Patricia Onyskiw . Principal
P. 416 637-3577
Our strength as a team comes from the fact that we all share the same value system. In a sentence or two, it comes down to something as simple as doing the right thing for your client. We have often said that if your clients are happy, everything else will be fine.
Of course those values didn’t just fall out of the sky. For me, I believe that all of my values come from the example of my father.
My Father Died Suddenly
My father died suddenly in 1983. He was 59. I was 20 at the time. He had a massive heart attack. It was a Sunday. He died before he reached the hospital.
My brother and his fiancé, my older sister, her husband, my middle sister and I were all sitting in the family room silent, stunned at what had just happened—how our lives had changed in the time it took for a movie to run. It was my brother-in-law who suddenly said out loud, “You know, your father was the most principled man I’ve ever known.” Until that moment I hadn’t thought of my father as being principled. He was just my father. I then began to think about the values and principles that defined him.
The Most Principled Man
At his funeral, the parish priest who presided over the service gave the elegy. Fr. John began to relay stories my father told him about his life, and his experiences. My father was born in the Ukraine. His family was one of the largest land owners in the village, and they saw everything taken away during Stalin’s collectivization experiment. My father was just a boy during this time. He was just a boy during the Soviet famines of the 1930s; he was just a boy when he hid a Jewish refugee on the family farm, knowing that if the Communists had found out the whole family would have been shot. My father was only 16, when he joined the war effort and fought against the Germans. He was captured and put in a prisoner of war camp. Fortunately, the Germans found out that my father had an interest in automobiles, and as a result, a German officer assigned my father to be his driver. It was a move that probably saved my father’s life. I hadn’t heard these stories about his childhood. I hadn’t heard these stories about the War. The only thing he’d said was to not let anyone tell us that the holocaust hadn’t happened. It had happened; he’d seen it with his own eyes.
How do I live the principles my father taught me? Whenever I face a difficult problem I always ask myself what he would do in my shoes. The answer is always to do the right thing—as he did the right thing.
Doing The Right Thing
I worked in Vancouver for the private client counselor of a major Canadian bank for five years. In 1999, I decided to return to Toronto in large part because all of my family was there. At about this time, a friend of mine heard that a firm was looking for someone with my sort of skills and experience. Unbeknownst to me, he put my name forward.
My friend told me I would be working for Mark Yamada. It was a contract position. I would be replacing someone who was away on maternity leave. So, I went in for the interview and ended up speaking with Mark for almost an hour. We talked a lot about the high net worth business. Mark had worked primarily on the institutional side. We got along very well and I was offered the job.
I started work in early September, right after Labour Day. The woman to whom I was to report was away. I had no one to show me the ropes. It was—to say the least—a baptism by fire. I felt that it was a much bigger job than I had been told. I didn’t think I really had the skills to do the job properly—or at least to my satisfaction. So, after the first week I handed Mark my resignation. At least that’s what I tried to do. I thought I’d just leave it on his desk and sneak out quietly.
Mark read my note and asked me to reconsider. I told him I thought they needed someone more advanced on the systems side. Mark accepted my explanation and then to my surprise he offered me a different job. He asked me to become his assistant. And then, after a few weeks as his assistant, I decided to resign again. But he wouldn’t let me go. He asked me to give him a chance.
I was reconciling accounts and helping with statement production as well as a whole variety of other activities. When Mark’s Vice President of Administration went on maternity leave I stepped into her shoes. It was at about this time that I began learning about web sites. In fact, we started to develop web sites and put our clients’ statements on line.
Mark’s strategy was to create a business with a three-legged structure. The three legs would include a high net worth business, an Internet business and a ‘white label’ business. The white label business would be for products that we developed but that other companies could re-brand to suit themselves. Mark had me working on this particular business from the very beginning.
The Internet business went from offering specific portfolios in the firm’s name to something separate which then morphed into the exchange traded fund (ETF) based offering. The actual name of that product was ETFolios. ETFolios offered portfolios on the web with clients participating through a risk questionnaire. A core portfolio would be created based on the results from this questionnaire. Essentially, ETFolios was the precursor of PUR Investing.
In early 2000, Mark hired a portfolio manager from the United States who had experience with the predecessors of ETFs called “country baskets”. He also had a quantitative bias, which meant that he was inclined to use mathematics to analyze investment strategies. It turned out that he needed an assistant. That’s when we became aware of Ioulia.
I remember very well when Bruce and his partners came in to give us a presentation about Basketfunds. We all thought it was a terrific product. In fact, we thought it was amazing. So we brought Mark in to meet with Bruce and his partners. Mark was a little less excited—not by the technology but by the price. The price was a bit too high. Nevertheless, by 2002-2003 the four of us were working together. We started to build out the platform as much as we could. We were all quite excited by ETFolios. We were also very frustrated that nobody else seemed to see the potential. I think they were cautious because ETFolios was innovative. It just wasn’t the traditional way of doing business. It was something new—perhaps too new for most.
At PUR, we are still developing the system. It’s not unusual for Bruce and Ioulia to work 16 hour days. What’s different today is the complexity of the algorithms that we’re using to build the portfolios. We’re functioning on a much higher level of expertise.
To me, PUR Investing is about doing the right thing. I care about making things better for people. I’m doing a lot of different things right now but none of it feels like a job. I really just want to see this incredible thing we’ve built get out there and fly, and to do the right thing for clients and investors who use our services.