Earlier this month, Greg Parsons, CEO of Semper Capital Management, a New York-based asset management boutique with approximately $3.2 billion in assets under management, addressed a group of service-disabled veterans, military spouses and caregivers who were nearing the end of a five-month business and entrepreneurship fellowship program at Georgetown University, which included real-life work experience at a non-profit venture called Dog Tag Bakery in Washington DC. The address was noteworthy to the extent that it exemplified something in Semper Capital’s DNA, according to Parsons—a commitment to give back to the community.
Semper Capital invests in the structured credit market—primarily asset-backed and mortgage-backed securities. The firm has approximately 22 full-time staff members. Approximately one-third of the firm’s assets under management are assets from Fortune 200 corporate treasuries and public pension funds. The firm also manages a large amount from institutional level retail clients, such as family offices and multifamily offices. “The ‘individual’ marketplace has been the largest growth area for the firm,” Parsons said.
Prior to joining Semper in 2008, Parsons served as a founding and managing member of New York-based CP Capital Partners, a long/short equity fund focused on distressed domestic small-caps. He also previously served as an associate principal at McKinsey & Company, in its Financial Services Group. Parsons, who graduated Princeton University with a BA in politics in 1994, says his affinity for veterans’ issues stems, in-part, from his four years in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1994 to 1998.
“I was sitting in a hole in Kuwait in 1996. I read Liars Poker, and I didn’t get the joke that it was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek kind of obnoxious look at Wall Street. I read it, and as I thought about it I thought: ‘I’m a military officer, I can make decisions quickly, and I’m comfortable operating in a chaotic environment. I have no problem making decisions with imperfect information.’ And I thought ‘I should be a bond trader!’ So the next week, I was knocking on every door on Wall Street saying I was Marine Captain. This was 1998, right before the world imploded.”
Semper’s Community Works
“I am flying this week to go and work on the Dog Tag Bakery,” Parsons told IA, over the busy clink and clang of breakfast service at a Midtown Manhattan restaurant early this month. “It’s a small non-profit that no one had heard of, but it’s doing great work. President Obama and Joe Biden showed up there in the summer, and their visit got splashed all over the newspapers. So, now it’s hit its stride in terms of popularity,” Parsons continued. The bakery runs a program for mostly wounded veterans that provides transition training—a chance to work at the bakery and receive job-skills training. “So I’m going down to speak to the current cadre of veterans about my story—being an entrepreneur in finance,” Parsons said.
In May, Parsons delivered the keynote address at a CFA Society New York Veterans’ Roundtable, titled Thinking Beyond the Transition. The roundtable was designed to explore how veterans focused on financial fields can better take inventory of their strengths, preferences and tolerances to give them greater staying power in their Wall Street rolls, according to a program description from the CFA Institute.
As part of his address, Parsons said he shared with the group a virtual course offered by The Heroes Journey, a non-profit program that helps veterans and their families find their voice and then tell their own hero’s journey. The course includes a free copy of the book, Mission America: Straight Talk About Military Transition and access to a private Facebook group (The Team Room) where veterans can tell their stories, get feedback on the course, and support each other on their journeys, according to Parsons.
To further spread awareness of the struggles war veterans face when returning home, Semper has been working with Ret. Special Forces Lt. Col. Scott Mann on the production of a play written by him, titled Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret. The play, which made its debut on November 10 in Tampa, is a latest venture for Semper that comports with the firm’s mission to highlight not only transitioning veterans’ struggles, but also “how a veteran’s sense of team, mission, tenacity, and purpose, cultivated while serving this country, is an asset that should not be underestimated nor undervalued once they return home,” Parsons said.
Rather than raise funds for scholarships, Semper has made a donation of $30,000, $25,000 of which has established the Semper Capital Management Scholarship, which funds 10 scholarships in varying amounts during the 2018-2019 academic year. The remaining $5,000 is allocated wherever needed most to support the 2018 scholarship program operations.
Following the CFA Society New York keynote address, a panel of individuals shared examples of how they leveraged the skills learned while in military service to transition to lasting careers in finance. Seated on the panel were: Denise Shull, CEO of ReThink (moderator), and panelists William Sweet, CFO Ritholtz Wealth Management (an Army Veteran); Lee Johnson, Jr., CIO Great Valley Advisor Group (a Navy Veteran); Elizabeth Bostick, v.p. global travel risk management, Goldman Sachs and Co-Chief of Staff of GS Veterans Network (a Navy Veteran); and Darrel Stephen, associate, alternative asset management at Oppenheimer & Co. (an Army Veteran).
Community Works’ Impact on Semper’s Business
“It has been the biggest accelerant to our business,” is how Parsons characterizes the affect of the firm’s community work on its business development. He continued: “I’m selling a commodity service—Yes, I happen to think that my widget is better that that guy’s widget, but folks, I believe, are always looking for a human connection, I don’t care what you’re selling. The fact is, we’ve [the U.S.] been at war for 17 years now and effectively most folks have forgotten about that. But there feels to me like there is this pent-up desire and energy to give back. And there is not a clear path for folks to help. There are 40 thousand-plus individual veteran focused non-profits. It’s a completely fragmented and bespoke. So there is no simple place for you to go and express your desire to simply help. So our story, I think, on a human level, implicitly helps us build relationships. So, easily, 20 percent of any of our conversations—even if it’s a pitch—ends up being about our non-profit activity, slightly skewed to our commitment to the military. It’s been a fantastic business by-product.”
Semper’s largest fund is the Semper MBS Total Return Fund. The performance of the fund’s institutional shares as of Sept. 30 was year-to-date 4.17%, 5.27% for the last 12 months, and 6.44% for the last five years.