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Wm. D. Witter Taps Ugolyn for New Direction


Victor Ugolyn, 57, the former chairman, president and CEO of Enterprise Capital Management of Atlanta, the adviser to the Enterprise Group of Funds, the proprietary fund family of insurance company Mutual of New York Group (MONY), has a brand new gig these days.

Ugolyn has purchased an interest in William D. Witter, a small, niche New York investment management firm founded in 1977 to originally provide services to the Dean Witter circle of family and friends. In addition to his "significant minority" stake in the firm (the Dean Witter family of Wall Street brokerage fame owns the remaining majority), Ugolyn has signed on as the company's president and CEO and will preside over its future direction.

MONY was acquired by AXA Financial on July 8, 2004, and the two have since agreed to merge their separate mutual fund families into a single group to be branded AXA Enterprise Funds. The resulting fund family will boast a lineup of 30 funds to be managed by AXA Equitable. Ugolyn, who also served as SVP of MONY, stayed on as a consultant to AXA post-merger but stepped down at year-end 2004. "I was retiring, but I didn't want to hang it up all together," Ugolyn admitted.

What is Ugolyn's first goal? To leverage his new firm's capabilities, broaden its base of clients and build a national presence for the firm by establishing an office in California, as well as somewhere in the Southern U.S.

Ugolyn, whose experience includes hiring various sub-advisors to manage the Enterprise Group of Funds, has shifted to the other side of the table. In his new role, he will be vying to secure sub-advisory relationships for his new firm, managing mutual funds, as well as variable annuity and variable life portfolios. He also plans to expand the firm's alternative investments business, which currently includes two hedge funds with a combined $96 million. And the firm will be considering venturing into private equity investments.

Getting On the Radar

With $1.6 billion in assets under management, William D. Witter has been successful managing money predominantly under a small-cap discipline for 28 years. But it has done so in virtual obscurity to those outside the Dean Witter inner sanctum. Although over the years the firm has selectively added corporate, institutional and high-net-worth clients, as well as a balanced and fixed-income discipline, the firm was so well established that it never had a need to market itself, Ugolyn said in an interview at his new office in midtown Manhattan. "It is a well-kept secret," he said.

That all changed nearly two years ago when, in May 2003, company founder Bill Witter died. As executor of his uncle's estate, Dean (Kip) Witter III hired industry investment banker Putnam Lovell NBF Securities to find a buyer for the firm. "We tried to target a list of institutions that would be a good cultural fit and were not going to tear the firm apart," Witter said.

The search led to a discussion between the firm and Ugolyn. The two were familiar with each other as William D. Witter had served as the sub-advisor to the Enterprise Small Company Growth Fund. Discussions eventually materialized into a firm partnership commitment.

"I wanted to stay out of the portfolio managers' way and not break what wasn't broken," Witter said. "I feel much better with Victor being in this business."

No Fund Encore

But don't expect Ugolyn to replicate his successful creation of the all-sub-advised, retail-oriented Enterprise Group of Funds which, on Ugolyn's watch, grew from $200 million to $9 billion in assets. In the late 1990s, Strategic Insight of New York cited the firm as one of the fastest-growing fund complexes. "I have no intention of being a full-service mutual fund company," Ugolyn said. "Do I have the intention of going into the [mutual fund] business? Yes, but as a very niche player," he added.

Along the way, Ugolyn hopes to attract some fresh portfolio talent to Witter. That goal might include a portfolio manager grab or team "lift out" from another firm, or even the acquisition of another boutique investment manager, Ugolyn hinted. Witter, the firm, is known for its incubation of some prominent managers who have gone on to found their own successful firms, including Mario Gabelli, chairman and CEO of Gabelli Asset Management of Rye, N.Y., and Susan Byrne, chairman and CEO of Westwood Management of Dallas, adviser to the Westwood Funds.

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