BUSINESS WATCH

The company 'hit man'

Peter C. Newman November 12 1984
BUSINESS WATCH

The company 'hit man'

Peter C. Newman November 12 1984

The company 'hit man'

BUSINESS WATCH

Peter C. Newman

Every day just after noon, Dr. Peter Campbell, president and chief executive officer of Wood Gundy Corp., leaves his Wall Street office, climbs into his armored Cadillac and asks Otis, the North Carolina-born combat-medic who doubles as his driver, to take him to Christ Celia. This ecclesiastically named restaurant on East 46th is a popular hangout for the big hitters who survived the market-inspired slaughter that has decimated the U.S. investment industry in the past year or so. Over his favorite drink (double Chivas on the rocks), Campbell recently told me why he expects his New York branch operation of Canada’s Wood Gundy Ltd. to grow so fast that before the 1980s are over the parent firm will be earning only a minority of its profits in Canada. “We’re on a roll,” he says, over the rim of his glass. “We’re exploding exponentially—and it’s a super environment to do it in because the industry is disintegrating all around us.”

Wood Gundy has run a New York office since 1916 but it was something of a marginal outpost until last year, when Campbell, 48, moved in. An astonishing 35 per cent of the firm’s capital has since been committed for Wood Gundy’s expansion in the United States. Five branch offices have already been opened, and more are planned in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston and Los Angeles. “When I came down here,” Campbell explains, “I first got to know everybody, then I dispatched all the empty helmets—about a third of the existing staff. We are now doubling the size of our New York staff and will be doubling our business every year from now on.”

Campbell’s personnel recruiting efforts have become legend on Wall Street, partly because he has managed to attract some of the Street’s most influential traders, and partly because of his unorthodox interviewing methods. He spends many an evening flitting between the private dining rooms of four New York restaurants, including a steak house in Brooklyn in a neighborhood so tough that the doorman always stands inside and there is a massive trailer parked across the entrance to deflect machine-gun bullets that might be aimed at departing patrons. Campbell meets his recruits in each location for a long interview, then, moving on to his next call, leaves them to be vetted and briefed by his associates.

Campbell is planning to model his institutional operations on the investment banker Goldman, Sachs & Co. of New York, and his equity and fixed income business on A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc., an investment house in St. Louis. He is moving the firm strongly into real estate brokerage, syndicate participation and the distribution of bonds by Canadian provinces “so they

don’t have to go to First Boston all the time.”

The approach is more than a little unorthodox for an investment house which, in the past, has earned and deserved its reputation as much for stuffiness as integrity. Campbell is solidly entrenched within Wood Gundy as one of the few partners who hold equity in the firm. “I’m a real trader,” he says. “I’ve got lots of guts and I’m blessed by being a good people picker. I am a Gundy man through and through, but on the executive floor I’m known as the company’s hit man.”

When Campbell was being moved around various Wood Gundy divisions in Toronto, turning their bottom lines from red to black, he broke the indus-

try’s customary patterns so often that the Investment Dealers Association of Canada had to change its rules three times to accommodate his novel methods. He was moved into nearly every tricky situation going, and at one point was commuting between Saudi Arabia, Tokyo and Zurich taking care of the sudden flood of Eurodollars, rolling with the OPEC-inspired revolution of the world’s money markets.

Campbell’s background is as unusual as his methods. A 1959 gold medallist in economics at the University of Toronto, his first job was as a code-breaker for the communications branch of the National Research Council in Ottawa—then Canada’s equivalent of the Central Intelligence Agency. He learned Russian well enough to monitor the intership communications between barge captains on the Volga River, and helped perpetrate some dirty tricks at the height of the Cold War, which he still won’t discuss. Planning to become an academic economist, he went back to university, put in a solid apprenticeship at the Bank of Canada and in 1961 joined Wood Gundy as a clerk in the bond cage. Except for a stint at the London School of Economics (where he earned a doctorate on the theory of money markets), he has been with the company ever since.

At the moment, Campbell is applying his heretical notions in a New York environment, where they don’t seem nearly so outrageous. He works in his shirt sleeves right on the trading floor, refusing to have either an office or a secretary, and is determined to become one of the Street’s major players.

But the highlight of his routine is his daily lunch at Christ Celia. He was recently talking up a fellow moneyman he describes as “the number 1 institutional trader in America” when he was called away to the phone. “The panic bell went off in my mind,” he recalls, “because people don’t phone me. Everything’s delegated. If a guy can’t handle his job he shouldn’t have it. So I’m nervous, but I go out to the kitchen to grab the phone. It’s my wife and it does turn out to be a minor crisis. I’m so startled that I drop my cigar into a soup pot. I fish it out after I hang up, wipe it off and light up again. No one’s seen me. I go back to my corner table and tell my target guy: ‘The soup of the day had Campbell’s cigar in it.’ ” But the number 1 institutional trader in America doesn’t bat an eye. “Don’t worry,” is all he says. “None of us ordered soup.”