Partner ● Brown Brothers Harriman ● London
Jeff Holland is a man who requires his interlocutors to keep their wits about them. The jokes come fast and furious, and from a remarkably wide range of reference. But the humor is that of a man at ease with himself, not one straining for effect. Doubtless it helps that he is a partner at one of the few remaining partnership banks, which has the happy side-effect of abolishing the internal politics and fear of making mistakes that inhibits bankers from taking risks in a business context. “We are not going anywhere,” as Jeff Holland puts it. “We live with the consequences of our own mistakes.” He is clearly happy with the partnership model. In fact, he has never known anything else, having worked only for Andersen Consulting before joining BBH in 1994. But that ease with himself must also owe something to a happy and secure upbringing in a historic town in the northeast of the United States. Holland was born, raised and schooled in Topsfield, Mass., a small and quiet (and dry) community just north of Boston. Its foundation dates back to 1650, and the burghers claim to host the oldest fair in the United States, started by their forebears in 1818, the same year Brown Brothers was formed in Philadelphia. That Puritan heritage is hard to square with the personality of a man whose working career has passed entirely in four of the great financial centers of the modern era-Dublin, Frankfurt, London and New York-unless account is taken of security as the necessary springboard for adventure. Certainly, the temptations of urban living were not what his mentors had in mind when Holland reached undergraduate age. A bright student, with an early talent for mathematics, he was solemnly advised by a teacher to bank on a career in engineering. “It seems to me that engineering is the place where you can make a lot of money,” he says.
That was one reason why the young Holland went to the small but technologically specialized Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, to study electrical engineering. But it was not the only one. The Route 128 beltway in Boston where he grew up was then the epicenter of the East Coast hi-tech boom, and Clarkson was one of the first universities to provide a personal computer as part of the program. Jeff Holland was geeky enough in 1984 to think that was exciting. But he had another reason of his own for going to school there. “Clarkson was known not only for its engineering but for its ice hockey, which was the other thing I had a passion for,” he says. “It was close to the Canadian border, where the opposition could be found.” But it was not the ice hockey that proved incompatible with a degree in electrical engineering: It was the social life. Jeff Holland graduated from Clarkson in 1988 not with a degree in engineering, but in finance and management. Not only did the curriculum leave more time for partying; it matched an instinctive belief, acquired from his father, that he would be better at applying mathematics to business problems than technical ones. “He once said to me, ‘Don’t let your schoolwork interfere with your education,’ and I took him literally.”
Holland recalls, “My father was a workaholic, a chartered accountant who ran a small savings and loan bank. He went to work at 6 in the morning and came home at 11 at night, so if I wanted to talk to him, we would talk about business, because that was what was still buzzing around in his head. I learned a lot from him.”
That paternally instilled nous, coupled with a relevant business degree, secured Holland an opening with Andersen Consulting in New York, shortly after the crash of October 1987. His first assignment, on coming out of the initial training program, was to help the Frankfurt Stock Exchange build the Deutsche Terminbörse (DTB) derivatives trading platform. The DTB, then headed by Jörg Franke, championed electronic trading of futures and options. It was a brilliantly successful gamble. Once the DTB merged with the Swiss options exchange SOFFEX in 1998 into a new organization called Eurex, it quickly became the largest futures exchange in the world. Andreas Preuss, the current CEO of Eurex, was then one of the Andersen consultants who worked alongside Holland on the DTB project. Twenty-two years on, the two men still keep in touch. “We had breakfast recently, and we said to each other, ‘Who would have thought,’ as we sat there poring over code for a derivatives exchange for a client of Andersen Consulting, that he would become CEO of Eurex, and I would become a partner at Brown Brothers Harriman?” says Holland, who still looks back on the episode as formative for him as well as the futures and options industry. Indeed, nothing at Andersen was ever quite so exciting again. Back in New York after 2 years in Frankfurt, his fears that nobody would remember who he was proved eminently justified. In 1992, he had also returned to a city whose financial markets were anything but buoyant. However, his work on the clearing and settlement aspects of the DTB had introduced him to the subject of custody, and Holland quickly found himself working with another Global Custodian Legend, then the partner at Andersen most closely associated with the custody industry: Tom Abraham.
