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Makeover Artist

When Al West moved SEI out of pension consulting and into money management, it looked like a dangerous gamble.

When Al West moved SEI out of pension consulting and into money management, it looked like a dangerous gamble.

By Rich Blake
April 2001
Institutional Investor Magazine

When Al West moved SEI out of pension consulting and into money management, it looked like a dangerous gamble. But his bet is paying off big-time. Now, for the encore?

On a chilly, rainy afternoon in November 1995, Alfred West Jr. strode to the podium in a meeting room at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in midtown Manhattan to deliver what he was sure would be a winning speech. He had come to tell analysts and shareholders that SEI Corp., which he had founded and led for 27 years, must abandon its flagship pension consulting business , even though it was No. 1 in the country. SEI, he declared, should instead devote itself to asset management, a crowded, competitive field where it was a bit player.

The announcement was greeted by a resounding chorus of Bronx cheers.

"Where are the profits coming from?" one shareholder shouted.

"What about the next quarter?" another chimed in.

"How are you going to make up the consulting revenue?" asked a third.

"It was a nightmare," recalls West, now 58. "We saw growth two, three years out, but shareholders didn't want to hear it."

Undaunted, West pressed ahead with his plans to turn Oaks, Pennsylvania-based SEI into a topflight money management company. His strategy: not to actually run money, but to use SEI's consulting experience to thoroughly transform the firm into a manager-of-managers, choosing the best stock pickers for both institutional and retail clients. But for a while the skeptics looked a lot smarter than the CEO, who spectacularly botched the sale of SEI's consulting arm. By the time he unloaded the $50 million-per-year business in 1997, it fetched just $5 million. To many clients and staffers, not to mention investors and analysts, SEI seemed dangerously adrift.

They're happy to listen to West today. His improbable strategy is working splendidly. He has reinvented SEI , now SEI Investments Co. , as a highly profitable, midsize manager-of-managers, with $77 billion in assets ($52 billion institutional, $25 billion retail). The firm has reeled in a solid roster of small and midsize pension funds, foundations and endowments. And it is building a cache of retail wrap accounts that are branded as SEI products and sold by financial planners. Portfolio management for the accounts is farmed out to institutional subadvisers , Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., Provident Investment Counsel and Nicholas-Applegate Capital Management, among others , for a handsome share of the client fee.

Though its name means next to nothing to retail investors, SEI has nonetheless emerged as one of the ten bestselling fund families in the U.S. Last year it collected $7 billion in new mutual fund assets. (The far-better-known Pimco Advisors, the ninth-bestselling fund family, pulled in $7.7 billion in new money.)

SEI's transformation is just the latest in a series of identity shifts for the firm. It opened for business in 1968 as a two-man shop, selling computer programs to help bank trust departments manage their paperwork. Over the years SEI steadily developed its expertise in financial technology; that division now generates about 40 percent of the company's revenues and about half of its profits. The group handles back-office administration, recordkeeping and performance reporting for bank trust departments and mutual fund companies , the gritty but essential plumbing of money management.

To build his new business, West drew heavily on SEI's strength in technology to provide one-stop shopping for pension funds and financial planners who found themselves besieged by the administrative demands of their jobs. "The best thing we ever did was to bring together the technology and investment businesses. Integrating the two is a powerful combination," says West, whose headquarters exemplify the company's commitment to technology.

The 600,000-square-foot building resembles nothing so much as a wired aircraft hangar, with exposed steel beams and wide-open workspaces. Multicolored cables called pythons spiral down from the 40-foot ceilings, linking each employee's electrical, telephone and Internet connections. No one, including West, has an office. Workstations are set on wheels so they can be shuttled around for new projects.

Selling a manager-of-managers program as well as a panoply of back-office technology, SEI takes on the roles of custodian, consultant and money manager. For those services, it charges a flat fee that ranges from 60 basis points for small pension funds to 90 basis points for retail accounts brought in by a network of financial planners. Subadvisers claim slightly less than half of the fee, and SEI pockets the rest.

"It's just an impressive operation," says Maurice (Bud) Heller, who oversees a $100 million pension plan at Connell L.P., a Boston-based manufacturer of industrial products. Two years ago Connell turned over its entire plan to SEI, displacing eight money managers, a pension consultant and a custody bank. Says Heller, "Our prior arrangement was satisfactory, but outsourcing the whole thing to SEI just made a lot more sense for us."

