Content provided by Robyn Murray, Freelance Writer
Gene Frerichs grew up on a farm in Ogallala, a town of about 4,600 people in western Nebraska – descendants of Old West cattle drivers, who trekked from Texas to the Union Pacific railhead, and European settlers who pioneered the Great Plains frontier. Today, Ogallala is still an Old West town, with storefront saloons and wide, open spaces.
Frerichs’s grandparents homesteaded the area. They staked their claim on farmland and built a home, where his father still lives. Frerichs thought he would stay near the farm – he planned to teach math in town, just as his mother had before him in a one-room schoolhouse. But in the classroom, Frerichs realized his passion lay more in the complexities – researching and studying the numbers, digging into the data. So instead, he drove 300 miles east to the banks of the Missouri River – to Omaha, a city of just under 1 million, and started looking for work.
A barn on the Frerichs’s family farm
A Small Company Feel
Today, more than 20 years later, Frerichs’s workplace has a familiar, small-town feel. He works at CLS, an investment firm founded by Patrick Clarke and handed down to his son, Todd. “It’s the kind of place where you feel good about recommending your services,” Frerichs says, “to your mom or your aunt or whoever that doesn’t know anything about investing.”
Frerichs is a performance analyst, which means it’s his job to ensure CLS follows the fine-print rules and regulations of financial industry standards, and to research and implement the decisions of the portfolio management team. “I didn’t take a single business, finance, economics class ever in college or in high school,” he says. “It just wasn’t the path I was going to go down.” But now, he’s an indispensable part of the portfolio management team. “When [the PM team] wants some obscure piece of information,” he says, “I get that satisfaction of taking a lot of different variables and running them through a complex process and getting something intelligible.”
Frerichs has watched significant changes at CLS and within the financial industry. When he began at the company, investment choices for clients were narrow, but highly customizable exchange-traded funds (ETFs) changed the game. “[ETFs] really opened up the investment universe for what we could offer,” Frerichs says. “That always-changing dynamic is fascinating to watch from the inside out.”
What hasn’t changed, Frerichs says, is the culture. Despite growing to 92 employees and selling to TA Associates earlier this year, CLS feels like the same family business it always was. “I think there’s always been a very strong moral compass to the company,” he says. “We’re here to help investors, to do for them what they can’t or don’t understand well enough to do for themselves, and doing it in a very open and transparent way.”
Frerichs enjoys his day-to-day work surrounded by the abstract complexities of numbers and finance, though it is far from the simple life of living on the farm. He tries to get back to Ogallala whenever he can, but he’s thankful his new life has some familiarities of home.
“I’ve always liked the family feel, where you know everybody,” he says. “To me, [CLS] hasn’t outgrown that small company feel.”
Pictured left to right, Gene’s mom Ardith, sons Johnny and Jake, Gene, and dad Howard – 1999