Business

The oldest family-owned broker, a 103-year-old patriarch, and a family office backing cryptocurrencies

R.J. O’Brien & Associates, a futures brokerage, represents an excellent example of the resilience of a 100-plus-year-old family business. Not only that, the family’s patriarch Robert J. O’Brien, Sr., 103, is still alive, and now an investment office linked to the family is investing in cryptocurrencies. 

Launched in the same year as the outbreak of World World One, Chicago-based R.J. O’Brien is still majority-owned by members of the O’Brien family. 

O’Brien, Sr. – who led the growth of the business – was one of the most influential figures in the commodities trading world in the 20 century—taking over the firm from his father-in-law in 1959, O’Brien. Sr. grew it to be one of the biggest independent futures traders in the US. He chaired the Chicago Merchantile Exchange and was behind many innovations in the sector during his long reign at the top.

Though the centenarian probably would have lamented the decision by the CME to permanently close its trading pits earlier this year.

Consolidation pressures in the sector during the 2000s led the family to sell a controlling stake in the business to private equity funds in 2007. 

That strategy didn’t work, and the financial crisis of 2008/2009 allowed the family to buy out the private equity interests, and in 2010 they regained complete control. Today, the family is represented by three generations on the board, including chairman emeritus Robert J. O’Brien, Sr. 

His two sons – John W. O’Brien and Robert J. O’Brien, Jr. – went on to head the companies. 

John W. O’Brien is president of O’Brien Investment Group, a hedge fund offering a global macro fund and digital asset fund. 

The hedge fund is backed by the O’Brien Family Office, which has also funded an investment round in Bitnomial, a US cryptocurrency derivatives exchange platform. O’Brien Family Office invested alongside Franklin Templeton in the Bitnomial funding round. Franklin Templeton’s involvement underlines how big institutional investors are moving more into the cryptocurrency sector. And crypto exchanges are currently hot, as Family Capital wrote about last month

Meanwhile, Robert J. O’Brien, Jr. – who was appointed president of R.J. O’Brien in 1975 – set up another hedge fund, County Cork, in 2002, which like his brother’s hedge fund, is backed by a family office, O’Brien Family Enterprises. Robert’s son, Robert J. O’Brien, III – the family hugely revere their patriarch – works for his father’s family office.

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