The toughest fighter on Wall Street is now working for a tiny hedge fund in Sweden
Sean George would like you to know, in a casual sort of way, that he knows a lot of people in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The softly spoken American, and 21-year Wall Street veteran, could - if it came to it - probably knock you down.
“We battle intellectually on Wall Street – there are plenty of keyboard bullies. I don’t talk tough, but I quietly carry a heavy stick,” he says. “I’m a happy go lucky guy, I’m always laughing. The fact that I like to kick people in the head during my spare time surprises my colleagues.”
George has held various senior roles on Wall Street. He was global co-head of credit default swaps (CDS) at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York, and led the North American CDS business of both Deutsche Bank and Jefferies. This month, after spending two years heading up Jefferies' fixed income team for the Nordic region in London, George has called it quits on investment banking and decided moved to Sweden to become chief investment officer at fund manager Granit Fonder.
It has around $300m in assets under management, and the plan is for George to launch his hedge fund Granit Global Credit Opportunity with around $100m. Granit Fonder is still small – with around eight employees – but has just hired Ulf G. Erlandsson, previously a senior portfolio manager at the SEK334bn ($38.3bn) Swedish National Pension Fund AP4, as head of fixed income. His fund should launch with “hundreds of millions”, says George.
Since 1993, George also been a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, hanging out on the UFC scene. Over the past 24 years he's competed in 11 Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing and Thai boxing fights. The high point of his fighting career was when he debuted in a Muay Thai bout – a brutal combat sport that allows the kicking, kneeing and elbowing of your opponent – during the summer of 2012 in New York.
“The guy headbutted me in the first two seconds and split my eyebrow open. I had to lie to the doctors and say I could see out of the eye, but I was half blind,” he says. “It was a mental battle as well as a tough fight, which went right to the end. I lost by split decision.”
Losing on your debut might seem like an odd highlight, but George says that battling through his injury “won the hearts and minds of the crowd, and allowed me to learn a lot about myself”. While he was in hospital getting his eye stitched up, the U.S Muay Thai champion turned up and handed over his championship belt he won that night because, says George, "He said I deserved it after being robbed by the judges".
In 2013, George fought his last fight sanctioned fight in Bangkok, Thailand and knocked out a more experienced opponent in a minute and a half, he says.
George owned his own MMA gym during his time in New York, but spent his time in London sparring in the Mixed Martial Arts Clinic in Shoreditch, rubbing shoulders with UFC stars likes Joseph Duffy, Darren the Dentist, and UK Muay Thai Champion Shane O’Neill. In Sweden, he trains at the Five Stars Muay Thai and Allstars MMA gym where Alexander “the Mauler” Gustafsson is their star fighter.
These days, at 44-years-old, George says that he just uses MMA as a way to keep fit. “Some people like hitting the treadmill, I like to fight,” he says.
George also spent the bulk of his fighting career competing in the 70kg category, and says as he’s approaching his mid-40s, making weight is a “constant battle”. Instead, he contents himself taking on fighters 20 years his junior.
“I’m a tough guy to move around, so a lot of the 25-year-olds like to spar with me,” he says. “It’s good for them, but I walk like I’m 90-years-old for days after. The recovery time is too long – that’s why I hung up my gloves.”
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