But it was not Abraham (now CEO at DSTi in London, which he leads from offices just across the street from the BBH headquarters in the City) who was responsible for the decisive shift from consulting to banking, and from New York to Boston. It was while trying to sell an Andersen portfolio valuation system called Invest/1 to insurance companies running mutual funds out of Hartford, Conn., that Holland stumbled across a route back to Boston. He had come across a former high school classmate called Jim Bevilacqua, now a partner at Wellington, but who was also then working at Andersen in Boston. “I said I was looking for a way to get back to Boston,” recalls Holland. “Jim said, ‘Well, you should come up. There is lots of stuff going on up here.” That stuff included consultancy, systems and strategic work for the burgeoning mutual fund powerhouses of Boston, including Fidelity, Pioneer, Putnam and Scudder. It sounded interesting, and Bevilacqua introduced Holland to his manager. That manager turned out to be Bill Dailey, now COO of Pyramis Global Advisors, the Fidelity institutional group, but then a mutual fund expert for Andersen in Boston, and someone Holland knew already. That was because Dailey had worked for Andersen on SOFFEX, and Holland had met him several times while in Frankfurt. “So I talked to Bill, and the next day I was flying to Boston,” he says. Walt Laliberte- now, as it happens, working with Tom Abraham at DSTi, but then head of the investment management practice at Andersen in Boston-took him on to help out with Boston-based mutual fund companies. “In February 1992, Walt called me in and said, ‘We are going to see a group called Brown Brothers Harriman,'” says Holland.
Later that day, at 40 Water Street, Walt Laliberte and Jeff Holland met Anthony Enders, then head of operations at BBH, later managing partner, and a recently elevated partner of the firm called Digger Donahue-now the current managing partner of the firm. Unlike Tom Abraham, who also worked as an independent custody consultant to that BBH project, Holland has never really left 40 Water Street since. In April 1994 three fellow Global Custodian Legends-Taylor Bodman, Stokley Towles and Digger Donahue-formally invited him to join BBH. The prospect of a partnership meant he did not have to think for long before accepting. “I had the longest interview on record, lasting about 2 years,” jokes Holland. “But I think that, in the end, BBH was just looking for a cheaper option than paying my consulting fee. I left Andersen on Good Friday and started work at Brown Brothers on Easter Monday. Nice break in there. You could say I ended my consulting career on Good Friday and was reborn as a banker on Easter Monday.” The rebirth initially took the form of working for Bodman in operations, including the merger of the Boston global custody and New York sub-custody businesses, and oversight of global corporate actions processing. But it was when he moved into network management, and came under the purview of another Global Custodian Legend, Susan Livingston, that the future of Holland was set. “I worked for Susan for the next decade,” says Holland.
In 1998 Livingston asked Holland to take charge of the Dublin office, which was then looking after rather less than $1 billion. It turned out to be a serendipitous posting. Over the next 7 years, before moving to London, the total AuC of BBH Dublin increased on average more than 50% per year to more than $40 billion as Dublin developed as the low-cost, time zone and taxadvantaged Anglo-American fund administration alternative to Luxembourg. By 2003, this success in winning new business had encouraged the partners to give Holland responsibility for all European sales for BBH. In this role, Holland began to work closely for the first time with yet another Global Custodian Legend, the then London-based Andrew Tucker. But Holland remained well entrenched in the burgeoning mutual fund industry in Dublin. For a year, he was even granted the privilege of chairing the Dublin Funds Industry Association (DFIA). He even met his wife in the Irish capital, where she was also working in the funds industry-both their children were born there and neither has lived in the US. “Dublin was [a] fabulous opportunity for me,” says Holland. “It worked for me and it worked for BBH. But I still refer to it as being a boat on a rising tide. The Dublin offshore fund administration business was taking off, and I was fortunate to be part of it. In fact, I think they only invited me to chair the Dublin Funds Industry Association because I was the American who could tell the Irish government how to get other Americans to come to Ireland. I would like to say that I remained a credible translator of Dublin to the Americans, but after a while I simply became one of them.”
