SYDNEY — Working on a trading floor takes tenacity.
The UBS Director of Institutional Equity Sales in Australia, James Ledgerwood, has it in spades.
He was brought over from Citi Bank in 2015 to work under MD George Kanaan, who some describe as the “king of the block trades”. His resumé also includes an ongoing MBA at the Australian Graduate School of Management and a stint at the Royal Bank of Scotland.
His role at UBS is to advise large institutional clients on where to invest in the ASX200, providing them with strong stock options, and protecting their interests across the UBS franchise.
“My clients rely on me being their eyes and ears within UBS, and help provide the best stock opportunities,” Ledgerwood says.
Along with that he also mentors UBS’ young talent coming through the ranks.
Here’s how his typical workday goes:
James has been in the industry for almost a decade, and at UBS for over two years
Ledgerwood followed in his family’s footsteps into the finance industry, working in equities.
After a three year stint in research, Ledgerwood soon realised sales was his calling.
“I just enjoyed the interaction with the clients,” he said. “You’re speaking with very intelligent people who’ve been doing the job for many more years, a lot more than me. Even though you’re giving your ideas and views, you’re always learning often more than you’re actually giving.
“I love the intellectual debate, [and] how you have to be across everything. The macro, the micro, the central banks, market moves and flows.
“You really have to be across everything, and maybe you’re only across it a little bit, but you should be able to piece together a worldview.”
Ledgerwood leaves home at 5.45am and catches a bus to work. His commute into the city takes about 20 minutes, and he reads up on overnight market moves and news. The UBS office in Sydney is at Chifley Plaza, a short walk from Martin Place Station and Circular Quay
He starts work at around 6.15am. His first task is to organise his day: ‘What is my plan of attack?’ This takes him around 10 minutes
“I try to identify 1-2 things I must achieve to be successful that day,” he says.
“I then spend the next hour monitoring overnight market moves, reading WSJ, The Australian, AFR, Business Insider and UBS research to generate ideas for Australian/New Zealand fund managers.”
Other traders are here early too, focused on their morning routines. There’s some banter among the staff about cars, cyrptocurrency, politics and coffee.
Here’s a quick look around the trading floor. This is where traders swipe in
Communal meeting tables separate the trading floor and boardroom
It’s still early, so not everyone has arrived on the trading floor yet
The team pitches in for fruit to have if they are peckish
A world clock is mounted on the wall for easy reference
Plenty of research notes and other documents are filed away in nearby cupboards
Jackets and coats are draped on makeshift hangers
Ledgerwood prepares for the morning meeting in which the team gets together to discuss hot topics for that day
We asked what trends he, and the business, are focusing on.
Ledgerwood said: “From a market perspective, there’s no volatility at the moment — that can’t last forever.
“No one will be able to tell you what causes the spike. Is it North Korea? Is it US taxes? Is it Europe? No one knows.
“It’s been a really tough macro-backdrop to predict, at the same time the markets just keep going to record highs. People try and work out which sectors will benefit or not benefit from that trade.
“Some things we’ve been talking about at the moment, we’ve been talking the banks as a sector.
“Another sector we’ve liked for 18 months to 2 years is being long in the resources and they’ve had a phenomenal run… Then at the other side of the market, you’ve got healthcare stocks, utility stocks, infrastructure stocks where valuations are high due to record low interest rates, which means the dividend yield that they’re seeing pay off is very attractive. “
Right on 7.30am, one of the traders calls ‘Morning Meeting’ and everyone files into the boardroom
Attendees include the equity and research teams. Business Insider was invited to to join the team for second half, which features the analyst briefings.
“In the morning meeting we talk about our client order flow,” Ledgerwood says. “Which essentially means wherever we’ve got buying, wherever we’ve got selling.
“That first part of the meeting is all in flow which means: Where are we at? Where are we going?
“Then the second part is more ideas, pitching, what are we talking about as a firm? What do we like? What do we not like?
“It is two distinct parts.”
People flowed in and out of the room through the meeting, tuning in to what concerns them
There’s a printout staff pick up as they walk into the room, and browse through the meeting
“We do that deliberately so everyone across the firm feels like they got the information,” says Ledgerwood.
“It’s competitive, [but] competitive in a good way. It’s competitive about getting the right answer, and making sure we’re saying the right thing but it’s not completely me versus the other guy or girl, which is a very dysfunctional as a practice. Here it is very team-orientated.”
The sales team take turns running the meetings
Dean Fremder, Associate Director of Institutional Equity Sales, was running this one.
“We rotate our morning meeting duties,” says Ledgerwood.
“I was on it two weeks ago. Dean was on it this morning. Dean’s recently stepped up to the hedge fund sales. He used to be in small cap sales,” he says, adding that the business is supportive of moving people around to help build their skill set.
Here’s one of the analysts
Rob Taubman, Executive Director of Equity Sales, started the second half of the meeting by going through what was in the press that morning.
Craig Webb, also Executive Director of Equity Sales, talked briefly on what some of the offshore companies are doing.
