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Native securities firm looks to spread knowledge

NEW YORK - The first Native securities brokerage on Wall Street, having broken a long-term barrier to Indian participation in the capital markets, wants to spread the knowledge to other American Indians.

Valerie Red-Horse, Cherokee/Lakota and principal of NativeNATIONS Securities Inc., says one of her priorities is to train Native people in the workings of the capital markets industry.

She says she knows of only a handful of Indians around the country who have broker licenses, and she thinks that ought to change. She is using her Wall Street brokerage, which opened for business in April, to help speed the process.

The first Native trainee in her office is Thomas Steirer, a Tonawanda Seneca from New York State. Two other Indians on her marketing team are studying for their broker licenses.

A graduate of Santa Clara University in California, Steirer is the first person in his family to go to college. Although thinking about getting a master's of business administration degree someday, he is clearly interested in getting some hands-on experience first.

Steirer was an intern with Smith Barney's financial institutions group, putting "pitch books" together for potential clients. He also has worked for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. He was recruited for the trainee position by Red-Horse after he met her at a couple of conferences.

The fast pace of Wall Street doesn't put him off. "I thrive off the excitement," he says.

He said that although he may be considered a trainee, "I'm going to outgrow that title really quick here." He is studying for the Series 7 license from the National Association of Securities Dealers and is working on deals, helping to execute a $1.5 million stock trade.

Yvonne Russo, Sicangu Lakota, and Kimberly Norris Guerrero, Colville, Salish and Cherokee, part of the off-site marketing team at NativeNATIONS, also are studying for Series 7 licenses.

"I try to ask 1,000 questions when there's time," Steirer says. But "sometimes the phones ring off the hook."

Besides helping on the trading desk, Steirer has been attending conferences and meeting potential clients. Building relationships is the most significant aspect of the business, he feels.

He admits he is "not quite sure" about his long-term goals, but he is "absolutely" enjoying his job. "I wasn't comfortable where I was," he says. "I was not happy at the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco. I was looking forward to that day when I found my path. This is definitely it. I knew I wanted to work on Wall Street but not as I had- working 80, 90, 100 hours a week."

Now his day is defined more by the rhythms of the market. One of the perks of working for a stockbroker is that breakfast and lunch are supplied for free, and Steirer enjoys that. He also enjoys the people he meets. "This city is totally alive," he says, "totally eclectic."

Steirer describes an interesting route to high finance. Originally he studied film in community college, but left to try to become a flight attendant for United Airlines. Too tall by one inch, he was offered a customer service job instead, where he came in contact with many business people. That gave him the idea to pursue finance, which he did at Santa Clara (he also formed the first Native American Club at Santa Clara, a university which at the time had five enrolled Indians).

He already has the desire to be a mentor to other Indian people. He describes taking his adoptive brother under his wing, and that brother has become a financial reporting analyst at a firm in Santa Clara.

Steirer got his first shot at Wall Street through an internship he won from the Sponsors for Educational Opportunity back in 1995. A minority recruiting program to place interns at the big investment bankers, it nonetheless has not recruited many Natives. "I was the only one that year," he reports.

Now, to pay the group back for his opportunity, he is mentoring five students in the program - none of them is American Indian. He also mentors through the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), where he is a regional rep, and talks at Native Career Fairs.

Red-Horse says she spent most of her time since launching the first American Indians securities firm getting four licenses to do business from the NASD (Series 7, 63, 24 and 55).

NativeNATIONS Securities is trading around 50,000 shares of stock a day, says Red-Horse. The firm has had requests from tribes for financial consulting, and hopes to lead underwrite a $300 million bond offering for a tribal power plant by the end of the year.

Red-Horse got her first glimpse of the capital markets working for the junk-bond house of Drexel Burnham Lambert as a college student. Her subsequent career in the film industry provided a connection that brought her back to finance.

"Naturally Native," a 1996 film financed by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe of Connecticut, starred Red-Horse, Norris Guerrero and Irene Bedard. It was Norris Guerrero who put Red-Horse in touch with a Wall Street contact.

Red-Horse says she financed her new business through loans, and the firm hopes to do a private placement to raise more money. She is in partnership and sharing office space with an established firm, Redwood Brokerage, whose principal is Paul Lennon. Lennon's wife, Justine, is a principal in Red-Horse's firm.

The firm has a Native marketing team of Norris-Guerrero, her husband Johnny, Apache, Dawn Jackson, a Saginaw Chippewa, Ms. Russo and Ron Andrade, La Jolla, to drum up accounts.

An entrepreneur, Red-Horse has started other ventures - in the film industry, advertising specialty products, cosmetics, and a non-profit training organization. NativeNATIONS is her fourth business. She plans to acquire another firm soon and expand to a full-service brokerage, do initial public offerings and bond issues, as well as money management.