“If you want to make it, take your career into your own hands,” Henry Swieca ’82 told Columbia Business School students on October 23.
Swieca, cofounder of Highbridge Capital Management and founder and CIO of Talpion Fund Management, shared professional and personal advice as part of the David and Lyn Silfen Leadership Series. Swieca discussed his humble beginnings growing up in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood in the 1960s and ’70s, the son of immigrant parents who were Holocaust survivors, “I learned to watch my back,” Swieca said. “Manhattan then didn’t look like it does now.”
He saw a path to financial security through his uncle, a dentist who also invested in the stock market. When both Swieca’s parents died while he was in college, he turned to the market as a way to pay not only for his own education, but for his brother’s medical school, too. The undergrad bought 1,000 shares in Warner Communications using nearly all the money he had at the time.
After two years, the stock had doubled, and Swieca had been accepted into Columbia Business School on a two-year deferment. He used that time to travel, work in Israel, and accept a job at Merrill Lynch — a position he found by knocking on the doors of retail banks throughout Manhattan. “I told them I was hungry and would work for very little money,” Swieca said. “I had no connections; I had to hustle and struggle.”
At Merrill Lynch, Swieca learned every aspect of the brokerage business, practical experience he combined with his studies at Columbia, where he learned about capital structure and leverage. In 1984, he started the Dubin and Swieca Group at E. F. Hutton with business partner Glenn Dubin; the two would pioneer the integration of traditional securities and derivative investment strategies. In 1992, Dubin and Swieca started Highbridge Capital Management, which they eventually sold to JP Morgan Chase. In 2011, Swieca started Talpion Fund Management.
Acknowledging that the finance industry has changed since he started working in the ’80s and ’90s, Swieca advised students to broaden their job search to non-traditional firms and smaller companies. “Checking boxes and following a set career path was never my style, and it’s much harder to do today,” he said. “Look at your skills and what’s ahead for the market, then match what you’re good at with the opportunities that are out there.”