Founder’s Therapy: Troy Dixon of Hollis Park Partners

Troy Dixon is the founder of Hollis Park Partners, a structured products fund. In this article, Troy discusses his experience as financial trader, the volatility of the industry, and how he went from inner Queens to a powerful shot caller on Wall Street.

I’m the CEO of my own structured financial securities hedge fund. Anything that has an asset behind it and is used to create a cash loan is considered a structured product. Hollis Park is not typical, it’s the separation between private equity and hedge; and we’re not bankers, we trade in the public market. I’m in the trenches every single day: equity markets bond markets, currency markets are all relevant to my business. My job is to have boots on the ground and make money every day leveraging market dynamics. We create systems that allow us to be a lead around power when we take our bets.

Most of this is on-the-job training. I’ve seen guys go get master’s degrees in mathematics and don’t click with what we’re trying to accomplish. The experiences I got around critical thinking and education have proven just as valuable as if I had a master’s degree from MIT. The great thing about it is that there are several ways to skin a cat, and there isn’t one proxy for who can be successful in this. The egalitarian nature of finance means the cream moves to the top.

Let’s put one step in front of the other, do singles and doubles, and prove our worth over a longer period of time—that’s the structure of our firms. Our goal is not to be massive, our goal is to come in here and scratch for returns. If we do that, and if we do it within the margins of what have been set, we set ourselves up to be a long lasting, durable institution.

Stumbling into securities trading
My undergrad program was so broad-based it gave me a very good base around critical thinking, which I think is important to success I’ve had in the business world. I stumbled into finance after finding myself at a trading desk one night and decided that it was what I wanted do.

It’s high pace and very egalitarian for the most part. No day is the same, you’re going to have some good days and some bad days. This lends itself to my background as an athlete playing college sports. In the team atmosphere, there were a bunch of smart people finding solutions to various things, and that paired well with what I wanted to do in my career.

I’ve also always wanted to run my own thing. More than just wanting to get rich and build a business, I want to create a footprint, I want to give inspiration to my kids and other people, that’s the ultimate goal of it all.

There are no substitutes for hard work. The reality is that you have to have determination. I don’t care how smart you are or how perceptive you are or how interesting the job may be to you, if you’re not working hard know there’s going to be somebody that will work harder than you and achieve the things you want to achieve.

I use a lot of football analogies: I never take a play off, I’m going hard every single play, and you can count on me going full speed. Toward the end of my time at my previous job, I was no longer going full speed every single play, which was a categorical change in what had made me successful.

On tough days and staying grounded family support
I had to get my wife on board. When you do this kind of thing there’s a commitment that has to come from everybody close to you. Once you get going, it kind of takes a life of its own and you need to take step back and think about the risk for you and your family.

I always say, “never be scared to better yourself”, and so I’m enjoying the journey. I’m reinforced by everybody around me, nobody’s doing it alone. If the support system you’ve built is solid and strong, you’ll find the journey to be a lot less bumpy. I have that without a doubt and that’s the only thing that gets you through the tough days. I’d be lying If I told you there haven’t been a ton of tough days.

We grew up in Queens in the lower middle class and my parents instilled in me a respect for education. I didn’t go to local public schools, my family pitched in for me to go to the schools I wanted to, and so I’ve always viewed education as very, very important. My dad is a serial entrepreneur so there’s a heredity nature to it I’m sure. My mom is a force you can always count on. I’m drawing on all of the things they taught me both intrinsically and overtly through the years, and I feel blessed in many ways because my relationship with my parents is so strong even today.

In inner city New York, there’s a certain level of humility that I think all people need to have. I don’t care who you are, or how successful you’ve been, there’s a certain level of humility that is necessary to create success. I try to make sure I stay grounded on those realities. I’ve got family, I have a wife, and I have friends who will all make sure that we stay grounded together. I wear a rubberband on my wrist every single day and when I look at it, it forces me to remember where I came from and who I really am, and to never get caught up in the business accolades or any other stuff that can capture you.

Navigating the ups and downs of the industry
Indelibly it’s a rise and fall business. I’ve seen a lot of people who I’ve looked up to go down bad pasture for various reasons and they just haven’t stayed the path. The grace of God holds me and that’s part of the inspiration. Sometimes it’s easy to get off track and you’ve got to stay in your lane and be laser focused on the goal. If you do those two things you eliminate a lot of the possibilities around failing dramatically later in your career.

I understood that it was going to be an upward battle the whole way, and I wasn’t prepared necessarily. When your name’s on the door the emotional roller coaster you go on is dramatically different than when your name is not. The roller coaster has been three times the size I thought it was going to be, but I’m much more equipped to deal with the dips.

The most rewarding thing is the fact that people believe in me. We’ve done a good job for people in two years, so it feels really good to reward those who have believed in you through solid returns and good profits and good risk management.

Unique challenges of being a black man in this industry
As a general rule there are hurdles and preconceived notions no matter who we are. Sometimes those preconceived notions can be good or bad, but you have to understand they’re there and immediately visual. Women have the same issue, so I’m cognizant of making sure I remain keenly aware of how these preconceived notions can impact my interactions.

It’s somewhat disappointing and intimidating when you sit in a room of senior execs on many different levels and you’re the only person of color in the room. You’re the only person of color that’s ever been in the room. Sometimes it’s a burden and sometimes an honor—sometimes both. That’s why I’m in the business of numbers. At the end of the day the numbers are the numbers.

We’re making evolutions around people getting comfortable with us being the quarterbacks of a business, or quarterbacks of a company, or quarterbacks of a firm. Many are comfortable with us being sales people, and less comfortable with us being the risk takers or the capital generator or the revenue generator, and so those are the preconceived notions I feel I’ve helped to change. That’s changing slowly and you’ll see more minority hedge funds and investment managers emerge. I’m excited about what that will look like, and hopeful that I’ll be part of that mapping and growth.

My inspiration doesn’t necessarily come from an individual per se, it comes from the fact that the job is taxing and I’m humbled by all the things that are allotted to me. I wish I did have somebody who set the standard, gave me a guideline, and was supportive of what I was doing. That’s the framework we need to build quite honestly, because if we can do that then we can figure out the greater issues, which to me is black boys in America.