While establishing a family office has become the ultimate hallmark for the ultra-wealthy, few families represent five generations of wealth. Meet Brendan Holt Dunn, the Principal and CEO of a fifth-generation family office that has been managing and preserving family wealth since the early 1900’s through The Holdun Family Office.
Since taking over operational control and responsibility from his father, Stuart Dunn, Brendan has led the international expansion of Holdun, which is headquartered in the Bahamas, with offices in four countries. He is now the Principal and CEO of the Holdun Family Office, an owner of HOLT Wealth Management, which acts as a discretionary wealth management firm, as well as HOLT Xchange and Cypher by HOLT.
Denise: Brendan, your family has an extraordinary history. Sir Herbert Holt was responsible for leading the effort to build critical infrastructure in Canada, can you tell us more about his contribution?
Brendan: Sir Hebert Holt was my great-great-grandfather. He immigrated from Ireland to Canada in 1873, when he was only 18 years old. After working at Toronto Water Works, he met James Ross, a coal baron, who had been awarded permits to build several railroad lines for what’s now known as Canadian Pacific Railway. He quickly earned the title of Superintendent of Construction and went on to launch his own railway construction company, eventually becoming a board member of Canadian Pacific Railway.
He was one of Canada’s most prominent railway builders, and he was Knighted by King George in 1915 for his contributions to building rail infrastructure in Canada. But when rail construction started to slow down, he turned to the power industry. Electricity was a very competitive industry, and at the time, Montreal was served by eighteen small gas and electricity firms. He was eventually appointed to the board of both Montreal Gas and Royal Electric, and in 1901, merged these companies to form the Montreal Light Heat and Power Corporation (MLHPC).
MLHPC was later nationalized by the Quebec government to become Hydro-Quebec. Hydro‑Québec today is the largest power utility in Canada and a major player in the global hydropower industry. In 2022, Hydro-Quebec signed its largest-ever export deal, which will keep the lights on in New York City for the next two decades.
Denise: Your great-great-grandfather’s vision is embedded in North American infrastructure – what an extraordinary history. How did he then transition from rail and electricity to banking?
Brendan: He knew J.P. Morgan, and together they formulated a plan to acquire $500,000 of stock in the Montreal based Royal Bank of Canada. He was shortly thereafter named President of RBC in 1908 and held this position until 1934. He remained the chairman of the board until he passed in 1941.
During his tenure at Royal Bank of Canada, Sir Herbert Holt grew the bank’s assets by 15x, and increased the number of branches by 10x to 688. He is said to have been the richest Canadian to have ever lived. With an estimated net worth of $3 billion CAD in 1928 (equivalent to C$51 billion in today’s dollars). He achieved this by acquiring several competing banks including Union Bank of Halifax, the Colonial Bank of London’s West Indies branches, the Traders Bank, the Quebec Bank and the Northern Crown Bank.
Sir Herbert Holt had many other ventures, including over 250 board positions and dominating influence over 65 power companies, including municipal systems of Monterey, Mexico, Baltimore, Calgary, Thunder Bay, Sydney, NS, Okanagan Valley and most of Quebec. He financed the Andean National Corporation which built a 350-mile pipeline across Colombia for the Tropical Oil Company (now Esso Colombiana). He also financed and merged Montreal textile mills to form Dominion Textiles. He bought a controlling interest in Montreal Tramways, which was later taken over by Sociéte de Transport de Montréal. He joined a syndication that invested $2 million in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in 1913, and was behind the launch of the movie theater chain Famous Players in Quebec.
Following its formation in 1979, Sir Herbert Holt’s significant contribution to the Canadian economy was recognized through his election to the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.
Denise: How did your family make the transition to the Bahamas?
Brendan: During my great-great-grandfather’s tenure at the Royal Bank of Canada, the bank was hired to oversee The Central Bank of The Bahamas. This brought him to Nassau for the first time. He came down here and fell in love with the island. Our family has now been in The Bahamas for over a hundred years, five generations. His initial home was in eastern Nassau and later, in the grounds of what would later become Lyford Cay.
Denise: How did the name The Holdun Family Office come about?
Brendan: My Grandmother, Pam Holt, married investment banker Timothy Dunn in 1943; Holdun is a combination of Holt and Dunn.
Denise: Brendan, as an Investment Advisor to your family office, we have a fiduciary responsibility not to share any information. Would you be comfortable sharing with Impact Wealth Magazine your investment journey as a generational family office?
Brendan: My pleasure. As a family, we recognized some years ago that traditional fixed income and equity strategies alone were unlikely to deliver what the family considered acceptable returns.
As a result, we shifted our investment strategy to a broader range of exposure across the risk and liquidity spectrum. These new asset classes included traditional alternative assets like private equity, venture capital and real estate, which provided additional diversification, reduced volatility, and produced attractive returns. But we are always on the lookout for non-traditional asset classes.
We have a history of investing, growing, supporting, and building financial companies for the past five generations, it is in our legacy and DNA.
Denise: Brendan, can you share some of the investments you previously invested in, or some of the technology companies you are now looking at?
Brendan: Having been an LP in several technology funds, as well as a direct early investor in organizations such as Uber, SpaceX and Addepar – I plan to continue the family legacy of building important companies. Inspired by my great-great-grandfather’s vision to connect continents with rail systems and our deep experience with RBC, I see fintech as the sector paramount to developing innovation through what I see as – digital financial rails.
