Jeff Clark sometimes describes himself as a “farm boy from Ogden Valley,” whose great ambition was to have a job that required him to “shower before work rather than after work.” In addition, he says he used to think “Wall Street” was just the rundown part of Ogden!
Jeff left the family farm and graduated from Utah State in 1982 with a degree in accounting. Now he has been honored with the Huntsman School’s top award, the 2013 Distinguished Executive Alumnus Award.
On what he calls his “crooked career path,” Jeff went from USU to KPMG in Seattle, and after 18 months there and two years at two risk arbitrage funds, he became a founder and CFO in 1985 of Genesee Partners, a fund of hedge funds. At that time, he says, “there were about 12 ‘funds of funds’ on the planet, and there were probably only about 100 hedge funds worldwide.” Today there are some 10,000 to 12,000 hedge funds and funds of hedge funds.
Jeff left Genesee in late 1990 and quickly gathered up capital commitments of $5 million with a plan to launch his own fund of hedge funds called Praesideo Management. He was 32 years old and right in the middle of the creation of the modern finance industry. As the days ticked down to his launch date, the days also ticked down on President George H. W. Bush’s January 15th deadline for launching the first Iraq war.
Jeff says of that time, “Tick tick tick. Down down down.”
By the time January 1 arrived, President Bush was most likely going to have to push the button on the first Iraq war—which he did two weeks later. When Jeff launched the firm, he had just $1.2 million of his own money left to start his new business, since nervous investors had pulled back.
At about the same time, he was talked into being the acting CFO for another fund of funds. Jeff agreed to a two-year contract to work under the name J.D. Clark & Company, an alternative investment servicing business for hedge funds, funds of hedge funds, and private equity firms.
"I realized that wherever I was going on my crooked career path and wealth path, it really didn't have that much to do with me. It really had everything to do with what I might do to with what I might do to make a difference in the world."
It wasn’t long, he says, before, “I woke up and said to myself, this J.D. Clark investment service is a real business, even though I’m not trying to let it be a business!”
He continued to build both businesses when, as he said, “I realized I had a problem—J.D. Clark was going to grow a lot over the next three or four years.” That firm went from managing $1.6 billion in 2000 to $28 billion in 2008, with 75 employees, providing the “highest touch service model” in the business. In 2009 he sold JD Clark to UMB Fund Services, retiring this year as Chairman and CEO. Then with Praesideo, after 20 years of 10.8 percent average returns compared to about 2.5 percent in the NASDAQ, he sold the main funds managed by that firm, as well, in 2013.
“All I knew when I came to Utah State was that I wanted to get off the farm,” Jeff says. “On a farm you have cash flow and debt but not really income.”
He liked Paul Randall’s finance class at Utah State, and while he didn’t really like calculus, he did like statistics. About a year into it he realized that finance majors weren’t getting jobs but accountants were. “It dawned on me that my father taught high school accounting and business math,” and he had passed those courses, so he changed his major to accounting. One professor, Larzette Hale, encouraged him to get involved in Beta Alpha Psi, the accounting honors society, which he did and was grateful to serve as an officer his senior year.
Now in his early 50s, Jeff wants to spend his remaining time as a social impact investor who makes the world a better place. “We are looking at investments in innovative technologies,” Jeff says, “such as electrical storage technologies, power generation from football-shaped objects that sit in a stream and generate power, and Smart Schools Technology where we study how technology should work in schools to change the planet.”
In the end, he said, “I realized that wherever I was going on my crooked career path and wealth path, it really didn’t have that much to do with me. It really had everything to do with what I might do to make a difference in the world.”