By Ed Brennen
Alum Bill Cox says he's found success in the world of finance by thinking independently and refusing to follow the crowd.
As founder and chief investment officer of Cox Capital Management, Cox is using that same strategy to grow his four-person firm in Andover. While there are plenty of business schools in the Boston area from which to draw talent, Cox is focusing exclusively on top students from the Manning School of Business.
“Our job is to hire the best of the best, and that’s what we’re doing,” says Cox, who is launching a new internship program in January that will give hands-on money management experience to a rotating pool of up to five undergraduate business students.
Cox, who earned his bachelor’s degree in finance in 1981, announced the program during a recent visit with nearly 100 business students hosted by the UMass Lowell Finance Society at the Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center.
“UMass Lowell has made incredible strides over the past few years and is producing some really top-tier students. We’re excited to give them experience and reap the benefits of what they have to offer,” says Cox, a Lawrence native who worked at various Boston brokerage firms before founding Cox Capital in 1997. His firm has grown to manage money for close to 100 families and 13 nonprofits from across the Merrimack Valley.
“I saw a real need for institutional-quality portfolio management for people in the area who might not have access to big institutions because their accounts aren’t big enough,” Cox says. “We’re small compared to Fidelity or Putnam or MFS, but we’re effective.”
Cox says that effectiveness is the result of independent thinking. During the dot-com bubble in the late 1990s, “I didn’t buy one technology stock,” Cox says. “And you know the story after that. Everybody was brought to their knees.” A decade later, Cox avoided investing in the big money center banks that went bust and led to the financial crisis of 2008.
“Now it’s avoiding the Amazons of the world,” Cox says of his conservative strategy. “There’s been a huge herding effect into fewer and fewer stocks. If things do roll over, we’ll be protecting our clients again because we’re going to avoid following the crowd.”
Cox was joined on his campus visit by another alum, Ethan Brown, who has worked as a research analyst and portfolio manager at Cox Capital since earning his MBA from the Manning School in December 2014.
A native of Lowell, Brown ran cross country and track at the University of Michigan while earning his degree in political science. He went on to become a professional triathlete and won a pair of national championships. After just missing a spot in the 2012 London Olympics, Brown returned to his hometown, where he was struck by the transformation that had taken place at UMass Lowell. He enrolled in the Manning School’s MBA program.
“Riding bikes wasn’t going to pay the bills forever,” says Brown, who discovered a knack for finance and quantitative research analytics and won the Gary Mucica Outstanding MBA Student Award. “Getting my MBA changed my life. I knew it would open a lot of doors for me.”
And the door he chose was at Cox Capital.
“When I was looking for a research analyst, I knew I needed someone smarter than me,” Cox says. “And Ethan has been absolutely amazing.”
Both men agree that Brown’s quantitative background has complemented Cox’s fundamental strategies.
“I began building portfolio optimization models that can run through hundreds of thousands of scenarios and give you an ideal investment solution,” Brown says. “And along the way, it was interesting because a lot of my model’s recommendations are what Bill’s done intuitively. We found this common ground that’s really taken off.”
When Cox decided to hire his first intern earlier this year, Brown reached out to one of his mentors in the Manning School, Asst. Prof. of Finance Tunde Kovacs, for student recommendations. They ended up hiring Nick Salema, a senior business administration major with concentrations in finance and management.
“Using my classroom knowledge in a real-world setting was extremely interesting,” says Salema, a native of Derry, N.H., who expects to complete his degree this December. During his nine months at Cox Capital, Salema compiled macroeconomic data, analyzed companies and worked with portfolio optimization models.
“Nick’s the first in what we think will be a long line of hiring UMass Lowell students,” Cox says. “We are sold on UMass Lowell.”