Croskery charts new path for SSL

Observer writer

Sunday, May 06, 2018

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The Stocks & Securities Limited (SSL) DNA can be traced back to the 1970s when it became the second registered stock brokerage firm in Jamaica. Fast-forward 40 years and the company has crafted a strategy in which it has three Jamaican divisions led by portfolio CEOs who are given a stake in the company and rewarded for hitting performance targets.

Taking a Caribbean-wide perspective, Mark Croskery, formerly head of the Jamaican operations, has transitioned to the post of executive director of SSL Barbados, which began operations in November 2015.

“SSL Barbados was passive for a number of years and now we are becoming more active. We are looking at transactions and deals and, given that we are an integrated financial holding company, if we see an opportunity that makes sense, we can actively pursue it”, he told the Jamaica Observer.

Given low interest rates and the changes to the retail repurchase agreement market, the financial sector has transitioned from a margin-gathering existence to one that is now becoming dominated by mergers, acquisitions and initial public offerings. SSL Barbados and SSL Jamaica have been restructured to being active players in the new dispensation.

Croskery explained, “Stocks and Securities (Barbados) Limited commences to become active private equity platform, pursuing growth equity in Jamaica and the Caribbean.” Croskery explains that the term “growth equity” is really about finding companies that have potential and spending the time with the owners to extract that potential for the benefits of stakeholders.

“Take our upcoming IPO, Everything Fresh, as an example,” Croskery told Sunday Finance. “We worked with that company to help them establish their board, find external, internal auditors and assist the family in finding the right financial structure to take their business public. This is the kind of work we can do now that we have a new more strategic and opportunistic SSL structure in place.

“If Jamaica stays like this for the next five to six years or longer, that is high investor and business confidence and low interest rates. We foresee that most of the money will come from real estate and investment banking and operating companies ….with the market changing so much since 2008 you have to be more strategic as a business owner,” Croskery explained.

In regard to deal making, Croskery shared several achievements by the SSL Jamaica team. “We launched the SSL REIT and purchased Bashco's Warehouse in Newport, and brought in a minority partner in Dolla Financial.”

Specifically to Dolla, Croskery informed, “SSL Barbados recently reported a success with a minority sale in its micro-finance provider in Jamaica, Dolla Financial Services Ltd, at three times its monies invested in 2015, and we are looking forward to this listing on the Junior Market in Jamaica. Dolla Financial is led by CEO Mr Kadeen Mairs, after we acquired his micro loans company, M-24, and him for the management of Dolla, early 2017.”

Further, SSL Barbados also maintains a 100 per cent stake in Stocks and Securities Ltd in Jamaica that manages over $30 billion in client investments and maintains over 7,000 investment accounts and growing at an annual pace, of 30 per cent or higher in regard to new investment accounts.

Croskery added, “Stocks and Securities Ltd is led by CEO Ms Lamar Harris, who was with SSL for over five years, and we are looking forward to her getting SSL to a leading investment bank, with a brokerage. The market loves the SSL brand, and under Ms Lamar Harris's leadership we look forward to continued innovation and seeing our core asset getting to the stock market for all Jamaicans to participate.”

Harris and Mairs represent the type of portfolio CEOs that Croskery believes will build the SSL Jamaican arm in this very competitive environment. “We have, as explained, broken out SSL Jamaica into three distinct pathways.

1. SSL REIT - with a focus on commercial income properties

2. SSL Jamaica - with a focus on the investment advisory model for financial planning and investment banking

3. SSL Dolla Financial - with a focus on micro financing and SME financing

Croskery continued, “Not having one CEO doing everything is key to our growth model. You see, someone who is passionate about loans is not probably passionate about investing and so we allow our portfolio CEOs to self-actualise.”

And how do you determine the right portfolio CEO? Croskery is very clear on that, as well. “We have two great CEOs who bring to the table positive energy, aggression, good karma, a strong sales and marketing culture to the team they lead.”

As it relates to Croskery's substantive duties: “SSL Barbados continues to expand its asset classes, but with a major focus on growth equity. The company sees a consistent lack of access to capital in Jamaica, for companies either pre-IPO or in potential IPO placements. We want to be that bridge for companies who are earning significant sums of revenue but need help in unlocking value. With the interest rates in Jamaica, at three per cent or less on T-Bills, we are bullish on operating companies, the stock market selectively and real estate.”

On a personal level this focus on building the SSL eco system means that Croskery himself is clear on what it will take to be successful. “My team of CEOs and I are clear on how we expend energy. It is about deploying teams, staying humble and being strategic. Success in the financial sector in Jamaica means working with hard-working people who work long hours, are committed to cross-selling and are tuned in seven days a week.”

Croskery continued, “Twelve years ago, I started out as an adviser at NCB Capital Markets and I have seen where the financial sector has changed to a sales and evaluation culture, where you are assessed month to month, and one must develop a quarter-to-quarter mindset. Yes, we absolutely value family life and so we are building a team with people who can manage both. The SSL culture is professional, hungry, ethical and committed to the people who care to be a part of the business and becoming a shareholder as a reward for facing the exciting challenges ahead.”

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