Together SEI's technology and asset management divisions deliver impressive returns. Last year the firm earned net profits of $99 million on revenues of $598 million, up from $67 million on $456 million in 1999. The technology segment recorded a 36 percent margin, while asset management produced a 34 percent margin.

Such results have kept the firm's stock aloft even in this bear market. SEI recently traded at $33, or 30 times earnings, compared with price-earnings ratios of 15 to 20 for most money managers. (Its market cap is $3.8 billion.) SEI shares, which first traded in March 1981 at less than $1 a share on a split-adjusted basis, briefly became a momentum play in the fall of 2000. Shares finished last year at 46, up 180 percent, before retreating 28 percent through late March of this year.

"This is an extraordinarily profitable company in a high-growth business," says Jackson Spears, an ABN Amro trader and a longtime market maker in SEI stock until last month, when he left the brokerage firm.

Of course, SEI didn't invent the manager-of-managers strategy. Tacoma, Washington-based Frank Russell Co. pioneered the approach back in 1980. But today Russell claims $66 billion in assets, less than SEI has amassed after just five years in as a serious player in the game. While SEI emphasizes its technology-fueled talent to handle the back office and asset management, Russell markets its experience and savvy in judging money managers.

"Technology is not a solution, it's a tool," says Meredith Brooks, head of institutional investment services at Frank Russell. "We aren't an administrative solution, and we don't do recordkeeping or custody. Quantitative analysis can't replace meeting face-to-face with the money managers."

Industry consultant Burton Greenwald gives the nod to SEI. "When it comes to managing managers, SEI does it better than anybody in the business," he says.

Even in last year's dismal market, SEI added a total $12.1 billion in assets, an increase of about 18 percent. The industry average was 13 percent. Russell last year added $8.1 billion. In one notable coup, at the end of the second quarter of 2000, SEI knocked Salomon Smith Barney from its perch as the largest player in the $130 billion mutual fund wrap market. SEI's market share stood at 19 percent, up from 14.7 percent, while Salomon had fallen from 16 percent to 10 percent.

What about the flagship business West jettisoned? The profitability of consulting, on a steady downward spiral for the past decade, has continued to deteriorate. Soon after SEI left the scene, industry leaders William M. Mercer Investment Consulting, owned by Marsh & McLennan Cos., and Callan Associates competed for SEI's clients. Margins eroded further, even as core expertise, evaluating managers and data became commoditized. Now old-line consultants face a new threat, from start-up InvestorForce, which lets plan sponsors perform online searches for institutional money managers , for free.

"I hate to say it, but we did see this coming in 1995. We understood that the consulting business was a dead end," says Edward Loughlin, president of SEI's Asset Management Group, the chief asset management subsidiary of SEI Investments.

"Most companies that get really good at something start believing that they've got the world beat," says West. "It's a form of arrogance, and it leads to a downfall."

After transforming his company not once but twice, the CEO has a right to feel a little cocky. Even after recent stock sales, West and his estate control 28 percent of SEI , some 25 million shares worth just less than $1 billion.

Growing up in a middle-class home near Orlando, Florida, in the 1940s, Al West dreamed of becoming a test pilot. The eldest of three children , his father sold insurance, and his mother was a housewife - West earned his BA from Georgia Institute of Technology, where he joined the Air Force ROTC program. But his eyesight deteriorated, and he abandoned his boyhood fantasy, married his college sweetheart, Loralee Smith, and decided to pursue his MBA at the Wharton School.

After receiving his degree, he entered Wharton's doctoral program in applied economics. In one class West learned how to use mainframe computers to simulate the experience of running a corporation, and he found himself bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. He teamed up with another Ph.D. candidate, Douglas McNair, to create a company that would use computer simulations as a training tool. The two young men soon abandoned their dissertations and dropped out of Wharton in the spring of 1968 to launch Philadelphia-based Simulated Environments.

West got a boost from one of his father's old Navy bunkmates: Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. chairman Thomas Gates, who had served with the elder West in World War II. Armed with an introduction from Gates, West got a $75,000 loan and $50,000 in seed capital from Morgan Guaranty. That gave him and McNair a strong start.

