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Young Business Moguls in the Making

August 16, 2010  
Filed under Profiles / Interviews

Text by Annie Suh | Photos by Kathy M.Y. Pyon —

Meet Andrew Polsky, Brian Park and Steve Chon—the three young heavy hitters of Panamera Capital, which has been around for almost a year now. It takes guts, ambition, skill and dedication to quit a pretty good job and start your own global investment advisory firm at 28, or any age at that. After working successfully in the corporate world, they decided it was time to take matters into their own hands and become their own bosses.

It’s a hot Monday afternoon at 1pm and three suit-clad guys show up right on the dot like they mean business. We’re sitting at a homey cafe in LA called Heyri. The timing of 1pm sounds about right, just when the stock market closes for the day, Pacific time. This is the site where they chose to meet—a memorable spot where they used to spend many hours and days to lay the groundwork for their new venture.

I ask them a few questions about their now established company, the economy, what their office culture is like, where they like to hang and what “living the good life” means. Read on to find out in their own words.

So in layman’s terms, what does your company exactly do?

Brian: We’re an investment advisory firm that specializes in foreign markets as well as precious metals. A big part of our philosophy is that you have to own things of intrinsic value such as gold. Our belief is that paper currencies, like the Dollar and the Euro, will continue to devalue, so we encourage our clients to hedge against that.

Steve: So in layman’s terms, it’s pretty easy. We have a bearish view [as opposed to bullish]—we don’t think America’s going to make it out of this recession. We believe there’s a lot of uncertainty out there, so we resonate well with clients that don’t trust the government. We’re not out there cheerleading stocks saying “Hey, you pay me X amount of money, I’ll get you five stocks that bring you 1,000 percent the next year.” We’re not shamwow. We’re completely fundamentals driven and we’re value investors.

Andrew: Sort of simply put… You’re an investor. Your goal is to not only hopefully grow the value of what you put aside. The goal is to make money. So the struggle is to maintain the value of what you put in. So let’s say you invest $100 and tomorrow it’s worth $110. In nominal figures you made $10, but if everything around you cost $20 more, your lifestyle cost $20 more per year and you’ve actually lost value in what you’re investing in. And so what we do is by going out and finding investments that are denominated in different currencies where there’s growth, we’re able to preserve the actual value of the money people invest.

What makes your company different from all the other investment companies out there?

Steve: We just think that it’s unsafe here, and we’re giving people an out …you know, it’s like the Titanic Ship sinking and there’s only so much room on the raft. We’re just going back and forth…that’s essentially what we’re doing. We’re giving them access to foreign markets.

Brian: There are a lot of companies that say they do foreign investing but they don’t have the type of access or research we have in certain markets. There are cultural nuances…… and we have access to that research. We’re not buying Canada stock with U.S. dollars, we use Canadian dollars. So when you invest with us, you’re achieving true diversification. Now you are diversified in all these different currencies and you’re not just holding on to the U.S. dollar. That’s what we’re really preaching. There are so many wealthy people out there but their wealth is in one currency. If the currency devalues, then so does their wealth—no matter how much their stock portfolio performs.

What made you want to start the company?

Steve: It’s what we struggled with all our career—to create a legacy for yourself. Create your own company, work for yourself. Essentially, that’s the American dream right? A lot of people wake up one day and say, “Hey I’m getting completely screwed here on my money and the big man’s making all the money.” But very few have the balls to do it. It’s that leap of faith… there’s tons of risks involved and especially after opening our own shop, we used to always talk about, “Now I understand why you work for someone else”—it’s tons of work… but at the end of the day…

Brian interjects: We wouldn’t have it any other way

Steve: Blood, sweat and tears goes into this and one day my kids are going to grow up … and hopefully Panamera gets to be something bigger than we have ever imagined it to be. And you’re never going to get there working for someone else.

Brian: And I think it’s what all professionals struggle with. Whether it’s in your respective field, you become a master, you become [good] at what you do…And at some point you realize, “Hey I could replicate this and do it even better” and create a version 2.0 that’s more efficient that provides a better service to clients. But you reach that path and there’s a lot of balls required to jump ship and start on your own. I think a majority of the population doesn’t end up taking that leap of faith and…it’s hard.

