Impacting an industry

When Marta (Zenoz) Cotton walked into her first class at the University of Florida, she was hooked. Once she saw Dr. David Denslow scribbling on the board and drawing multiple graphs in her economics class, Cotton had no doubt she was in the right place. Dr. Craig Tapley’s Introduction to Finance class only made her more confident about the decision to enroll in the business school at UF.

Her professional success has proven it to be the right move.

Today, Cotton (BSBA ’85) works as a Principal and Director of Client Development at Matarin Capital, an investment management firm that currently has nearly $1.2 billion in assets under management. Cotton’s time at the University of Florida led her on the path to a successful career in the industry.

“One of the very best times in my life was being at the University of Florida,” Cotton said.

Her road to success took time after graduating. She started in a corporate finance role with NCR Corporation in South Florida, but it didn’t take long for her to get bored. Cotton wanted to learn more about what it would take to work on Wall Street, but those firms weren’t recruiting at UF when she was in school. She gained information from a friend’s father who was a retail broker, and she was soon interviewing with investment banks.

Her first position came with Dean Witter, a firm that was eventually acquired by Morgan Stanley. After completing a two-year program with the company, Cotton wanted to learn more about the finance industry by getting her MBA from a respected finance institution. The University of Chicago was at or near the top of that list, and she started in its MBA program in the fall of 1987.

Two weeks after classes started, the stock market crashed. The firms Cotton wanted to work for were hiring fewer new employees. Goldman Sachs shrunk its summer associate program from 15 hires to six, but Cotton was able to earn one of the positions in sales and trading.

“My summer at Goldman was a great time in my life,” Cotton said. “I found what I was meant to do and what I had a passion for. This really seemed like what I wanted to do.”

She was hired by Goldman Sachs and worked her way up to Managing Director while being in charge of relationships with a number of the firm’s biggest clients. Cotton was originally hired to work in U.S. institutional sales, but when the opportunity for international equity investing grew, she played an important role in developing the firm’s international equity business.

However, Cotton was ready for a break after 16 years.

“I thought that it was time to do something different and take a break,” Cotton said. “It was a little hard to leave because I grew up there. The bulk of my professional career had been at Goldman. I accomplished a lot, and with the firm’s resources, we did a great job for clients. It was a hard decision, but it had gotten less fun.”

The next challenge was a position with Matarin Capital, an investment management firm that is now 6.5 years old. It started with a firm Principal investing $1.5 million to fund the firm’s first strategy in January 2011. External investors were hesitant to be the first to invest in a new firm like Matarin Capital. It took 18 months for the firm to receive its first institutional investor, but once it happened, others started to follow.

Matarin Capital finished 2012 managing $30 million. By the summer of 2013, the firm’s assets were at $100 million, allowing them to register with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. After taking 3.5 years to get from nothing to $100 million, the firm needed only 2.5 years to go from $100 million to $1 billion. Today, the firm sits at nearly $1.2 billion and continues to grow because of its strong performance, client-friendly fees, and transparency with clients and investors.

“It has been incredibly rewarding to be a part of our firm’s growth,” Cotton said.

Today, she mentors young professionals and encourages them to continually build their professional networks. Cotton is involved in 100 Women in Finance (formerly 100 Women in Hedge Funds) and was a founding member of its Advisory Council. She also sits on the board of the Harlem Educational Activities Fund.

As her career continues to grow, Cotton’s connection with the Warrington College of Business has done the same. She realized during her time at Goldman Sachs that her career was consuming and that she missed being connected to the College.

During her time at Goldman Sachs, Cotton’s lone connection to UF was with Dr. Tapley. While she served as the president of Delta Sigma Pi, Dr. Tapley was the fraternity’s advisor. The two maintained a close friendship after she graduated.

She later met Dr. Dave Brown at the New York City Gator Finance Professionals Alumni Reception. Cotton was intrigued by the Master of Science in Finance program and the job opportunities that were becoming available to students. After Wall Street firms weren’t recruiting at UF during her time at the College, she was pleased to hear they now frequent the Warrington campus.

Dr. Brown asked Cotton to speak to the finance students, and she returned to campus in October 2012.

“As I looked at the website, I saw very few women that were speaking to finance students,” Cotton said. “That was important to me. I gave a presentation on the hedge fund industry. The students were great and engaged.

“I’m always eager when a Gator reaches out. The more Gators in New York and in the finance industry the better. It has increased a lot since my day. That’s something I’m passionate about.”