Selling its training materials to bank loan officers, Simulated Environments offered 50 computer-simulated case studies of the various types of loan requests that a bank would receive. West found his first client in the neighborhood, signing Philadelphia-based First Pennsylvania Bank. Heading into 1972, business was steady. The company had sold its loan evaluation system to 45 of the top 60 banks in the country, and its $200,000 per year in recurring revenues was nothing to scoff at.

Soon Simulated Environments moved beyond commercial loans. At the time, bank trust departments entered all transactions and records by hand; West grasped that automating the process could be invaluable. Using a Honeywell 1648 mainframe and Fortran computer language, he wrote the code that he hoped would make his fortune. The resulting computer system, then called Trust Aid, allowed multiple bank clients to access their trust data by dialing into the company's system from a terminal installed on their premises. Essentially, Trust Aid was a time-share, and it sold right out of the box.

Later in 1972 Simulated Environments reincorporated as SEI Corp. McNair left the business, bought out by the other major shareholder, Morgan Guaranty. Three years later, in the middle of a bruising recession, SEI stumbled upon its lucky break. West learned that Wells Fargo Bank's attempt at a proprietary automated trust and accounting system was riddled with problems. Soon he was in the office of the bank's trust operations head, pitching his software solution. "Let's just say they needed a new system fast," he says. West personally landed the $1 million account, and Wells Fargo remains an SEI client to this day.

By 1980 SEI's system had burrowed into roughly 30 percent of the bank trust departments in the U.S. From its corner in the back office, SEI encountered two important constituencies: rich people and pension funds. "These were the folks that the trust departments were serving," says West. "We just weren't visible to them."

Then West found a way to bring SEI into the light.

As part of its bank services, SEI was sweeping excess cash into outside managers' money funds, which it was responsible for tracking. West figured that SEI might as well offer its own cash management funds and pocket the small fee; in 1981 he introduced a series of money market funds.

By the mid-1980s SEI had expanded the money market offering into an early version of its manager-of-managers program. It featured equity and fixed-income products, with about a dozen subadvisers, one manager per asset class. SEI aggressively marketed them to its bank customers. It didn't find many takers, though. SEI's cash under management grew from zero in 1981 to $12 billion by 1990, but its stock and bond funds attracted less than $2 billion.

Even as he was flirting with the beginnings of a money management business, West had become intrigued by pension consulting. In the early 1980s he observed firsthand the exodus of pension plans from bank trust departments to a new group of start-up money managers, many of them ex-bankers who had launched their own firms. Plan sponsors needed someone to evaluate the relative merits of the banks and independent managers, and West began to look for a way into the market.

His break came in 1983, when Chicago brokerage firm AG Becker put its funds evaluation unit on the block. SEI bid a then-hefty $12 million to acquire the business, which offered a database that was the gold standard of portfolio performance measurement. "Not only did we see we could diversify our core business," Loughlin recalls, "but we saw we could diversify our client base to pension funds and other money managers."

SEI became a leading pension consultant overnight, joining Callan Associates, Frank Russell and Wilshire Associates as the dominant players in the field. Two years later SEI snapped up Merrill Lynch & Co.'s pension consulting business for $6 million. By 1990 that business, renamed SEI Capital Resources, listed roughly 500 pension clients on its roster and boasted the dominant market share. But even industry leaders could not defy the depressing fact that margins were steadily shrinking. At SEI they narrowed from 20 percent in 1985 to 16 percent in 1994. "We could see the business was going nowhere," West says.

In the early 1990s SEI, like Charles Schwab & Co., was discovering a new cast of characters in the financial services industry: independent investment advisers, also known as financial planners. SEI saw their potential to deliver assets to money managers. "These guys were starting to multiply like rabbits, and the only one taking advantage was Schwab," says Carmen Romeo, who heads SEI's advisory business.

Although Schwab offered planners a supermarket of funds and a trading platform, it provided virtually no back-office support. West calculated that his firm could offer its own variation on the Schwab supermarket by serving as the primary asset manager, allowing independent financial advisers to delegate their asset allocation choices to SEI. At the same time, SEI would also handle their custody, account administration and performance reporting.

"Planners who like to create their own client portfolios would prefer to use Schwab," explains Romeo. "We wanted to appeal to the guy who wants to concentrate on building his business and leave all the heavy lifting to us." In 1992 SEI began to expand its manager-of-managers platform, hiring more money managers and adding more funds to its menu.

