From the August 2007 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Cr?me de la Cr?me

A smart and pithy saying goes: We create our own opportunities. Wiser still is the person who seizes only the best of them. Michael Rogers, appointed a Merrill Lynch regional director this past February, is indeed such a man.

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Michael Rogers, Director-Mountain West Region, Private Banking and Investment Group, Merrill Lynch; Los Angeles, Calif.What do ultra-high-net-worth clients want? "They're looking for strong advisors with capability and experience at a very high level who can get them access to institutional management ideas and pricing. They're quasi-institutions: individuals, but their size makes them look like institutions."

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More than 20 years ago, Rogers saw his long-term future in the face-to-face advice business. After all, despite advancing computerization, folks will always need to sit down with a financial expert, he reasoned.

That thinking led to his becoming a private banker to wealthy families. He next moved to Merrill Lynch as a strategist helping financial advisors win high-net-worth clients, then went on to be a key player in setting up the firm's Private Banking Group and was named sales director.

But when Morgan Stanley asked him to take over an entire Private Wealth Management region and recruit FAs specializing exclusively in clients with $10 million or more, it was a big step up -- and Rogers took it.

Soon after, Merrill Lynch offered something even better: a larger region by way of more assets under management. "It was an opportunity I just couldn't pass up," says Rogers, director of the firm's Private Banking and Investment Group's fast-growing Mountain West Region.

Back now with the firm since June after less than a year at Morgan Stanley, Rogers heads one of Merrill's fastest growing regions; a major focus remains recruiting FAs with super-affluent clients only.

"I was excited because I could return in the senior leadership role in a place I knew so well. I felt very strongly that we could quickly capture significant share in our target market," says the energetic executive, 48.

With a decade's experience in the ultra-high-net-worth arena, his goal is to make Merrill the preeminent private wealth provider for clients with $10 million or more. It is a fiercely competitive market segment. But, notes Los Angeles-based Rogers, "Our market share is pretty strong already, and it's increasing."

Says Merrill's John Thiel, managing director-head of the Private Banking and Investment Group: "Michael is one of the warmest, kindest, smartest people I know; and he has a great deal of experience working with clients and advisors in the ultra-high-net-worth [market]. We're just thrilled that he's come back."

Rogers brings with him exceptional connections, both personal and professional. They come in handy for entr?e to the few advisors who specialize in none but cream-of-the-crop, super-well-off clients. But wooing these highly sought-after FAs is competitive too.

"They are at the top of their game and very coveted resources where they [work]. To move from a place where they're very well taken care of to go to a new place -- even one that has a great reputation and momentum -- is quite a difficult decision," says Rogers, who has about 40 advisors reporting to him.

He often accompanies advisors on calls to demonstrate "that we're there as a firm to put our arms around the client." And he hosts wealth management conferences for clients -- private meetings featuring a variety of experts -- as well as takes small client groups and prospects to the Los Angeles Opera, one of this target market's favorite diversions.

Individual investors with heavy intergenerational wealth-transfer needs, clients with $10 million or more have the "size characteristics" of institutions, according to Rogers. At the level of $50 million trades, they require access to more sophisticated trading.

"You have to be very careful and get traders to understand the stock. You've got to understand the research. We need all these different components of the firm to come together to win and keep this kind of sophisticated business. In the end," says Rogers, "it turns out to be a very profitable target market."

Once a super-affluent prospect is identified, the most effective way to pursue them, he says, is to "try to connect the dots: What clients do we have that might know that client? Or is there somebody in our network that has a good connection?"

He liaises too with other branches and advisors to help bring in and serve UHNW clients when opportunities arise. That way, he says, "the firm can win this market share across the board."

Born in York, Pa., where his dad was in the military, Rogers was reared mostly in Southern California and for six years in Mexico City. After graduating from the University of California with a BS in Business Administration, in 1981 he joined Bank of America, in Los Angeles, arranging small-business loans for five years.

There, he realized that career longevity lay in face-to-face financial advisory and "plopped [himself] into Wall Street," as he puts it, at New York University's school of business. He took an interest in private banking and in 1988, MBA in hand, went to work as a senior relationship manager with Chemical Bank in New York.

Eight years later, intent on gaining exposure to the international investment scene, he returned to Bank of America, where, from L.A., he covered private banking in Mexico.

In 1998, when, he says, Merrill Lynch wanted to become "more adept" with the high-net-worth market, Rogers joined the firm as a strategist. Three years later he helped establish the Private Wealth Management group and became its sales director.

After a total eight years, Rogers left to take over Morgan Stanley's southwest region, only to return to Merrill shortly thereafter to head a significantly larger one.

As for his newest big opportunity, Rogers says: "I'd spent years helping to put the [Private Wealth Group] together, and then they called to say that because of management changes, the opportunity was presenting itself for somebody to run it -- and they thought I'd be a good fit. It was fantastic."

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Freelance writer Jane Wollman Rusoff is a Los Angeles-based contributing editor of Research and is the founder of Family Star Productions.

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