When Rick Vollaro graduated from Fairfield University in Connecticut, he wasn’t sure what direction to take with his life. “My dad was an accountant and became a successful insurance executive, so I got a degree in accounting. But I didn’t know if that was something I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to be able to eat,” he says, laughing.
He started work at a major auditing services company, but found that the work didn’t fit him. After a lot of thought, he decided to take a sabbatical from business and pursue something that had been a dream of his since childhood. “I always wanted to be a marine mammal trainer. I used to watch Jacques Cousteau as a kid, and loved the sea.” Rick knew that he was still young enough to make a career shift, and that if he didn’t at least try it, he’d always live with the regret. So after a lot of research, marine-related volunteer work, and letter-writing, he landed a job at the popular Miami Seaquarium. He enjoyed his time in the field, and even met his wife while volunteering at a dolphin research center in the Florida Keys, but eventually, it was time to move on. “I realized that if I wanted to get married and have kids, I was going to need a better job.”
A bond trading firm back in Connecticut offered him a position, and he accepted. “I was trying to find a way to get on the trading floor — I had a friend who was doing that, and I thought it fit me better than accounting. The problem was that they hand-picked their traders, and the company culture wouldn’t allow me to make the switch, so I began to look around.”
While visiting his wife’s family in Maryland in the summer of 2000, he saw a job opening for a stock trader at Pinnacle Advisory Group. He was hired shortly after. “It was a small place when I started — there were only seven people in the office. Eventually, we brought in Carl Noble [now the Senior Analyst] as an intern. Then [Market Technician] Sean Dillon came after that. And then [Quantitative Analyst] Sauro Locatelli. That was just on the investment side. We now have 27 people at Pinnacle, in total.”
Not only has the company grown in employees, but also in its use of technology. In the mid-2000s, Pinnacle decided to invest in high-end trading software to help with its active portfolio management. “We worked with the developers of iRebal for over a year to have their software customized to us. We didn’t have any models to follow, so we shaped it to do exactly what we needed.”
Rick’s leadership skills and natural talent for investment paid off. In 2007, he was made a partner of the firm, and in 2011, was named Chief Investment Strategist. “My philosophy is to do your homework, and then trust your gut. After you’ve watched markets long enough and done as much research as we do, you start to get a sense for where things are heading. All of a sudden, you’re able to trust your instinct, because you’ve filled yourself up with all of this background information. That has been a very successful approach for us.”
That’s not to say the investment team is always right, and they’re the first to admit it. “You’re not always going to be right. You just want to be right more than you’re wrong. And if you can be less wrong than most, you have a big leg up. Investing is like trying to put together a big jigsaw puzzle, but where the puzzle keeps changing. You have to put a lot of time into it. Our team spends all our time analyzing research, and looking at data points. If you want to do tactical asset allocation, you have to either do it right or don’t do it at all.”
Over the years, the investment team has developed a proprietary method for investing, which contains layers of checks and safeguards to protect clients’ assets. Because the team is always learning and growing, the method has grown along with them. “The process is there, but it’ll never stop,” Rick says. “It’s a living and breathing animal. This is a job for a lifetime — you can never master it all. You’ll retain a lot that will help you refine your approach, but you’re always learning something new.”