William F. K. Schaff and Gary G. Pollock freely admit they're not great marketers. That may be why you haven't heard of their San Francisco-based financial-advisory firm, Bay Isle Financial Corp., even though it manages about $1 billion in assets.
And although a lot of observers say financial advisors aren't equipped to directly manage investment portfolios of individual securities, this 22-person fee-based firm quietly has distinguished itself by doing just that. Bay Isle offers its own asset-class products for institutions and individuals, and it has been retained as a subadvisor by two mutual fund complexes. It also manages large-cap value investments and equity REITs in wrap programs for other advisors and does financial planning for high-net-worth individuals.
Both partners have a long history of performing financial analysis, but the 43-year-old Schaff, Bay Isle's CEO and chief investment officer, has long demonstrated a flair for numbers and evaluating companies with painstaking detail. Since 1988, one segment he has focused on is large-cap value investing, and his record has attracted many institutional clients to Bay Isle. In addition, he has managed REIT portfolios for clients and now co-manages the Undiscovered Managers REIT Fund with Bay Isle's Ralph Block. He also has followed tech stocks for years and now manages the Berger Information Technology Fund.
Although experienced at financial analysis as well, Pollock's forte is communication and financial planning for high-net-worth individuals. Pollock, 59, is Bay Isle's president and is in charge of its individual accounts, which now total between $400 million and $425 million in assets, with an average account size of about $1.1 million. The firm has about 370 individual clients, whose ages range from 20 to 103.
Bay Isle was incorporated in 1986 and opened for business in 1987. From the beginning, Schaff and Pollock knew they wanted to capitalize on their extensive analytical experience. Born in Korea and adopted at age five by a Pittsburgh family, Schaff earned a master's degree in engineering from the University of California, Davis, and did thesis work in both engineering and computer science. In 1980, he became a business analyst for Chevron Corp., where he met Pollock. A native of Canada, Pollock earned a doctorate in chemical engineering from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He worked for 20 years at Chevron and held financial, management and strategic-planning positions.
One of the projects with which Pollock was involved in the early 1980s was Chevron's acquisition of Gulf Oil. At one point, Pollock put together a team to evaluate whether Chevron should keep or sell Gulf's chemical business, and he asked Schaff to participate. "I got a suggestion from a friend of mine to choose Bill because he worked harder than anybody and was good," Pollock recalls. After that, they ended up working together on other projects at Chevron.
By 1985, Schaff wanted to concentrate on asset management and joined J. Stewart Investment in San Francisco as a senior investment analyst and portfolio manager. Within two years, he started his own firm. "At the time, I lived on Alameda, an island in the bay," says Schaff. "I was 28 years old, and I was ignorant of all the rules I should have known. I thought I would sit at the pool with my laptop. I thought I could do a lot of analysis that way, but I forgot the part about relating with clients. My most intelligent move was going back to Chevron, where Gary was still working, and convincing him to retire early. He was a much bigger risk-taker. I had no loyalties at the time. He was the father of two children, and he was doing the early retirement thing for a job that had no income or record of success."
Pollock, however, says if he ever was going to make a change, that was the time. As a result of the Chevron-Gulf merger, Pollock's next job was going to be in Houston, and he wasn't anxious to make the move. So he agreed to join forces with Schaff, and the two initially worked on Bay Isle from their homes.
"We started the firm, and we lived within our means," says Schaff. "If we didn't get the revenue, we didn't spend it. It's amazing how many people don't understand that. We had no marketing campaign. We saved up enough money and said, 'We're here for three years. If, after three years, we haven't figured a way to be successful in the business, we probably shouldn't be in it.'"
Bay Isle's first client was Myron Du Bain, retired chairman and CEO of the Fireman's Fund Corp., a big insurer. Du Bain had been a client of Schaff's former firm. "I was leaving the firm, and Bill decided to leave at the same time I was going. He asked if I was interested in joining him, which I was, and I went with him," recalls Du Bain, who previously served as a director on the boards of many corporations, including Wells Fargo & Co., First Interstate Bank of California and Pacific Telesis Group.