In a time when many independent brokerage firms are cutting costs, downsizing staff, and struggling to keep clients happy, there is one firm that has moved in the opposite direction. After less than two years in business, American Portfolios Financial Services (APFS), headquartered in Holbrook, New York, recently celebrated the opening of its 50th branch office, pushing APFS up to 275 reps nationally. Lon Dolber, CEO, founder, and president of APFS, attributes his firm's success to his rather unusual business model.
"Equity participation by not just the reps and the managers, but also by the employees is something I wanted to build in my company," he says. And in Southwest Airlines he found the model he wanted. "I remember their original ads that showed its employees standing on the wings of a 737. On the screen it said, 'We own this airline.' And I have never forgotten that," he says. "I wanted a company owned by the brokers, owned by the managers, and owned by the employees."
When Dolber began APFS in September 2001, he was determined his employees would be familiar with their customers, that they would "know who they are," a lesson Dolber says he learned from reading the book Nuts, which describes Southwest Airline's former CEO Herb Kelleher's unique "service company" business style.
To make sure his home-office employees fully understood his vision and expectations, Dolber distributed Nuts to all of his employees and handed out reports to the home-office worker with details on each of the reps. "I told everyone I wanted them on a first name basis with all of our [reps], to know all of their assistants, and to study that document," he continues. "When we had our first convention I invited all the employees to attend and I dispersed them among the tables of reps so that they could become even more familiar with the reps and their significant others."
Dolber says his reps function as independent financial specialists without any selling requirements like those imposed by many traditional broker/dealers. APFS requires its reps to earn more than $50,000 in gross commissions annually. "Our first official day of business was September 11, 2001," he says. "All of our projects and everything we thought was going to happen came to a complete standstill. We have struggled [like most firms in this business], but we have grown in a difficult market." Currently the company has reaped $14 million in gross commissions, and increased its revenues by 57% from the 4th quarter of 2001 to the 4th quarter of 2002.