We started investing in Fintech in 2019. We receive an enormous amount of deal flow, so we decided to launch HOLT Xchange, which we grew to a 600+ advisor network, to support selection and due diligence. We eventually launched HOLT Xchange fund I, leveraging our network and expertise to create a growing diversified portfolio of 35 high growth global fintech companies. We are now one of the most active early-stage investors in Canada and already tracking a 3x increase from our initial investments. We invested in reg tech, digital ID, alternative banking structures, alternative scoring tech, innovative payment solutions, capital markets tech, cybersecurity, and underlying tech such as AI, defi and blockchain.
In this digital age, banking must innovate, and we want to be at the forefront.
Denise: Brendan, your family has always been at the center of innovation, can you share any exciting themes you are seeing in the fintech space?
Brendan: As a passionate sports person with a love of technology, I saw a great opportunity ten years ago. I decided to take the first step when we created The Holdun Innovation and Technology Fund (HITF), a data-driven sports analysis platform researching over 65 football leagues across the globe. The algorithmic–based platform is programmed to analyze historical data trends together with the latest performance research on teams and individual players to identify areas of mispricing in the market. Since inception in 2011, this $100M+ fund has generated an average annual return of over 23% while remaining completely uncorrelated to the stock market.
With the recent growth in applied artificial intelligence and data monetization, we see a particular unmet and under-the-radar moment to invest in the intersection of digital infrastructure and the sports, media & entertainment sector. The pandemic drove everything digital, and we are now seeing significant disruption in how content is monetized. Fintech is at the forefront – enabling these new revenue streams.
Anyone with a phone can now record a video and make it available to billions of people, for free. Every hour more content is uploaded to YouTube than Disney has in its entire streaming catalog.
There was a great article in the Economist, that stated, “At first, Hollywood wrote off Silicon Valley nerds. Now, nerds have enough money to take creative risks.” Silicon Valley is now on a different track, racing ahead of Hollywood. Amazon’s growing ad business is already three times that of Disney’s. This is just a precursor to an evolving underlying problem in content creation and distribution.
We’re very focused on looking at opportunities surrounding innovative business models that impact how content is produced, aggregated, distributed, consumed and of course, monetized.
In 2022, less than three years after entering the movie business, Apple won the best picture Oscar with Coda. Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Activision-Blizzard, [whose games include Call of Duty and Candy Crush], amounts to nearly ten times what Amazon paid for MGM.
The ease of creating and sharing content online has empowered individuals to become creators themselves. Platforms like YouTube, TikTok, Crunchet, have democratized content creation, giving everyone with a smartphone the ability to reach a global audience. This has led to an explosion of diverse content and a challenge for traditional content producers to keep up.
As the demand for streaming content increases, more players have entered the market, intensifying competition. Companies like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, and others are vying for subscribers and investing heavily in original content to differentiate themselves.
Tech giants from Silicon Valley, such as Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft, have entered the content production space, leveraging their vast resources and user bases to create original content and acquire existing media companies. This disruption has challenged traditional studios.
The influx of online content has also impacted the advertising industry, with digital advertising becoming a major revenue source. Technology companies like Amazon have leveraged their platforms for targeted advertising, creating new revenue streams.
The popularity of video games and esports have also grown significantly, and their intellectual properties have become valuable assets for the entertainment industry. Companies are now adapting popular games into movies, and vice versa, capitalizing on their existing fan bases. The entire space is converging. And the data behind it is extremely valuable and can be monetized in volume across sports, esports, media, and entertainment.
Denise: We are now in the third wave of fintech. The first wave started about fifteen years ago, when evolving financial technology started to compete with the major financial players providing better digital processes. Ten years later, we saw acquisitions and partnerships as fintech moved mainstream. Now we’re starting to see these technologies move to other markets, where do you see the trend moving in this intersection?
Brendan: I believe there is a huge opportunity to invest in the infrastructure and data at the intersection of sports, esports, media and entertainment. The industry went through a lot of changes during an almost two-year global pandemic and shut down. This created the need to look at new and innovative digital monetization streams. Our family office has extensive relationships and a broad network in sports, media, and entertainment. We saw a lot of synergy with our investments that we’ve been making in fintech, as an enabling technology to be able to really have an impact in any market, especially sports, media & entertainment.
My great-great-grandfather was an early investor in Famous Players Cinema, now Paramount. I have large shoes to fill but will follow in those footsteps. We look for innovation – investing in the infrastructure and content monetization at the intersection of sports, media, and entertainment – is the next big trend.
By Denise Holzer– Managing Director at Chatsworth Securities LLC, a Greenwich, CT based investment bank. Prior to joining Chatsworth, she spent over a decade at Morgan Stanley as a Wealth Advisor. Ms. Holzer continues to advise several family offices. She specializes in technology – data & artificial intelligence, blockchain & esports, working with both public and private companies as well as venture funds. Ms. Holzer also has operational experience launching a technology start-up. She Co-Founded Crunchet, an urban culture app at the intersection of sports, esports, media, and entertainment – users add content from any social channel into a link that can be shared anywhere.
She is a graduate of Tufts University and serves on the board of the American Society of the University of Haifa. She is also a board of advisor to several tech companies including Agorai, Syndesis Health, and Soulbound Gaming.