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(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) L-R Ryan Gibbons, Al Manbeian, and Jason Langston are the managing partners of GPS Capital Markets in South Jordan, Thursday, March 1, 2012. In 10 years, the firm has grown to a player in the industry of helping businesses with foreign currency transactions.
From Utah, GPS Capital guides money around the world
Foreign exchange » GPS Capital celebrates 10 years of growth in international finance.
First Published May 12 2012 03:56 pm • Last Updated Aug 28 2012 11:33 pm

The joke is that it all began with scribbling on a napkin at Quiznos in downtown Salt Lake City in the early 2000s.

Whatever the truth of that, in 10 years the three guys who run GPS Capital Markets have seen it rapidly grow to serve 500 multinational clients. It’s expanded from its South Jordan headquarters to open offices in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas and Boston, and soon in London.

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"We started in the Intermountain West and then we grew west and east, and now we’re hoping to grow globally," said Al Manbeian, a founder and managing partner.

The company holds a somewhat unique spot in the world of foreign exchange transactions carried out for companies that need to move money between various currencies. It helps to get the best rates for exchanges and to minimize the risk of fluctuations in values.

While other U.S. companies also facilitate foreign-exchange payments to make purchases or bring home revenue, "we are the only nonbank player that offers the full spectrum of corporate foreign exchange products that banks do," Manbeian said.

Banks traditionally have been the institutions that carry out the transactions for clients. And that’s where the founders of GPS Capital Markets got their start.

In 1994, Manbeian, Ryan Gibbons and Jason Langston were working together at First Security Bank in its small but growing international operation, which mainly served clients in the Intermountain West.

It also was a period of bank consolidation, and in 2001 First Security was bought out by Wells Fargo.

Right around that time was when the lunch at Quiznos took place.

With other businesses looking at hiring away people from the First Security operation, and Wells Fargo looking forward to consolidating the operation with its own, the three sat down to discuss their futures and that of the foreign-exchange business. They decided staying on at Wells Fargo or moving to another bank were not the best options for them or their clients.

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"Our clients look to us much like a stockbroker’s clients look to them — to guide them in our area of expertise — and we felt the best thing to do was to be able to provide them with products and long-term solutions," said Gibbons.

They made the decision to form a company that would have the flexibility that an operation independent of a bank could offer.

The trio received start-up money from investors, who let them run the company without interference. They also built a software platform that could provide the necessary information to clients to facilitate currency exchanges but also go beyond that to give them a companywide picture of their foreign-exchange needs.

They used their Rolodexes of past clients and then began to expand beyond.

"We have clients in the Fortune 50, we have clients in the Forbes 3000 and then we have a lot of clients, especially up and down the Wasatch Front, that are small-business success stories," said Gibbons.

They won’t disclose the names of their clients, who are on just monthly agreements, because of the nature of the business where others try to reel in other company’s clients as soon as they are known.

Lew Cramer, CEO of the World Trade Center Utah, said part of the reason the state has led the nation in export growth in past five years is that it has a number of banks and GPS Capital Markets, which all can facilitate international banking for customers.

"I can cheerlead all I want for the international opportunities and export potential, but unless they can get their products financed, people are saying, ‘Yeah, it’s real nice but I can’t get it working,’ " Cramer said. "But GPS makes it ‘finance-able.’ "

Manbeian, Gibbons and Langston all carry the title of managing partner and insist they make decisions by consensus. But as the business has grown, they have divided their responsibilities into three areas.

Manbeian handles sales and marketing, Gibbons trading and technology, and Langston is chief financial officer.

"We absolutely operate [together]," said Langston. "It isn’t that we get together and talk and it’s two against one. That doesn’t happen. We talk it through until we’re all good."

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