It's hard not to be a little awestruck by the prodigious effort that Wendi Eckardt gives to her job ("Portrait of a Branch Manager"). Working 14-hour days managing 24 advisors in San Francisco and Palo Alto, Eckardt is one of the unsung heroes of American capitalism.
Working stiffs possibly fail to fully appreciate all that their managers do. Sure, some are coffee-drinking paper shufflers who mask their own incompetence through flurries of superfluous activity. But loafers like that are usually smoked out, dismissed or reassigned in any reasonably run enterprise. A good manager on the other hand is a jack of all trades, coaching his or her charges to greater success, shielding them from bureaucratic depredations, dispensing special aid to those who need assistance while judiciously getting out of the way of those who don't.
As reports of an economy on the precipice of disaster continue to flow, one wonders whether all the exertion by Eckardt and her colleagues in the profession to accumulate assets might be undone by the unseen hand of a misanthropic market. Of course, this could happen. But I suspect that Eckardt or any truly gifted manager can keep what they've accumulated and advance to higher levels of success. All it takes is being truly good at what you do which, while greatly enhanced by effort, is above all assured by serving your clients' interests.
A client who knows that his personal welfare is his advisor's top concern can withstand market volatility considerably better than similarly situated clients. And an advisor who constantly communicates this message is training him- or herself to live up to the touchstone principle of business ethics. What client would want to sever a relationship with an advisor of integrity?
Wendi Eckardt wisely limits her advisors to a maximum of 35 clients, so that each client can be adequately served. I suspect that her attitude and her efforts bode well for the growth of UBS' new wealth management offices under her administration. Whether your focus is the ultra-high-net-worth market, as is Eckardt's, or middle-class investors, everyone who knows this business will tell you that regular meetings with the client correlate with business growth. "On a perfect day," she tells our reporter, "I probably meet about every client that comes in."
So maybe the financial advisor's bumper sticker should read, "Have you hugged your client today?" Those who have the freedom to nurture those relationships and give their utmost service to their clients might make space for another one: "Have you thanked your manager today?" And it would be fitting if manager, advisor and client -- who all benefit from the political and economic freedom of America -- raised the flag on July 4 in gratitude for our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.