Is it pretty stressful?

Andrew: Yes. All day, everyday. We trade on foreign markets…so there are only four hours every day where something’s not going on so we don’t get really good sleep when I do sleep. And it’s not only about being awake to know what’s going on everywhere, but we’re also responsible for the livelihood of people who are twice our age…or sometimes three times our age. So there’s a level of stress that comes along with that…

Brian: It’s a privilege, but with it comes a lot of responsibility

Do you guys invest in foreign markets personally?

Andrew: Absolutely. We invest alongside our clients. So just to elaborate on that a little bit…There are different types of companies that do what we do. You have brokerage firms like Merrill Lynch, Smith Barney and all these other companies that people know about. Then you have hedge funds—what people consider to be exclusively for the wealthy, and they are, for a reason. And we’re something in between. We’re not a hedge fund but we’re not a brokerage firm. Our business only applies to wealthy individuals, but what people like about a brokerage firm is that their assets are held within their own name. A hedge fund is a company you own a piece of so you don’t necessarily know what they own. We manage a few different strategies…We run our client’s money like it’s a hedge fund so they get the benefit of a hedge fund, but they also get the benefit of a brokerage firm, which is the transparency…. I have the exact same percentage of assets that another client with a balance portfolio has. We run it as one big portfolio but everyone has mirror image of each other’s accounts, percentage wise.

What do you guys do on a daily basis?

Brian: Since I’m mainly sales driven, a lot of my time is spent on the phone following up with clients, managing our sales team. And we’re just starting up a gold part of our business so a big part of my responsibility is heading that department.

Steve: My day and Andrew’s day, it’s pretty simple. It’s actually just two things. We’re always looking for capital so we can grow our AUM. Other than that, we bicker like married people about stocks or investments. Oh, there is a third—compliance and legal. Those are the two areas of our company you never want to hear from because it’s always bad news. Well, not bad. They’re just annoying, but you need them. So dealing with them, looking for money, and keeping our investments alive.

What are some of the challenges of working together? Three guys, same level. Do you guys fight?

Brian: Surprisingly, no.

Andrew: I’m really sort of tired of hearing Steve talk about Verizon twice a day. A solid 20-minute bragging session about how good his cell phone is versus mine. But other than that I don’t really have any issues. [Laughs from Steve and Brian]

Brian: I’d imagine if we were all female, there’d be a lot of issues.

[Yeah, imagine that: Andrea, Stevette and Brianna. Let’s not go there.]

Steve: There are a handful of things in life I preach to the death and Verizon is one of them…Apple products is another.

So out of all you guys, who’s the neat freak, anal one, laid-back one or any other obvious trait?

Brian: Neat freak.

Steve: I’m definitely anal.

Andrew: I’m definitely laid-back.

Steve: No, I’m meticulous.

Andrew: A.k.a. “anal.” He’s our list maker.

Steve: I am the…oracle.  I know exactly where Panamera stands, to the penny how much we’re worth, what clients we have and everything else. He [Andrew] likes to keep the bigger picture.

So you guys all balance each other out.

All: Definitely.

So when you guys get to the office, what’s the first thing you read on the computer?

Brian: Each of us subscribes to various newsletters that keep us up to date, what’s been going on in the global market. I don’t know what these individual guys do but I read the newsletters I receive so it’s about three to four newsletters every morning but before any of these readings, I do my daily devotionals to get my day started on the right path.

Andrew: You want the fun stuff or the business stuff? I love the Drudge Report. Matt Drudge is awesome. I wouldn’t need another news source. He takes care of me. I like him, but there’s also Real Clear markets, Real Clear Politics. They both have a lot of information that people like us would like to read.

Brian: I like Curbed.

How long does it take?

Andrew: To be honest with you, there’s an endless amount of things we should read. Not could read, but should read.

Steve: We read all day.

Do you listen to background music at work?

Andrew: I was listening to gospel music this morning. I don’t know why I wanted to…[he’s Jewish] it’s just inspirational.

Brian: I listen to my Pandora radio station. This guy [Steve] right here is into techno and house.

Steve: I’ve been known to have house music on really loud in the office. So every time these two guys come into my office… it’s Club Chon [that’s his last name] every time you come to the office. And KROQ early mornings, Kevin and Bean is awesome.

