Yon Perullo is CEO of RiXtrema, a risk management firm and software solutions provider for financial advisors. Yon has over 18 years of experience in risk management, asset allocation, and global portfolio management. He lives in Bend, Oregon, with his wife and three children.
I grew up in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, which is near Newport. My dad was a computer programmer who worked for companies like Raytheon, and my mom went to college after she had kids and became a middle-school English teacher.
My childhood was pretty typical for an American kid. There were woods all around our neighborhood, and I felt untethered. It was a time when you ran around with your friends and didn’t tell your parents where you were going. I came home when the streetlights came on.
As a boy, I looked up to a great-grandfather on my father’s side of the family. His name was Ivan Yannik D’Jamgaroff. In fact, I got my unusual first name from him—my parents shortened the name “Yannik” to “Yon.” He died when I was 13, but before he died, he shared an inspiring story from his childhood with me.
He was from a wealthy aristocratic Russian family who left the country as a boy during the Bolshevik Revolution. He and his family sewed everything they owned into their jackets and escaped to France, where his father tried to start a business, got ripped off, and the family ended up with absolutely nothing.
Eventually, Ivan made his way to the United States and had a successful career as a stockbroker on Wall Street. I still have stock books with daily stock quotes that he gave me. I have one from the month I was born. I think Ivan may have influenced me to think about a career in financial services.
Later, I learned that he was really my “step” great-grandfather who had married my great-grandmother after her first husband died. But I never thought of him as a step anything. He was my great-grandfather, and he was a really great guy.
As a kid, I wasn’t really into school—I was more into athletics and my friends. But I did like math because it came naturally. I have always liked the structure, which translated to an interest in music and my portfolio and risk management work with various companies.
At the end of my junior year in high school, I started playing guitar for the first time, which was sort of late for someone who would become a professional musician. It all started because I had a guitar-playing friend in high school who was really good, and he wanted someone to play rhythm for him so he could play lead solos over it. Guitar came naturally to me, and I picked it up fairly quickly.
When I went to the University of Rhode Island, I met someone who asked me to join a 90’s alt-rock band. We traveled a ton to play different gigs during my junior year of college. While that made it hard to attend classes, my parents were very supportive of what I wanted to do with my life as long as I got a degree.
I graduated from college with a degree in chemistry, and I ended up playing with this band full-time for about a decade. I was the only guitarist in the band, so I learned how to integrate lead with rhythm. We played venues all over the Eastern U.S. for as many as several thousand people to as small as a couple of hundred people.
The band’s name was Toadhouse, which in hindsight, is a terrible name, but at the time, it was a name that everyone in the band at least didn’t hate. While we wrote a lot of our own music, we did a lot of covers because it paid well. We covered songs of popular bands of the day, such as Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, U2, and Smashing Pumpkins.
At around 28, I decided to give up my music career because I was getting old and wanted to make a real living.
While I was still a musician and before I went into financial services, I spent three years working for a small management consulting firm called Benchmark Communications. They had clients ranging from Donna Karan to Citigroup. They needed help preparing presentations, and I was computer literate. Working with high-level clients was my introduction to the corporate world, and I didn’t have to cut my hair.
My introduction into the investment world was with FactSet, which provides data to investment professionals, and I started on the ground floor as a help-desk operator. I hated it, and I let everyone know I hated it. But they promoted me, and I soon became vice president of the quant group.
After Factset, I started a small $25 million hedge fund called Nascent Strategies. It was very successful from an investing performance perspective, but we weren’t able to raise enough capital to survive. After a few more portfolio management roles, I went to an outsourced CIO firm called FRC, where I was the Chief Risk Officer and co-head of asset allocation of $10 billion in discretionary assets. I held a couple of other roles before 2017 when Daniel Satchkov, the founder of RiXtrema and a person I had worked with at FactSet, reached out to me about coming on board as CEO.
At RiXtrema, we have several products and services related to quantitative risk management for financial advisors, but we are particularly known for a tool for the management of tail risk: or highly unlikely events that can really hurt a portfolio. For example, what happens if China invades Taiwan and takes over its chip factories? Or a terrorist strike on an oil drilling center like in Saudi that leads to a shock in supply? Advisors need to understand all the adverse scenarios that will lead to adverse outcomes for their clients.
What’s unusual about my job is that I oversee a staff of 31 employees remotely. Even though the company is headquartered in New York City, I live in Bend, Oregon, because my family loves it here. The culture here is all outdoors. I am the only RiXtrema employee in Bend, and my office is in a co-work space that I share with workers from other companies.
As for managing people remotely, it’s not a problem. It’s easy to see who is pulling their weight and who is not. We measure client retention and conversion rates so we know who is successful and who isn’t. We work to bring everyone up to a certain level, and we ask a lot of questions when there are cancellations, both to determine if there is anything that the products should do better, and to make sure the rep did all the right things to retain the client. We rely on Slack to ask questions. You get an idea who is working and who is not and we have group meetings via Zoom.
I am not saying that working remotely is as effective as working in person, but I think there are a lot of advantages, not just lack of disruptions from things like COVID, but being able to source talent from anywhere.
Looking back, I realize I’ve succeeded by diving into things that I had no business doing. I had no business being a professional musician, but I did it, and our band was entertaining and good. And I had no business being head of a group at FactSet, but I did it and was actually pretty good at it. I would say that it’s important to take the opportunities that come to you and trust yourself that you can do the job right.