SYDNEY — When Steven Marks landed a job at a top Wall Street hedge fund, he thought he had it made.
Marks, then 23-years-old, was one of just two grads in his year to earn a place on legendary U.S. investor Steve Cohen’s New York equities team — a feat for a guy born on the wrong side of the tracks in 1970s Brooklyn.
By 27, he was heading up a London trading desk, enjoying life off Chelsea’s iconic Sloane Square. But, by 30, the sheen had worn off and Marks yearned for a fresh start.
“People think you have to have one career, but that’s just not true,” said Marks.
So, he decided to turn life on its head, and booked a one-way ticket to Australia with a dream of starting over.
From fund manager to founder
Seventeen years on, Marks is the co-founder and CEO of Guzman y Gomez, the Australia-born Mexican casual-dining chain hoping to give the likes of Chipotle a run for its money.
“I had these plans to build a hotel by the beach,” recalled Marks. However, while struggling to get his plan off the ground, he stumbled across another idea entirely.
“I really missed good Mexican food,” said Marks, noting he’d been “spoiled” in New York.
“They didn’t know what good Mexican food was in Australia,” he continued. “Most people thought black beans were olives.”
So Marks took it upon himself to show them, investing “everything” he had saved from Wall Street into creating a brand he believed couldn’t fail.
“I poached the best staff from Latin American restaurants and brought in chefs from Mexico,” he said.
It was all part of a determination picked up early in life to do the best job he could, said Marks, who teamed up with Robert Hazan, an old friend from the States, to launch the venture.
“I grew up very entrepreneurial and I knew I didn’t want to just copy somebody else,” Marks said. “The reason you become an entrepreneur is because you think you’re going to do something better.”
Building a brand
It wasn’t an easy sell, however, Marks noted.
“We really had to educate the market,” he said, recalling running regular free burrito days to win customers.
But, according to Marks, by doubling down on Sydney and creating locations in “triple A real estate,” he was soon able to establish a strong following.