HOTSEAT- Nagle's nest: SNL founder not foundering


Reid Nagle

Reid Nagle has one of the best offices in Charlottesville. Perched on the fifth floor of the former National Ground Intelligence Center building– about as high as it gets around here– the corner office of the SNL Financial founder and chairman offers views of the Rotunda, Pavilion– and the old Monticello Hotel. And there's a big telescope for close-ups of local sights.

An Indian motif in the fifth-floor decor seems to match the sandal-clad chairman and reminds visitors that SNL's global reach includes an office in Ahmedabad, India.

It's the eve of SNL's 20th birthday, and Nagle has come a long way from the days when he couldn't get a job because he'd worked as CFO for convicted insider trader/songbird Ivan Boesky.

Using money he'd earned working with Boesky, one of the now-grounded high-fliers of the '80s, Nagle launched SNL in Hoboken in 1987; the company relocated to Charlottesville over the Fourth of July weekend in 1989.

SNL was less than two years old when he started running out of money. "I wasn't going to make payroll," he recalls. An unsolicited $100K infusion saved the day, and he was able to raise another $300,000.

Today, with over 700 employees, customers like Goldman Sachs, and locations in places like London, New York, and Islamabad, paychecks arrive on time.

While SNL casts a large shadow here with its 350 employees, locals may not know exactly what the company does.

"I'd been the CFO for a publicly traded bank and saw the need for an information middleman between companies and Wall Street," Nagle says. SNL collects, organizes, and sells information about public companies.

"It used to be every [investment] firm would have large cadres of analysts," says Nagle. "We eliminated the need for those large cadres."

Along with a company, Nagle created a culture. SNL has four "core tenets," and accuracy is number one. In fact, if SNL's information is bad, it pays the client $50– the sort of taking ownership rarely found in corporate America.

He describes the SNL culture: strong work ethic, entrepreneurial, decentralized, with an emphasis on quality and meeting the needs of clients.

And then there's the dress code: "Nothing sexually suggestive, and in conducting interviews with clients, you have to wear some sort of footwear," says Nagle, whose own sandals would pass muster with that policy.

"If you have good ideas, take talented people, let them make decisions and grow, generally good things happen," he says.

Two framed letters written in the '80s hang on the walls of his office. One is a note from Boesky. The other– from Charles Knapp, chairman of the huge Financial Corporation of America– says: "You may well be a genius with all the right answers, or you may also be a fool with a big mouth; only time will tell."

Twenty-four years after the letter was written, Nagle's company has a big birthday to celebrate.

Age: 55

Why here? Quality of life and access to bright people from PVCC, Eastern Mennonite, UVA, JMU, W&M, Virginia Tech, and other Virginia colleges and universities

What's worst about living here? Inability to hide and lick your wounds in private

Favorite hangout? Braeburn Training Center with Felix and Pat Nuesch and Homer Kline

Most overrated virtue? Diplomacy

People would be surprised to know: I'm too embarrassed to say what first comes to mind, so I'll go with what comes second. In sixth grade I set up a bookmaking operation at my school in Wilmington, Delaware, and school officials seemed to think it showed creativity and initiative. A lifelong passion was created.

What would you change about yourself? I'd learn how to pack a suitcase that weighs less than 90 pounds.

Proudest accomplishment? Creating workplace environments that provide opportunity for people to grow and expand beyond where they thought they could

People find most annoying about you: I can be nit-picky.

Whom do you admire? Abe Lincoln for writing the Gettysburg Address

Favorite book? Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Subject that causes you to rant? Any form of deception– by politicians, business people, non-profiteers, me, etc.

Biggest 21st-century thrill? In September 2006, touring Lahore, Pakistan, and having the Mughul and British monuments all to myself (thanks to mass hysteria arising from the tragedy of 9/11)

Biggest 21st-century creep out? Beheadings. Also, Passion of the Christ.

What do you drive? Volvo S40

In your car CD player right now: Natalie Merchant

Next journey? California for an extended visit

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? I was arrested at the 1984 Kentucky Derby for public intoxication and resisting arrest.

Regret: Not realizing at an earlier age that it was okay to say what's on your mind as long as it wasn't intended to hurt anyone

Favorite comfort food: Salt and vinegar potato chips and scrapple, together or separately

Always in your refrigerator: Fruit salad from Whole Foods

Must-see TV: Watching American Idol with my 11- year-old daughter

Favorite cartoon: I cried at Meet the Robinsons, if that counts.

Describe a perfect day: Waking up with nothing planned and realizing I can do anything I want that day

Walter Mitty fantasy: Becoming a jockey and winning the Kentucky Derby. I was 5'4" until I went to college.

Who'd play you in the movie? Mini-Me

Most embarrassing moment? While in NYC, getting the coed Downtown Athletic Club confused with the all-male New York Athletic Club, and diving into the DAC pool in the buff.

Best advice you ever got? From my Dad who told me that liars had to be very smart in order to get away with it, and that while he thought I was pretty smart, I shouldn't push the issue.

Favorite bumper sticker? None. I eschew bumper stickers, chewing gum on airplanes, yogurt, and cottage cheese. #