The New Masters of the Universe: Brendan Caldwell
Taking over, seat by seat, reinventing the world's stock exchanges
PETER C. NEWMAN | October 29, 2007 |
This is the second in a monthly series on the New Masters of the Universe, under-40 Canadian entrepreneurs who are revolutionizing our once-sleepy business ethic:
It is noon on a sunny October day at the Toronto Club, a Victorian mansion at the downtown corner of York and Wellington streets, where the Empire City's power barons gather for lunch. Looking at the roster of members, it is tempting to suggest that the city must have been named after the club. In fact, it was founded in 1835 by Upper Canada's Family Compact, a year after the pioneering settlement of York assumed its new identity.
What makes its theatrical decor different from, say, the stage setting of a Hercule Poirot film, is the stillness that pervades the place. It is more of a hush than merely silence or the absence of noise, but also the feeling that great events might be unfolding here, where the older generation of Canada's powerful cognoscenti still meet and greet. They feel safe in their private sanctuary, where they are recognized for who they are, and not merely for what they do -- which, of course, is precisely the opposite qualification of the new-style meritocracy, whose more contemporary members -- technocrats, geeks and global players -- are taking over. Instead of eating at the Toronto Club, they hang out in stylish rooftop restaurants, or more likely work through their lunch hours.
Today is Caldwell Day at the Toronto Club. The family brokerage has rented most of its top floor for a presentation to Bay Street's most influential players. CEO Brendan Thomas North Caldwell, 37, one of the investment community's top producers, will detail the success of his company's Growth Opportunities Trust, the flagship fund that is making history in an industry not known for either imagination or innovation. What they are selling sounds intriguingly close to having invented a perpetual money machine.
Any investor can profit or lose as stocks fluctuate up or down. That's easy. But the Caldwells sell investors the right to buy shares in their Growth Opportunities Trust, which owns shares, memberships and seats of the world's stock exchanges, whose owners benefit financially from every transaction -- whether clients are buying or selling. That was the message Brendan Caldwell brought that day to the four dozen brokers and investment advisers who came to hear him. Since it was created two years ago, the Opportunities Trust has increased in value by 48 per cent. It was not a hard sell.
One sunny October afternoon, I went aboard the Caldwells' family sailboat, the Pendragon, a Nonsuch 30, proudly tied up at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, where we continued our conversation. "Entrepreneurs provide the impetus for everything that happens in the capitalist system," Brendan told me as we putzed around Lake Ontario, "because they see how things are done, then conceive and implement change. They are the indispensable catalysts and implementers. Some of the best ideas you'll hear while seated on a bar stool, but it's the doing of the thing that makes the difference. When you're looking to be an agent of change it's not as though you're setting out to join the Missionaries of Charity, you're looking to make money from what you're doing, there's no question. For a lot of people in business, the challenge of changing 'what is' gets a person going; it's the economics that both drives it and attracts the people you need to make change happen."
As well as father Tom Caldwell, the firm's chairman and founder, who originally conceived the idea of specializing in stock exchange seats and set down the matrix strategy for their acquisition, and Brendan, who now runs the outfit, the family is also represented by younger brother Theo. He is a lively and literate investment analyst who also writes plays as well as books, heads Caldwell Asset Management in New York, and unofficially acts as the vice-president in charge of pushing the family into the 21st century. They're a fiercely independent trio of doers and thinkers, fuelled by their faith in serendipity. The success of their gambit in buying stock exchange seats depends for its success entirely on luck and timing. So far both have run their way -- but both remain unpredictable.
When the caper started in the late 1990s, the Caldwells were dead set against the Toronto Stock Exchange changing from being run like a private country club to a public company. A seat on the exchange was then worth $50,000 -- only half as much as the required investment for a Toronto taxi licence. "After the TSE went public, seats were suddenly selling for $4.5 million apiece," Brendan recalls, noting that of the 120-odd seats in existence, the Caldwells owned just one. It was at that point that the Caldwells switched horses and embraced the idea of taking stock exchanges public -- and realized that millions hung in the balance if they set their sights on the venerable New York Stock Exchange.