Ledgerwood threw in some remarks on US President Donald Trump’s tax plan.
“It’s more just about getting information out there. People can use it or throw it away.”
The Melbourne desk is also wired in via speaker phone, asking questions and providing information when called upon
“We’ve got two sales people and two traders down in Melbourne,” he says.
“It’s very personal, so I’ve known my clients for pretty much since I’ve been on the job for 10 years,” he says.
“Even though the world’s moved so far from that, it really is a trust based role.
“If your clients don’t trust you, you won’t have the business. It takes a lot of years to build up that trust, but once you have that they will trust you to look after their interests.
Ledgerwood spends the next four hours making calls to clients discussing ideas and flows
He also meets with analysts if he’s interested in finding out more on a particular area
He works closest with Webb and Taubman, among others on the floor
“They’ve both got, I’d say, over 15 to 20 years experience in equity sales,” he says.
“Craig was an analyst for a long period of time. Number one analyst in tech.
“Taubman has actually always been in sales. He’s extremely experienced in account management and sales. Two very different styles.
“Taubs is much more holistic, and knows the management teams very well. He’s known his clients forever, and is very well respected. Webb is far more analytical and really does his own work. That’s been really useful for me, sitting next to both of them. They bring a completely different skill set to any other sales people I’ve worked with.”
“I report into Clinton Wong, head of equity sales and emerging company sales, [who]… monitors how I’m doing with my accounts and development that I need to do, skills that I need to improve,” he says, adding that he has been very supportive of his career.
“George Kanaan runs the distribution team. If he wants the business to be going this way, that’s where we’re going,” he says, adding that Kanaan is highly regarded in the marker and is extremely experienced.
“I guess the overall point I’d make is we have an extremely flat structure,” he says.
“Out of any bank I’ve ever worked out, this is the flattest structure. I sit next to George who runs the distribution business, and you’re discussing ideas, disputing ideas all day, everyday… [elsewhere] he’d be on a different desk somewhere. [And] Chris Williams’ (co-head of equities along with Steve Boxall) door is always open”.
Another colleague is Matthew Jolly, one of UBS cadets
Generally cadets at UBS are hired in year 12, during their last year of school, to work at UBS for the duration of their university education.
UBS provides on-the-job experience and supports cadets’ studies through to university graduation.
Graduate roles range from both Front Office (Equities, Fixed Income, Asset Management) and Corporate Centre functions.
He takes a lunch break when there is a lull in activity, heading over to the in-house cafe
“If I can get out to go the gym I will. Otherwise I will go for a brief walk, catch up with clients to discuss ideas.”
Here’s a look around
As you can see, it’s close to the trading floor
Here’s what’s on the menu
It all looks pretty good
Ledgerwood orders his meal from a tablet at the counter
He’s chosen a healthy option and eats it at his desk
He uses his access card to pay for the food, which is deducted from his salary.
Following a break, Ledgerwood spends the next two hours preparing ideas or visiting clients
This mostly takes place at client offices and he often takes along an analyst to present.
“Otherwise I host company meetings at the UBS offices.”
From time to time he’ll also plan client events.
Once, for example, he planned “‘Golf in the City’ where you hit a golf ball into a virtual screen,” he says.
He also does a lot of travel to see clients. For starters, he’s in New Zealand once a month to pitch ideas.
“I’ll also do trips with clients around the world.
“You just go and see a bunch of companies, so you organise a few clients and say ‘Okay, we’re gonna go see 20 companies’ and fill up five days.
“I haven’t done one recently, but a lot of the guys will go global. So you might take clients to Europe, might take them to US … [so they can] get insights on companies and strategies. So we actually do quite a lot of travel.”
And you can see why. This is just one of a couple of the meeting rooms of level 16 of Chifley Tower, which has knockout views of Sydney Harbour and the Opera House
While there aren’t facilities like a gym or fancy change room, there are a number of employee benefits. UBS also has a number of other staff initiatives. The day we visited was ‘bring your kids to work day’
UBS also fully supports Ledgerwood’s study commitments, which may require him to leave work early from time to time.
UBS staff also have access to many sport and social activities, including the UBS 20Twenty Challenge, an annual event consisting of a run/swim/kayak in partnership with Cerebral Palsy Alliance, the Sydney Corporate Running Cup, Coastrek, an annual regional Ten Pin Bowling night for charity as well as individual team building events such as cooking with Oz Harvest.
He leaves the office at around 6-6.30pm
He either heads home, or travels via the Australian Graduate School of Management
“They’re (AGSM) very big on … getting you on the campus,” he says, adding it’s excellent for meeting industry contacts,” he says.
“You might go in for three hours one night a week or the second stage, which is called your executive agenda year, you actually do a residential where you stay on site with other executives.
“We’re currently doing a subject on innovation, so you have to go in and chat with everyone and work on that idea. So, yes it’s a lot from home and on the weekend, where you’re doing all the reading, and background information, but a lot of that’s also in the uni as well.
“I’ve been doing it for about four years,” he said, adding that he’s probably still got half a year to complete his MBA.