Do you guys love what you do?

All: Yup.

Brian: We’re all entrepreneurs and I’m sure as time passes by we’re going to have other ventures and things to keep our attentions.

Andrew: I wouldn’t trade it. I love it. I mean even from the time I was at Merrill Lynch just sort of as a little trainee, I absolutely loved it. It’s exciting, there’s a lot of money…When you’re handling millions of dollars, its sort of a rush that you feel when you know that you have control over an important piece of people’s lives.

What did you guys want to do when you were little? This?

Andrew: Fireman.

Brian: No, not at all. Police officer or car salesman. I knew I wanted to do something that involved cars.

Andrew: Actually I told my parents when I was ten years old I wanted to be a stockbroker. Before that it was a fireman.

Steve: Man, I don’t even remember…I think I wanted to be a doctor. You know, Asian family, your parents are kind of steering you that way.

Andrew: I had a stock account when I was a little kid. I had an account at Edward Jones and I always wanted to be a stock trader.

Brian: And that’s why he’s our portfolio manager.

Is it hard to balance work and life?

Brian: I feel like life has become work. I think when you’re an employee it’s easy to separate because you just switch into different modes, but being a business owner, you’re always thinking of new ways to grow the business. You always come up with new ideas to market this and that.

Andrew: Because we’re nimble and small and we’re young, we can incorporate fun into our work. Brian, a lot more than Steve and I, go to a lot of fun business events with USC alumni and has a good time, sort of with his work hat on but also enjoying life. I’m personally married unlike these two so it’s different. I can separate work and life to a certain extent but I have a wife…my wife’s a doctor so she understands the work ethic that’s required to do the work that we do and she’s very supportive so my work definitely infiltrates my home life, but it’s cool.

Steve: When you’re single, it works out well…

What are your favorite restaurants? Where do you guys like to hang out?

Brian: Well I just moved to downtown a year and a half ago so I’m in downtown quite a bit. Bottega Louie is probably up there.

Steve: …Mastro’s.

Andrew: I like Takami. Yeah it’s really good. You wouldn’t even know it existed by looking at the rundown building it’s in. But you get to the top floor and it’s gorgeous…and the food’s good.

So what does living the good life mean to you guys?

Brian: For me it’s to get to a point where I don’t have to work because I need to. Just being at a financial position where you choose to work. With the way things are going with the organization, hopefully we can achieve that at a very early age—I think you become more powerful of a professional because now you’re doing it with true passion and not to just makes ends meet.

So after you get all the money you need, and you don’t need anymore, what would you do?

Brian: I’d still lead a simple lifestyle. I’d definitely want to have a big family… so that’s one area in my personal life that I want to get reconciled with—finding a wife…

We’ll let the readers know…

[A round of laughs]

Steve: You could put his work email on there.

Andrew: What’s the good life for you Steve?

Brian: Steve and I are heavily involved at church too, so that’s a good part of our social life.

Steve: It keeps you balanced.

Brian: We enjoy it too.

Steve: I got the good life…You make it what it is. The good life is what I’m doing now compared to what I did before.  We have our own company at a fairly young age and to be your own boss—that is the good life. And to be excited about where Panamera Capital’s going to go in the future, how high it could really be, sky’s the limit, it’s exciting.

Andrew: I think I’m already living the good life. The only thing that can make it better would be a nice sailboat, throw a couple kids in the mix, and as nice as it would be to have a nice big house—I live in a condo right now—but if I had a really big kitchen that was fun to cook in, throw that in there too and I’m a happy camper. Doesn’t take much.

Do you have any advice for readers—for those who want to start their own company or maybe even an investment firm?

Steve: Don’t do it! [In jest]
Andrew: Definitely do it. Because although there’s another level of stress you have when you’re your own employer, the stress you don’t have any longer by being an employee is worth it—100 percent.

Brian: And especially at times like this where people are so concerned that their days are numbered at the organization, if you have the knowledge and the resource to start your own company—I mean we’re a special case I think, everything just kind of lined up. But if someone has that kind of opportunity, I would definitely do it.

To find out more about their company, visit www.PanameraCapital.com.

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