Under the hands-on leadership of Romeo, who had stepped down as CFO in 1990 to build SEI's nascent money management operation, SEI began aggressively recruiting financial planners, assigning a dozen or so sales representatives to sign them up. The salespeople attended industry conferences, sent out mass mailings, made cold calls - and their old-school techniques got the job done. By the end of 1994, less than three years later, SEI boasted relationships with 800 financial planners - and nearly $2.5 billion in SEI wrap assets. Though hardly a challenge to Schwab, which had $33 billion by then, SEI's total wasn't lunch money, either.

As the advisory business grew, SEI began to sell asset management services to some of its pension consulting clients, primarily by way of an international equity fund. By 1994 the firm had begun to aggressively court defined benefit clients for its full manager-of-managers offering.

Competitors and clients argued that SEI faced a clear conflict of interest: How could the firm offer disinterested advice about hiring money managers when it was marketing itself as a money manager?

Frank Russell had made a similar foray into asset management a decade earlier. But because Russell's consulting practice served just a small number of large clients, to which they vowed not to sell asset management products, the potential conflict seemed less flagrant. SEI could offer no such defense on its own behalf.

That is when West decided he had to get out of consulting. "To shelve the consulting business was not easy," recalls William Doran, an SEI board member since 1985 and a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, a Philadelphia-based law firm. "It was a big source of cash flow, so it was hard to pull the plug."

Hard isn't the word. In January 1996 West put SEI Capital Resources on the block. Investment bankers suggested to West that SEI might snare $60 million for its consulting business, based on the fact that money managers were selling for more than two times revenues. West assigned Carl Guarino, then chief legal officer, to manage the divestiture.

From the start the sale was plagued with problems. Even before the decision to exit the business had been made, SEI's asset management sales executives had begun calling on the firm's consulting clients, a no-no that jeopardized the integrity of the consultant-client relationship. The sales reps grew bolder in their cross-selling campaigns when it became clear that SEI was abandoning consulting. In the end, the salespeople brought in some business but cost the company scores of consulting clients. In 1990 SEI had almost 500 full-retainer clients; by the time the consulting business was sold in 1997, only about 275 remained, reducing the value of the franchise.

A few bidders came forward, but no substantial offers emerged until April 1996, when SEI came close to striking a deal with Rochdale Securities Corp., a New York-based brokerage firm. But when Rochdale challenged SEI's future revenue stream and the two sides began to wrangle - by then SEI had cut its price in half, to $30 million - Guarino pulled back from the deal.

Not long after the Rochdale deal collapsed, Capital Resources' top consultants bolted, along with more than one third of SEI's consulting clients. In October 1996 another near-sale fell through. That year SEI took a $16.3 million charge against earnings when it recorded the business as a discontinued operation. Finally, in the summer of 1997, William Nicholson, the former head of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette's asset consulting group, teamed up with a small partnership called Notre Capital Ventures II to sweep up the remains of SEI Capital Resources. They paid $5 million for a business that had generated $50 million in revenues in 1995.

"We waited too long to sell," West remarks. "It was tough, but we could have done a better job."

West responded by redoubling his efforts to transform SEI into a topflight money manager. At the start of 1996, SEI had assembled $18.7 billion in assets under its umbrella, the vast majority of it money market funds sold through bank trust departments. The firm had a token presence in the defined benefit market, selling an international equity fund-of-funds to small plans, and a more substantial presence in the retail market, with some $3 billion in wrap accounts.

When West decided to build up his manager-of-managers operation, Frank Russell was cruising quite comfortably with its own system of managing subadvisers. With about 80 managers on its roster and $15 billion under management in 1996, Russell was far and away the country's dominant manager-of-managers, eclipsing Diversified Investment Advisers and Northern Trust Global Investments. But Russell had no presence in the back office.

In contrast, West decided to position SEI as a soup-to-nuts manager-of-managers that would handle all the administrative and back-office work that its rivals chose not to take on. In the defined benefit market, SEI competed against Russell. On the retail side, it faced Schwab. But neither firm offered the one-stop-shopping approach of SEI.

To run his shop, West harnessed the strength of his technology group, the firm's original core. To sell SEI's products and services, he hired and promoted aggressive marketers and nurtured a sales-driven culture.

