Like many executives running multibillion-dollar businesses, Peter Thompson adorns his office with photos of him meeting U.S. presidents. But there's one big difference: In some of them, he's a mere child.
A nephew of Richard M. Daley and grandson of Richard J. Daley, both longtime Chicago mayors, Thompson particularly remembers his encounter with President Gerald Ford. In a photo on his wall, Thompson and his younger brother, Patrick, wear identical leisure suits as they approach Ford to greet him on his visit to Chicago.
Look closely, and you can see that the brothers are mistakenly wearing each other's jackets, with Peter's too snug and Patrick's oversized.
"The picture would be even more entertaining if it were in color," he said, because both outfits were canary yellow.
More than 30 years later, Thompson is the dark-suited chief executive of Perkins Investment Management, which is 80 percent owned by the $148 billion-asset Janus Capital Group Inc. of Denver. Perkins, run from the 60th floor of a South Wacker Drive office building, manages $18.1 billion in assets, up from almost $11 billion when Thompson joined. The growth has come from stock market gains and additional money sent its way by new and existing investors.
Personable and a natural networker, Thompson, 43, seems to have the potential makings of a political candidate. His brother, Patrick, is the first of their generation to seek public office as he runs for commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Peter Thompson hasn't shown that inclination so far, but never say never.
"I love business," Thompson said, pointing to the example set by his former boss, John Rogers. The Ariel Investments founder and CEO stays active in politics without making it his day job. Still, Thompson said, "I wouldn't rule anything out."
, his uncle and the former
chief of staff, said Thompson has a great career ahead of him in business.
"He seems to be focused on business and the financial services sector," Daley said. "I don't see his interest" in entering politics.
Sitting for a 9 a.m. interview in his office recently, Thompson popped open a can of Diet Coke.
"Gotta support Uncle Rich now," he joked, referring to the former mayor's appointment to Coke's board of directors.
But about 90 percent of Perkins' clients are national or global and "wouldn't know
if they sat next to him on an airplane," said Thompson, who that evening left on a business trip to London. Later that month, he would make trips to Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco, Palm Beach, Hong Kong, Beijing and Minneapolis. "It rarely comes up at all in business for me."
Perkins seeks to maintain its reputation as a conservative, "sleep at night" money manager by minimizing losses when the market is falling. Its funds with the longest track records — the small-cap value, the mid-cap value, the large-cap value and the global value — have largely accomplished that goal, says one mutual fund industry observer.
"Perkins funds have struck a nice balance, generating very strong long-term returns relative to peers, with less volatility," said
analyst Katie Reichart. "Although the funds typically don't lead the way in growth markets, they've historically lost less money than peers in downturns, as was the case during 2008's financial crisis."
That makes those funds easy for investors to own and has contributed to their "impressive records," she said.
Thompson was born in the summer of 1968 in Chicago. His mother is the eldest of Richard J. and Eleanor "Sis" Daley's seven children. Born onSt. Patrick's Dayand named Patricia, she was a public school teacher for most of her career.
His dad, William Paul Thompson, was the son of Chicago police Officer Theodore "Spats" Thompson. William Thompson worked for Rubloff Properties on such projects as Sandburg Village. In the early 1980s, he went on his own and built some Uptown high-rises near Montrose and Broadway avenues.
Peter's parents divorced when he was 4. He, his mother and two siblings moved from the North Side to live next door to his Daley grandparents in Bridgeport. His mother remarried about 20 years later. His father died in 2000 of
Thompson graduated in 1986 from St. Ignatius College Prep, where, at 6-foot-3, he was an undersized forward on the basketball team. At St. Ignatius, where he is a life trustee, he met Mellody
. She was a year younger but would have a big impact on his life later, when she recruited him to Ariel Investments, where he worked from 1994 to 2006. "She's the reason I ended up at Ariel," he said.
Thompson met his wife,
Providence College, a Catholic university in Rhode Island, where he earned a history degree. He knew he wanted to marry her the minute he met her, he said, for her "calm and kind spirit." They have five children, and Michelle is a stay-at-home mom. They live in Kenwood, a few blocks from President
He earned a master's in business administration, with a focus on finance, from the
. Hobson, now Ariel president, said Thompson has a deep knowledge of the investing business and knew Ariel's portfolios backward and forward.
"He doesn't just glad hand," she said. "He knows what he's talking about."
Still, Thompson knew how to get to the right people
when courting unions, an area where Ariel hadn't been well represented.
"That doesn't mean he knew who the right person was, but he could figure out how to get to the people he needed to know," she said. "That world is a very closed world, and once you get someone's blessing, they'll refer you.
"But at the end of the day," she said, your funds have to do well for clients, "especially when you're talking about pension assets."
Ariel was already doing business with the city when he was hired, Thompson said. And he noted that one of the city's pension funds parted ways with Ariel during his time there.
Ariel CEO Rogers said Thompson was "relentless" about cultivating new business, "constantly calling people, setting up meetings, going to events, letting the world know that he was a part of the Ariel team."
Rogers and Thompson share a love of basketball, and both attended Michael Jordan's over-35 basketball camp. Rogers played at Princeton University and frequently quoted his coach,
, at work, Thompson recalled.
Their favorite line: "The more you help your teammates, the more you help yourself."
"To this day, the hair stands up on the back of my neck when I say it," Thompson said.
Thompson left Ariel to work on his uncle's mayoral re-election bid, overseeing fundraising and the business side of the campaign.
After that, in May 2007, he bought controlling interest of Chicago Asset Management, whose assets under management were shrinking.
"It was a failure. I thought we could turn it around and save this firm that had a proud history, but it had fallen on hard times," Thompson said. Part of it was the timing. "This was June 2007, and we were caught in cross hairs of what was going on in the market."