The Irish would doubtless say that no man can become an Irishman (you can only be born as one) but the remark nonetheless offers an interesting insight into the personality of Jeff Holland. After 2 years in Frankfurt, 7 in Dublin and 5 in London, Holland has spent a third of his life and two-thirds of his career outside the United States. More importantly, it means that 3 out of every 4 years he has spent with BBH have passed in overseas postings. If his career reflects the global nature of the firm-BBH earns a far higher proportion of its earnings outside the United States than any other global custodian bank-it also bears witness to a personal appetite for testing himself in entrepreneurial environments. “When I arrived in Dublin, Brian Coughlin was head of the administration company and I was head of the trustee company. We had to talk not just about who was responsible for HR, and who for systems, but who was going to change the light bulb and which of us was going to take out the trash. One of the great things about those kinds of opportunities, whether it be establishing a new office or expanding a business, is that you get to be the architect. A bit of ingenuity, a bit of entrepreneurialism, a bit of autonomy, all go with it. It is a lot of fun. That is why I have reached out for those opportunities, because each time you have that little bit more authorship in what goes on. Thankfully, so far, they have been relatively successful.”
The decision to move to London in 2005 was of a different kind. It was prompted by Andrew Tucker, who had run Europe for BBH from London since 2003, and thought the head of sales for the region would be better placed in the City than in Ireland. Not yet a partner-that honor followed in January 2006-it was an offer Holland was not in a position to refuse, but he now sees his initial reluctance as misplaced. “It was a major shift for me,” he explains. “For a start, it gave me much more exposure to the financial institutions side of our business, but it also took me out of my comfort zone. I began to look at the world again from a different point of view. If I had continued to do the European sales role from Dublin, I would still be looking at the world very much from a funds perspective.” Indeed, in 2008 the old geographical division of responsibilities at BBH was replaced by segmental division of responsibilities, and Holland took charge of sales to financial institutions on a global scale. London is a more convenient location-though not that convenient, as the 1 a.m. board meetings designed to include Asian and American colleagues indicate-for a role that has expanded far beyond its origins in American sub-custody. It now encompasses global as well as sub-custody, securities lending, FX and technology in-sourcing relationships with nearly 400 banks and insurance companies around the world. Many work with BBH on the mutual fund side of the business as well, but Holland leaves that to colleagues. “Unlike the funds business, where the end-client is the fund, our vision on the financial institutions side of the business is to enable our clients to manufacture or distribute custody to their clients,” he explains. “We do not want to compete with them. It is about how we integrate our products into theirs, be it private banking or asset management.” The approach obviously attracts business. Holland says that BBH Zurich alone is now working with more than 100 banks.
Asked about the part he has played in this success, Holland expounds a simple philosophy. “I try always to sit in the other person’s chair,” he says. “Having lived and worked in so many different places, I am better able to ask myself, ‘If I was sitting there, what would I need?’ That helps us get to agreement quicker.” It also helps build relationships that last longer, which is a distinct competitive advantage in an increasingly transactional industry. “Our clients are willing to open up a little more and share what their business goals are,” says Holland. “Being a partnership helps, because we do not have outside shareholders. We are looking at their bottom line as our top line. Not competing with them helps too. We are not in their country trying to win that next piece of institutional business from them. We are trying to help them win that piece of business. We want our products and services to be bought, not sold.” One reason he was more comfortable chairing the DFIA than others was his instinctive grasp of the idea of growing the whole pie, rather than taking a larger slice of it. Certainly, without lapsing into stereotypes, Holland is sensitive to how the American way of business can prove counter-cultural in foreign parts. He is so sensitive to it, in fact, that he accepts he would find it hard to resume a career in the United States now, though he keeps a house in New Hampshire, and is always careful to host the family Christmas there. But there are good business reasons, as well as cultural ones, to remain an outsider. For a start, Holland sees more opportunities for BBH outside the US than in it. “Our goal is to have our partnership reflect the global nature of our business,” he says. “Six of the 40 partners are located outside the United States, but it is more significant that five out of the nine partners directly involved in Investor Services are based outside the United States, or more than half. We have made what is for us at BBH a pretty revolutionary move towards globalizing the partnership.” Globalization does not always generate positive vibrations, but it clearly suits one increasingly comfortable exile just fine. –DSH