At first, money management was a drain on the company. In 1996 the asset management group reported a $3 million loss. Then West decided to throw some money at the cause. In the next two years, SEI invested $50 million to pump up its asset management business. The firm used the money to expand sales staff, boost marketing and develop new technology, including a product that provided defined benefit plans with an integrated package of investment, trust and custody services.

"Shareholders wanted to know why we were spending so much on asset management," West recalls. "They never said it to my face, but I knew what was being whispered. 'What does Al West know about money management?'" Says Loughlin: "Once we got out of consulting, we were in a pressure cooker. We knew we could make it work, but we also knew we had to make it work."

By the end of 1997, money management showed a small profit of $3.3 million, on revenues of $62 million. SEI signed 30 new clients that year, up from five in 1996. West was on his way.

Working in SEI's favor: an aggressive sales campaign combined with a heavy, quantitative approach to managing managers. Where Russell takes a bottom-up, personal approach, interviewing individual portfolio managers, SEI sticks to the numbers, relying on its own computer software to evaluate performance.

Specifically, SEI's staffers use a proprietary software known as StylScan, which was developed in 1995 to track money management portfolios. Today about 80 full-time SEI staffers follow managers (though not on a real-time basis), scrutinizing every trade to make sure stock pickers don't stray from their mandates.

Although the Frank Russell brand has always commanded respect in the industry, the firm's sales force, say rivals, has never been especially aggressive. By contrast, SEI's sales reps don't shy away from the heavy sell, offering clients tickets to the NCAA Final Four and golf outings at exclusive country clubs. More substantively, they talk up SEI's technology, encouraging clients to visit the firm's impressively wired headquarters.

The company's marketers also made a shrewd call. They successfully targeted pension plans with less than $100 million in assets, which competitors thought were simply too small to worry about. Says James Morrissey, CEO of Wayne, Pennsylvania-based InvestorForce, "While a lot of managers were trying to get in on the defined contribution boom, SEI basically went after the small defined benefit market, which for the most part was being ignored."

And SEI has pumped up its marketing muscle on the retail front. Romeo has steadily boosted the ranks of sales reps, from zero in 1994 to 30 in 1997 to 55 today. Their mandate: to find new financial planners with growing pools of assets. With 7,700 advisers in its fold, SEI has surpassed giant Schwab, which has 5,700. In the fourth quarter of last year, SEI added more than 430 new financial advisers, each with a roster of individual clients holding assets of between $500,000 and $5 million.

One-stop shopping, as West conceived it, demanded that SEI's two divisions, technology and money management, work closely together. To eliminate rivalries, West did more than rewrite his firm's business strategy. He redefined its organization, built a new headquarters and sparked a change in its corporate culture.

The restructuring came first. While skiing in Aspen in 1990, West broke his leg in four places and was laid up for several months, with abundant free time to figure out how to fix an SEI that he felt had become bloated. He was taken with the notion of flat corporate hierarchies, a business idea then in vogue. "The idea was catching on," he says. "I decided to take it to the extreme."

Later that year West transformed his company's structure, turning division heads into members of cooperative teams. West decreed that there would be no secretaries or personal assistants at SEI. Executives would answer their own phones. Some, including Paul Hondros, the head of asset management, voted with their feet. (Hondros decamped to Fidelity Investments and now heads asset management at Nationwide Financial.)

Today SEI's 1,500 employees are divided into 140 self-managed teams. Some have been formed to permanently serve specific markets; others are created for special projects, then disbanded. Because all chairs, desks and filing cabinets are on wheels, staffers simply plug into a new python anywhere in the building.

"There was a time when information would flow up to one spot, and the decision would flow back down," says West. "That's no longer a good model."

He presented the changes as part of his larger strategy to unite the company's three separate divisions: technology, consulting and the fledgling asset management unit. "We'd gotten very hierarchical, and the divisions were competing for resources. I knew we had to make some enormous changes," he says. (Not all resources would be shared equally, though. SEI restricted its most-generous stock option packages to senior staff. Only last year did the company extend the benefit to more employees.)

By the end of 1997, the firm had amassed $30 billion in defined benefit and retail assets and posted its first profit in money management. In 1998 the asset pool reached $44 billion; more significantly, the profits started to roll in. Asset management generated $18 million in profits in 1998, more than one third of the firm's overall earnings. With total 1998 revenues of $366 million, up 25 percent from 1997, and net income of $43 million, up 60 percent from the previous year, the stock took off, surging 137 percent that year, to a split-adjusted $17.

