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Thursday, April 29, 2021

Thornburg's Brady Hires a 25-Year USAA Vet

Reported by Andrew Lusk

The team at a western investment management firm is shaking things up with a new hire from a military-centric finance giant.

Earlier this month, former USAA exec John Bonnell joined Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Thornburg Investment Management [profile] as a portfolio manager and managing director on the firm's municipal bond team. Bonnell was most recently with USAA as senior PM and (since 2010) co-leader in municipal bond strategies. He joined the firm more than 25 years ago and has more than 30 years of experience in municipal bond investing.

At Thornburg, Bonnell reports to co-heads of investments Jeff Klingelhofer and Ben Kirby. Alongside Dave Ashley and Eve Lando, Bonnell is now co-manager of seven municipal bond mutual funds, in addition to institutional strategies and separately managed accounts. This team oversees client assets collectively totaling $9.3 billion across mutual funds, SMAs, and institutional strategies.

"When I first began discussions with Thornburg, from my perspective, it seemed like a very natural fit," Bonnell tells MFWire of his hire. "I was asked what my investment philosophy is, investing in municipal bonds, and it became quickly apparent that it aligned naturally with how Thornburg manages their portfolios."

"My whole concept is focusing on capturing incremental income, and that is exactly what I heard [happened] over the years from prior Thornburg folks, and in the discussions with the current Thornburg team."

Bonnell adds that the Thornburg municipal bond team is staffed with six people who share responsibilities across the varying types of municipal bonds.

"It's not like one person focuses on the short funds, or another person focuses on the strategic funds, it's that everybody kind of does everything. That's how it was at my old job, too, and we had a co-manager structure there as well."

Bonnell says his old position at USAA (now part of Victory) has been filled by someone from the analyst ranks. Last year, Thornburg said goodbye to a PM, Nick Venditti, whose leave created the opening Bonnell eventually filled.

Regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Thornburg global head of communications Michael Corrao says, "Our transition over a year ago to a remote environment was smooth, and only took a couple of business days. Ever since, we've had about 95 percent of our team working remotely almost every day."

"As you can imagine, joining a new firm in this COVID environment is quite interesting and a little bit different from what I ever would have anticipated," Bonnell adds. "Thornburg, like all firms, I believe, is going through the process now of trying to figure out what work-life will look like after we exit this environment."

"One good thing about the COVID shutdowns is that they taught us we could get by while working from home, while working remotely."

Corrao continues, "Our office is open if we need to go there, but most people have, for safety and health reasons, elected to work remotely."

"We're still finalizing what our plans will look like [post-COVID] for flexibility and remote work," he says, "and I expect us to fall in line with other companies in integrating things like Zoom into our everyday practices."

Bonnell concludes, "I started having [hiring] discussions with Thornburg in the summer of 2020, and we had many back-and-forths to make sure it was the right fit. Part of what made the process even easier was having a 'mentor on the inside' at Thornburg, a portfolio manager named Bill Fries."

"Bill and I overlapped back in the late 80s and 90s at USAA for over ten years, and Bill was the one that was responsible for giving me my first shot in the investments field. We've stayed in touch throughout the years, and when this opportunity came up, you can imagine that he was a very natural choice for me to reach out to."

"I think the fact that I'm here now tells you the positive things he had to say."

Prior to his work at Thornburg and USAA, Bonnell was with Strong Capital Management and with OppenheimerFunds for two years, as a senior portfolio manager. He is an alumnus of University of Texas–San Antonio and St. Mary’s University.

Editor's Note: A prior version of this story gave the wrong last name for the PM that Bonnell succeeded. That PM's name is Nick Venditti. 

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