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Money Management

New president named at Northern Trust asset unit

Thomas put new life into ETFs after 2009 financial crisis closure

Shundrawn Thomas, Northern Trust
Shundrawn Thomas, called ‘part of the wave of new leadership,’ succeeds Stephen N. Potter.

Shundrawn Thomas, who will become president of Northern Trust Asset Management on Oct. 1, made his mark in revitalizing Northern Trust's exchange-traded funds business after it was shuttered.

"If you think of the winners in the ETF space, Northern is on the list; no doubt, one of the reasons is (because of) Shundrawn," said Kunal Kapoor, CEO of Morningstar Inc., Chicago, in an interview.

Mr. Thomas was named on July 17 to succeed Stephen N. Potter, who will become a vice chairman of parent company Northern Trust Corp. He joined Northern Trust in 2004 and took on the role of managing director and global head of exchange-traded funds in 2010.

He basically was starting from scratch.

Northern had closed all 17 of its ETFs in February 2009, less than a year after the funds were launched. Mr. Thomas in previous interviews said the funds were a victim of timing, being launched at the beginning of the financial crisis.

Under Mr. Thomas' direction, Northern Trust Asset Management launched a new series of ETFs in 2011, which today accounts for about $14 billion.

Northern Trust was ranked 16th by asset size in Pensions & Investments' universe of ETF providers at year-end 2016. While that amount is small compared to megaplayers such as BlackRock (BLK) Inc. (BLK), Vanguard Group Inc. and State Street Global Advisors, Northern Trust carved out a niche with its non-cap-weighted ETFs, said Morningstar's Mr. Kapoor.

Reggie Browne, senior managing director and head of ETF trading at New York-based Cantor Fitzgerald, also credited Mr. Thomas' role in building Northern Trust's ETF business, and saying he "is part of the wave of new asset management leadership."

Mr. Thomas declined requests for an interview.

Mr. Thomas will take on his new role at a challenging time in the asset management industry.

While the asset management unit "has a wonderful passive franchise," it is weaker in active strategies, said Glenn Schorr, a senior managing director and senior research analyst at Evercore Group LLC, New York.

Northern built its asset management business from its asset servicing and wealth management business, but its aspiration is to craft a stronger third-party distribution organization to expand the reach of its investment strategies to clients, Mr. Schorr said.

Northern Trust Corp. reported its asset management division had assets under management of $1.029 trillion as of June 30, up 3% from three months earlier and up 14% from a year earlier.

Mr. Thomas' ascent to one of the top positions at Northern Trust, one of the world's largest asset managers, also makes him one of the highest-ranking African-Americans in the asset management industry. As president of Northern Trust Asset Management, he also will serve on the 13-member management group at Northern Trust Corp.

Mr. Thomas started at Northern Trust as a vice president advising wealthy individuals and families, according to an online resume he has posted on LinkedIn. He later was named to senior vice president, head of corporate strategy at Northern Trust, a role that reported directly to the firm's CEO.

In 2008, he became president and CEO of Northern Trust Securities, and in 2010 became head of the ETF group.

Mr. Thomas was named executive vice president and the head of Northern Trust's funds and managed accounts group in 2014.

His assignment includes overseeing the development, management and distribution of Northern Trust's institutional funds, ETFs and managed accounts.