclusion, would be nimble and agile enough to grow into a successful enterprise of seventy-plus employees with offices stretched from coast to coast.

2007-2010: A Challenging Beginning

Launched in 2009 by George Madrigal as a minority-business enterprise (MBE) with a focus on global equity program trading, Penserra grew out of a conviction that there was a different way for an investment firm to create value for its institutional customers. The firm’s unique name, derived from the Spanish words “pensar,” which means “to think,” and “tierra,” which means “earth” or “land,” laid the cornerstone for Penserra’s mission to continuously examine and evaluate the ever-changing global financial markets to provide clients with quality executions, local market intelligence and exceptional service.

Penserra’s future, however, was anything but assured. A raging storm emanating from the 2008-2009 global financial crisis created punishing headwinds that nearly buffeted the firm off its foundation. Only an experienced team of knowledgeable Wall Street veterans, including COO and Chief Compliance Officer Anthony Castelli and Head of Equity Trading Jason Valdez, who had the courage to commit their valuable time and resources to a company whose vision they believed in, helped sustain Penserra during this time of enormous challenge. Despite the financial turmoil, Penserra in March 2009 managed to execute its first institutional equity trade. One year later, Penserra began offering transition management services, and soon global trading volumes were increasing rapidly across all regions of the globe (US, Europe and Asia).

The storm passed, the sun rose, and Penserra had planted the seeds for its future growth.

2011-2013: The Building Blocks

In 2011, George Madrigal was introduced to a team of structured debt specialists from nearby Danville, CA. After agreeing to combine operations, Penserra moved into their office and began offering its institutional clients fixed income trading capabilities, an effort led by industry veterans Wayne Fingerman, Jeff Boyd and Robert Wade. One of those original fixed income specialists from Danville was Francisco de Bocos, a happy-go-lucky former wine sommelier blessed with a take-no-prisoners work ethic who personifies the Penserra culture and is now an integral component of Penserra’s Investment Banking Division.

That was followed in 2012 by the creation of Penserra Capital Management, an entity formed with Chief Investment Officer Dustin Lewellyn to provide advisory and fiduciary services to institutional clients, including ETF Sub-Advisory services. Penserra also expanded its global equity sales effort by hiring Connie Kreutzer and opening an office in Chicago, and she now serves from that office as Penserra’s Head of Institutional Sales.

In 2013, in an effort to offer a quantitative research product to its clients, Penserra acquired Tailor Research LLC, a firm founded by George Schmilinsky focused on developing future alpha signals for equity strategies. Tailor Equity Research now provides a client-driven fundamental research platform offering two solutions for investment managers; Customized and Semi-Customized/Shared reports, both of which offer access to industry participants through survey-based research to increase the breadth and depth of market intelligence. Penserra also offers Special Situation Research, authored by Kevin McLaverty, with proven, back-tested results in Tender Offer, Share-Class, and Holding-Company strategies. Mr. Schmilinsky is now Penserra’s Head of Research, Chief Technology Officer, and Chief Financial Officer.

2014-2016:  Ramping Up

In the summer of 2014, Penserra returned to its roots and relocated its headquarters back to Orinda. However, instead of a one-room bunker with an exposed sink and a sun-splashed concrete patio for a conference room, the firm now had the benefits of a full kitchen and several glass-enclosed offices at its disposal. Penserra was ready to grow even further.

A 2013 Penserra hire, Kelly Harris, symbolizes the individual growth opportunities available at an entrepreneurial enterprise like Penserra, rising from research associate to Vice President-Equity Sales Trader, including earning his CFA charter in 2018.

In 2014, Penserra’s Transition Management effort was expanded by the addition of a team of experienced specialists, including Senior Vice Presidents Calvin Lee and Sam Patel. In 2016, Zlatko Martinic joined the team as Penserra’s Head of Transition Management.

By 2015, assets under management (AUM) at Penserra Capital Management exceeded one billion dollars for the first time. Investment Banking and Capital Markets were also added in 2015, and in 2017 John Pascente joined Penserra’s Chicago office and was named Head of Investment Banking. Another critical hire in 2015 was Ashley Handel, who rose from office administrator to Vice President-Head of Human Resources.

2017:  The Merger

In 2017, Penserra expanded its breadth of broker-dealer services by merging with Cheevers and Company, a wholesale trading platform based in Chicago and a member of the Chicago Stock Exchange since 1982. Led by Ryan Peterson, Ryan Armstrong and Jonathan Bloom, these high-quality individuals, who created and sustained a well-respected brand recognized throughout the industry for quality execution, superior service and deep personal relationships, are an indispensable asset to the Penserra franchise.

The merger created Penserra’s Cheevers Division and nearly doubled the size of the firm. The move also helped established Chicago as a dynamic base for Penserra to expand even further.

2019-Beyond:  We Are Penserra

Penserra’s immediate future looks bright. The firm recently renewed its lease in Orinda, made plans to relocate and modernize the Chicago office, and transferred the bulk of the New York fixed income platform to a larger space in Red Bank, New Jersey. Penserra also recently added staff in Equity Trading, Asset Management, Research and Investment Banking.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” If the challenges of the past ten years have taught Penserra and its professional staff of dedicated employees anything, it’s that the future belongs to those who prepare for it today.

We Are Penserra!