Tilkin didn’t take home the national award, but felt the recognition alone was an honor.
“It was nice to get the recognition for all our employees’ hard work,” Tilkin said of the Nov. 20 event. “The nice thing about the event was that everybody there was already a winner of a regional award. It was more of a celebration than a competition. It was just a good time.”
Tilkin won the 2004 Ernst & Young West Michigan Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the financial services category at the local awards ceremony held in June and earned the right to compete for the national title.
He was one of 28 finalists selected from a pool 400 regional winners across the country to vie for the national award. He was a finalist in the financial services category, one of 10 business categories recognized this year.
The last national finalist from West Michigan was Gentex Corp. Chairman and CEO Fred Bauer in 1998, according to Ernst & Young.
Tilkin founded Global Forex Trading in 1997 after 30 years of futures and currency trading for major brokerage houses. It was one of the first U.S. firms to offer online currency trading. His company’s proprietary DealBookFX software enables clients to bypass the paper path and the physical trading floor of the futures exchange, allowing worldwide access to the foreign currency market.
Previously, the only way to access the currency markets was through major banks that moved large blocks of currency for commercial and investment purposes. That was when currency speculation was the realm of millionaires only.
But high-speed Internet and sophisticated software opened the foreign currency exchange (Forex) to anyone with moderate wealth. GFT’s own advanced trading software gave individuals foreign exchange market access, along with market analysis and order placement services. With its DealBookFX software, it was one of the few firms capable of moving right in on the ground floor of the online forex trading business.
“The segment of the industry that is online currency trading was just beginning and we were one of the first in the world to go into it,” Tilkin recalled. “It’s a growth industry because it is fundamentally a good thing for traders who are interested in speculative trading to do.”
Tilkin said online currency trading is a better segment than related fields like futures or stock day trading because the fundamentals are better. For example, electronic trading is available around the clock and the markets are very liquid, he said.
“Currency markets are far more liquid than stock markets or futures markets. That gives people the ability to get in and out of the market any time they want 24 hours a day, and with the high liquidity they can execute orders of virtually any size any time they want. That’s not something that is possible to do in other markets with as much ease. That’s why this industry is on such a growth curve.”
GFT not only works with other traders, but also shops for prices among major and international central banks, as well as selected regional banks. He said the company’s trading volume is in the “many, many, many billions of dollars monthly.”
Today the company serves clients in more than 100 countries and has offices in New York, Chicago and Tokyo.
“It sometimes important to have a local presence to do some institutional business and that’s why we have these offices. We’ll establish them in other major cities just so we’re there to be able to talk to and service large institutional clients.”
The firm plans to establish operations in Hong Kong and Australia, as well. Tilkin said Global Forex is just about to close a deal in Hong Kong now.
“We already do a significant amount of business in China and Hong Kong but we will sort of solidify that by bringing on local partners there. We already have some very large brokerage firms that offer our platform to their customers in Japan. Our reach into the Far East is significant already but we’ll expand that with some more offices and people.”
Overall national EOY winner was H. Wayne Huizenga, chairman of Fort-Lauderdale-based Huizenga Holdings Inc. He will go on to compete in the world EOY event held in Monte Carlo.
Huizenga built six New York Stock Exchange-listed companies and three professional sports teams. His holdings include AutoNation, Blockbuster Video, Extended Stay America, Waste Management and the Miami Dolphins.
Of local interest, Huizenga is a cousin of Grand Rapids’ own J.C. Huizenga, founder of National Heritage Academies. J.C. Huizenga, in fact, won the regional Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2000.