CEO reflects on career rise, launches new blockchain ETF

Horizons ETFs chief says fund will be a long-term growth prospect focusing on tech and hardware

CEO reflects on career rise, launches new blockchain ETF

When ‘The Hawk’ followed his father on to Bay Street as a 15-year-old runner, he knew he was in the right place.

Decades later, Steve Hawkins is not only the award-winning CEO of Horizons ETFs but the public face of the first marijuana-focused ETF; a role that has made him synonymous with the weed industry and the Mr Marijuana moniker. It’s a place in the limelight he said he has learnt to embrace.

The man who got his first full-time job on the stock exchange just before 1987’s Black Monday today also launched the Horizons Blockchain Technology and Hardware Index ETF (BKCH) as the firm aims to position itself at the forefront of another society-changing trend.

While not the first out of the blocks this time, Hawkins said the ETF is different to its rivals in that it is significantly more focused on the technology and hardware aspects as opposed to financial services.

He believes the blockchain infrastructure is where the growth will be but rather than the instant hype of the HMMJ ETF, Hawkins expects this to be more of a long-term growth prospect in a space with the potential to change the way we bank for ever.

“Banks are spending millions of dollars building out the infrastructure for blockchain in the financial services that they offer,” he said. “And that investment is happening around the world. This investment is not simply bitcoin or ethereum mining – that is a very small component of blockchain and what ultimately people believe it can change for financial services.

“Are we going to need a bank account in 15 years? I don’t know that we will? Everyone could have their own blockchain with their name on it.”

Recently crowned WP CEO of the Year, Hawkins has been a driving force in the ETF industry. At the start of his career, after studying maths and philosophy, his first job on the trading floor left him “overwhelmed” and “bright-eyed” but eager for more.

He puts his climb up the ladder down to good decisions, hard work and making sure he had a finger in every single pie. “You don’t have to be the most knowledgeable about one thing but it’s really, really good to be knowledgeable about a lot of things,” he said.

After being on the sell side of the brokerage industry for many years, Hawkins moved into asset management and worked for Altamira Mutual Funds; a switch that made him realize the buy side was where he wanted to be long term.

He eventually made the move to Horizons where he was CIO for eight years, a role that meant he knew how every aspect of the company worked before taking the helm. Taking on the responsibility, he said, wasn't a straightforward decision but it's a role he loves and wants to continue until retirement.

He explained: “I’m a pretty decisive person at the end of the day but I do like to listen to people. I try to take as much information into account with every decision I make but once I make a decision I move forward with it very quickly and I think that Horizons has significantly benefited from that simple way of doing things.

“Having a great support team is so very important, being able to talk to the people that work for you, being able to socially connect with them both in the office and out of the office has been very important.”

Now an instantly recognisable name in the ETF industry, Hawkins admits it took him a while to adjust to the limelight when Horizons launched its HMMJ ETF last year. Now he’s vociferous in his message of how the firm is an innovator and “not the Walmart of ETFs”. However, it wasn’t always the case.

He said: “I was nervous – we were putting ourselves out there on a thin branch [with HMMJ]. We got a lot of attention, a lot more than I ever thought we would get and we have been a very, very big beneficiary of all those things.

“Being an innovator and coming forward and taking those risks was a big step for me and then getting it to the public eye to talk about our decision and why we did what we did.

“I’ve learnt not to shy away from the limelight in terms of projecting our firm’s image forward, showing that we do things differently.”