"People have said to me, Why in the world have you joined a back-office company?'" said Ross Ellis, the newly-named director of product development and distribution at SEI Investments of Oaks, Pa. "But SEI is the most front-office of any back-office firm."
SEI is a mutual fund administration and distribution company with offices in nine countries. Ellis will be in charge of working with wirehouses in the U.S. and developing distribution strategies for clients aiming to move offshore.
Ellis said the reason people have questioned his move to SEI is that he has spent his career in sales at investment advisory firms, most recently as vice president in charge of offshore marketing at Nicolas-Applegate Capital Management of San Diego, Calif. But had he moved to another advisory firm, he would only have learned "one model for developing distribution - investment advisory," he said. Now, he will "develop myriad distribution strategies for a myriad of companies," Ellis said.
Although the mutual fund industry is crowded in the U.S. and becoming increasingly competitive abroad, Ellis is confident he will be able to come up with original distribution strategies for each of SEI's clients. He believes that if he asks enough questions about a firm's rationale for going overseas, the type of products it plans to offer and what countries it is interested in, he will be able to come up with unlimited strategies. To do this in the U.S. is far more difficult, he said.
The demand for and consumption of mutual funds in foreign countries varies widely, Ellis said.
"Even as Europe is becoming more united, each of the countries is becoming more disparate in terms of its marketing requirements," said Ellis. "Each is trying to exert their own identity."
Ellis entered the investment business in 1988, working in mergers and acquisitions at Security Pacific Bank's London office. After Security Pacific merged with Bank of America, he moved back to Los Angeles in 1992 to become marketing director of the trust department.
He moved to the mutual fund side of the business in 1993 when he was given an opportunity to start an offshore mutual fund division.
"I was given the opportunity purely because I had lived abroad and understood mutual funds," he said. "And I took it because it was a challenge." He then joined Nicholas-Applegate in 1998, just as it was beginning to offer funds offshore.
Always looking for opportunities to expand his expertise, Ellis has now decided to handle distribution for a wide variety of mutual fund companies at SEI.
"My main goal will be to growing clients' mutual fund assets," he said.