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Roman Śledziejowski

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Tagi: roman śledziejowski
24. lipca 2011 13:52:00

 

Your Career Matters: Polish Ties Give Immigrant, 20, Wall Street Edge

 

NEW YORK – At age 20, Roman J. Sledziejowski is just beginning his career.

And some beginning it is: As a registered stockbroker with Citigroup Inc.'s Salomon Smith Barney unit, the Polish immigrant co-manages roughly $40 million, much of it for his fellow countrymen.

The young man's rapid rise is a testament to his undivided pursuit of his career. It also shows how getting ahead fast these days can depend on a special edge, such as an ability to leverage one's ethnic background. In many ways, Mr. Sledziejowski (pronounced sleh-JOW-ski) exemplifies the classic immigrant's tale of hard work, determination and luck. He moved

to New York City in 1994 from Poland. Three years later, he was a finalist in a citywide high school competition seeking ways to improve the city's quality of life. That brought him to the attention of Smith Barney, then part of Citigroup predecessor Travelers Group, the competition's sponsor. The big investment firm offered him a summer internship, and he was on his way. Mr. Sledziejowski graduated from high school the next year as class valedictorian while working part time for Smith Barney. He landed his full-time broker's position (with flexible hours) after he enrolled at Columbia University, where he begins his junior year Tuesday. Trust also has played a part in Mr. Sledziejowski's precocious career trajectory. Smith Barney took a risk in sponsoring him to take his broker's license tests at age 18. Upper management needed "a bit of coercing," recalls Steve Beninati, a first vice president who hired the youth as an intern. Albert Kirchner, Mr. Beninati's supervisor, ultimately supported the decision. The branch manager says he realized that much of Mr. Sledziejowski's potential lay in his ability to tap into the Polish community. Once Mr. Sledziejowski became fully licensed in 1999, he could bring in his own accounts. He struck up an informal partnership with Mr. Beninati. Ninety percent of their shared clients come from the Polish community. "It's a niche that he has mastered at a very early age," Mr. Beninati says. Katherine Solarz, 36, typifies their clients. She met Mr. Sledziejowski two years ago at the Polish Investors Club in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a New York neighborhood where Polish is spoken widely on the streets and most businesses advertise in Polish and English. The investment group meets under the auspices of Polonia Technica, a 60-year-old association of Polish engineers that tries to preserve Polish culture. Ms. Solarz, who owns an offset-printing business with her husband, spoke to Mr. Sledziejowski over cake and soda and came away impressed with his knowledge of stock-market conditions. She and her husband had already had a negative experience with two brokers whom they often couldn't reach by phone. "We are only 10 years here, and it's new for us, this investing thing," she says. "We wanted somebody who would completely take care of us."

Ms. Solarz says she and her husband soon opened eight different accounts at Salomon Smith Barney and invested $84,500. She receives a quarterly newsletter of investment advice from Messrs. Beninati and Sledziejowski. More importantly, she gets frequent e-mails in Polish from Mr. Sledziejowski. And he always returns her calls promptly.

The eagerness of many Polish immigrants to work with Mr. Sledziejowski can partly be explained by their limited investing experience back in Poland, says Elisabeth Baumgartner, founder of the Polish Investors Club and publisher of Polski Poradnik, a financial newsletter for Polish-Americans. Under communism, the only investment experience many Poles had was a postal savings book that yielded a 3% annual return. Numerous Polish immigrants remain so cautious that they put all of their money in the bank, Ms. Baumgartner adds. Others treat the stock market like a casino and place high-risk bets. For

immigrants in the middle, Mr. Sledziejowski offers a breadth of knowledge and realistic expectations, she says. "Roman is very reasonable and very cautious in his recommendations," she says. Messrs. Beninati and Sledziejowski say the market's recent volatility has helped rather than hurt business, since they are now picking up clients who tried to invest on their own and got burned. They continue to advise a long-term approach that assumes the market's eventual turnaround. "Hearing

that in Polish from an individual who is an immigrant himself is much more reassuring than if they read about it in a full-page advertisement," Mr.Beninati says. Mr. Sledziejowski got hooked on investing early.

 

He was living in the suburbs of Poznan, a Polish city 200 miles east of Berlin, when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. In postcommunist Poland, he was fascinated to learn more about capitalism through the local press.By age 12, he says, "I didn't have the penchant for buying a new bike." Instead, he invested about $800 he had saved over the years in the fledgling Warsaw Stock Exchange, then in operation for less than two years. As the market took off, his investment ballooned to $18,000 over three years. He and his mother later moved to the U.S., where his father was working as an electronics

consultant. When Mr. Sledziejowski landed in Greenpoint, he says he encountered "a totally different world." He refers not to the New York skyline but to his first shocking glimpse of a U.S. newspaper's entire section of cramped stock quotes. In Poland, he had to sift through only about 35 listed companies. At an age when many spend hours poring over lyrics of their favorite band, Mr. Sledziejowski stayed up late struggling to read jargon-filled quarterly reports and prospectuses for initial public offerings with a beginner's grasp of English. Today, Mr. Sledziejowski's self-assurance and precise speech give him an air of maturity that offsets his slight build and boyish complexion. Most people mistake him for 26, he says. In any case, his age doesn't appear to be a liability. Polish diplomat Andrew Abraszewski, a member of the United Nations Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, recently heard Mr. Sledziejowski speak at a Polish Investors Club

meeting and wondered how someone so young had attained so much knowledge. "I just took it that the guy must be working very hard," Mr. Abraszewsk says. Mr. Sledziejowski admits that it's tough to balance his work and academic schedule. When he returns to Columbia Tuesday, he will trim this summer's 50-hour workweek to about 35. But he will carry two cellphones to class -one for regular business calls, another for client emergencies. An economics major, he tries to sign up mainly for

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