The following year brought more dramatic growth. SEI pulled in $3 billion in defined-benefit-plan assets and an additional $6 billion in retail wrap accounts. Asset management profits stood at $40 million on revenues of $139 million.

Even amid last year's market turmoil, SEI's total assets surpassed the $75 billion mark. Financial planners delivered $6.5 billion in new wrap assets, and the firm's sales force signed 64 new defined benefit clients, with assets totaling $4 billion. Its largest mandate: St. Francis, Wisconsin-based Harnischfeger Industries last May awarded SEI $520 million in assets.

The reason for this surge in activity , apart from aggressive marketing- is that under SEI's constant gaze its subadvisers have delivered returns that are strong and, just as important for institutional funds, remarkably consistent.

Clients determine asset allocation, which usually breaks down to roughly 60-40 for stocks and bonds. As a rule, some 70 percent of equity assets are in U.S. holdings, 20 percent in developed international stocks and 10 percent in emerging-markets stocks. On the fixed-income front, 65 percent is in core U.S. bonds, 15 percent in international bonds, 10 percent in U.S. high-yield bonds and 10 percent in emerging-markets bonds.

Over the past five years, seven of SEI's nine investment strategies have outperformed their markets. The small-cap growth portfolio absolutely exploded, beating its benchmark during this period by 10 percent. SEI's large-cap growth portfolio outperformed its benchmark by 2.8 percent. Since 1996 only large-cap value and emerging-markets portfolios have trailed their benchmarks.

It HAS been five years since Al West embarked on his mission to transform SEI. What might he do for a follow-up?

He describes a course that seems more than a little familiar: expansion overseas , only 7 percent of SEI's assets come from outside the U.S. , and in the domestic high-net-worth market. Neither could be called virgin territory.

Last year SEI's international efforts centered on building a manager-of-managers platform specifically for the $1.2 trillion U.K. retirement market. The firm hired more than a dozen subadvisers, including Capital International and BlackRock. SEI so far has signed up only two clients, but West projects that the firm might collect as much as $10 billion in assets within the next several years.

"It's only natural that we should try to take our business-solutions approach overseas," explains Guarino, who is now in charge of SEI's global unit. "But going global requires more infrastructure and more market knowledge."

SEI recently entered into a joint venture with Cr,dit Commercial de France to distribute SEI multimanager funds in France. The company has also partnered with South Korea's Tong Yang Securities to sell pension funds in Asia. As West anticipated, new business initiatives, primarily global asset management, lost money last year - some $15 million on revenues of $34 million. "We expect to lose money for the next few years," he says. "But we see enormous potential ahead."

To serve the seriously rich, West set up the SEI Family Office group, aimed at households with investable assets of at least $20 million. Last year, with just three clients with combined assets of $120 million, the division lost money. But with virtually all major money managers scrambling to serve high-net-worth customers, West hopes that SEI's army of planners gives it an edge.

"SEI is in a remarkable position," says Robert Mohn, manager of the $220 million Liberty Acorn U.S.A. fund, which owns 1.7 million shares of SEI stock. "A mind-boggling amount of baby boomer wealth is about to come down the pipe, and SEI has as good a shot as anyone to manage it."

Other investors wonder about West's successor. So far the CEO has not identified any executive who could take his place. In the past six months, for estate tax purposes, West says, he has sold or given away about $20 million worth of stock , still a mere 2 percent of his total stake.

But even as he has cashed in some of his chips, West has shaken up SEI's organizational structure, dividing two large fiefdoms , Loughlin's institutional group and Romeo's advisory group , into 15 niche market segments, such as union pension funds, endowments and regional banks. Each group will be run fairly autonomously by one of the younger generation of SEI executives.

For his third act, might West be contemplating a sale of the firm he founded more than 30 years ago? "I'm as excited about this company as I have ever been," he says. "We don't need to sell. We're building something that can stand on its own."

Of the analysts and investors who follow SEI, none predicts that SEI will be sold any time soon. But Al West built several businesses , and one luscious fortune , by defying other people's predictions and expectations. And, he insists, "The firm will continue to reinvent itself."