The firm folded. He said clients got their money back, workers received severance, and vendors were paid.
Thompson got the job at Perkins in January 2009, a month after Janus had upped its stake in the Chicago business to 80 percent from 30 percent. His hiring was put in motion by New York executive recruiter Joe Goldsmith, who knew Thompson and Gary Black, then CEO of Janus.
Black, now with Black Capital LLC in New York, admired Thompson's combination of leadership skills, sales background and investment acumen. Bob Perkins, who co-founded the firm and still works there as a portfolio manager, and brother Tom Perkins, who joined in 1998 and is a portfolio manager, signed off on Thompson after two or three other CEO candidates didn't pass muster.
"Tom and Bob were skeptical that anyone could come in from the outside," Black said. "Peter won them over quickly" and was a particularly well-rounded candidate.
"You don't often see high-IQ people with high EQ," or emotional intelligence,
Delving into details
Perkins has a chief investment officer who decides where to invest clients' money. Thompson is more involved, as he was at Ariel, in the business side of Perkins, including its marketing, distribution and product development. The firm, which has 27 employees in Chicago and three in San Francisco, doesn't manage any money from the city of Chicago.
But Thompson also gets involved in the nitty-gritty details of an investment firm. One recent day at his office, he met with an employee to discuss a white paper called "Asymmetric Fundamental Beta."
Perkins' mutual funds generally engage in value investing, as opposed to, say, growth investing. Their investment criteria include stocks that have underperformed the market in the past six to 18 months but that have strong balance sheets and reliable cash flows.
Apropos for a firm that hunts for undervalued stocks, the olive-colored coasters in the Perkins conference room are "pleather," not leather, Thompson said.
During a meeting with his institutional team, which he allowed the Tribune to attend, he occasionally flashed a thumbs-up as staff gave progress reports. He referred to Valerie Newman, client portfolio manager, as "Valerama."
The team also discussed potential problems with a white paper written by one of its analysts. Titled "Moneyball," it makes the case that using a three-year time period to assess a fund is not the most dependable measurement for investors.
Although the paper offers a new way to assess funds, Thompson asked whether it would be self-serving to publish that report at a time when Perkins has some lagging three-year numbers.
The consensus: The report is an evergreen and can be published later.
One employee shared new marketing material with Thompson; it filled a medium-size three-ring binder.
"Too much," Thompson said. "I don't want it to be this big. You've got to be able to fit it in your briefcase and Tumi bag." He recommends a couple of summary pages for each investment product.
Another topic on the table was that some potential investors want to see a bigger "assets under management number" from Perkins' relatively small global fund before they'll invest. Thompson said that fund's size, about $100 million, is its "Achilles' heel."
Focus on family
Being part of a high-profile family has both advantages and challenges, and Thompson seems to accept both as they come.
He recalls his grandfather, Richard J. Daley, regularly making it home for dinner. Thompson is "extremely close" to his siblings and cousins; few of the 20 have scattered.
"You have the chance to grow up with committed public servants and wonderful people," Thompson said. "The family has stuck together."
Among his other friends: Chicago Mayor
, U.S. Education Secretary
and Craig Robinson, brother of Michelle Obama.
A disadvantage of his world is in the heightened public scrutiny.
Under Mayor Daley, Thompson had been a board member of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, a volunteer position that required him to attend four meetings a year.
When Emanuel became mayor and wanted to install his own people,
Thompson was replaced. The agency had been under scrutiny for its relationship with the
, including how much of the profits the team should receive from a restaurant funded by the authority.
"I resigned, but ultimately I was replaced, and it's front-page news," Thompson recalled. "It made it look as if it was my job," instead of a volunteer position that required relatively little time. "People are going to read the paper and think going to Sox park every day is what I do."
He said people also tend to exaggerate their connections to his uncle.
"He'd be sitting in a restaurant, and someone who was sitting across the room would go to work the next day and tell people they had dinner with the mayor," Thompson said. "If I don't hear it directly from him, I don't consider it true."
Growing up a Daley also means that people occasionally mistake Thompson for other family members, including his candidate brother, though there's not a strong resemblance.
At church recently, a fellow parishioner had words of encouragement for the Perkins CEO: "'We're voting for you,'" Peter Thompson recalled, with a laugh.
, chief executive, Perkins Investment Management.
Golf. His fantasy foursome would consist of his brother, Patrick; childhood friend and NBA referee Marc Davis; and the late UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. Growing up, Thompson thought about becoming a basketball coach. He and Davis communicate daily and have for decades.
Losing 50 pounds through exercising and eating "more green things than nongreen things." Over dinner during an interview at Chicago Cut, he had a small steak and broccoli with red pepper sauteed in olive oil.
Photos of himself as a boy with
, and later with Barack Obama.
Sister Courtney is a year older and works in corporate communications forBoeing Co. Younger brother Patrick, an attorney with Burke Warren MacKay, is running for commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Peter said he is "advising him informally."
Mayor Richard J. Daley's children
, in birth order:
Peter's mom, Patricia Daley Martino; Mary Carol Vanecko; Ellie, who died in 1998; Richard; Mike; John; and
is experiencing his first-ever resume gap.
Daley, who recently left the post of chief of staff for the Obama White House, is back in Chicago, and although he and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will be national co-chairmen for the president's re-election campaign, Daley said it's the first time in his life that he has left a job without having another day job lined up, and he has no idea what he'll do next.
"It's a blank slate," Daley said, noting that he's fortunate not to have to worry about it.
Before joining the Obama administration, Daley was Midwest chairman for
. JPMorgan hired Daley in 2004, four months after it announced plans to buy Chicago-based Bank One Corp. Glenn Tilton now holds that post.