From the March 2009 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

March 1, 2009

Making Magic

Dave Hilgendorf of Raymond James runs a growing family-friendly branch of advisors in Grand Rapids, Mich.

When Raymond James & Associates recently named Dave Hilgendorf its Branch Manager of the Year, it didn't surprise those who work closest with him.

He's known for his team-building abilities, an inspired management style and, as a producer himself, Hilgendorf plays in the same sandbox as the advisors he manages.

As his regional director, Bill Roney, notes: "We don't believe in the field of dreams theory: If you build it they will come. If you have the right leader in a given market, whether it's large or small, you can make magic, so to speak."

Hilgendorf, who manages the Grand Rapids, Mich., branch, apparently made magic last year. The firm's senior management group selected the 51-year-old Hilgendorf from a field of over 150 branch managers at the close of one of the most challenging years in market history.

In the decade he has managed the branch, Hilgendorf has worked to create a family-friendly environment where, he says: "We have high expectations for everybody, but not any higher than what they have for themselves." Early in his career, Hilgendorf says he often felt like little more than a number -- a culture he has taken great care not to replicate.

"From the beginning, I wanted to know these people on a personal level. I wanted them to know I was their friend. I wanted to develop trust between us. It's not about the almighty number," adds Hilgendorf, who oversees 16 financial advisors and 12 support staff with $1.3 billion in assets under management. "I just felt there had to be better ways to support brokers than what I'd been getting."

In some measure, Hilgendorf treats the branch like a team -- particularly when it comes to staff, who often back each other up. As for the advisors, he says: "We all want to do well by our clients. We share ideas. We cover for each other if someone is out. It's not cutthroat at all. Treat everyone as a big team; we all win."

"We have fostered more of a family approach," he explains. "If you want to watch your kid play soccer at 3:00, I don't care. I think you should be with your family. It's a work hard-play hard philosophy."

Hilgendorf is also big on reward. He routinely recognizes outstanding performance with appreciation lunches, plaques, flowers, cakes and gift cards. On a biweekly basis, he holds a "Did You Know?" quiz, an opportunity for staff to share something efficient they've learned [useful contacts, for example] with their peers. The person who comes up with the most entries at the end of each quarter wins a gift certificate. Hilgendorf also gives an "Uptick Award" to advisors who boost their annual gross production 10 percent or more.

"The million-dollar producer will always be a million-dollar producer. The guy who goes from $300,000 to $350,000, that's a big increase for him," he says. "I wanted to give some of the younger producers a track to run on."

Born and raised in Michigan, Hilgendorf started out in the finance department of a small manufacturing company that made fasteners for Ford and GM. When business began to sour, he turned to financial services, joining IDS American Express in 1984. Twice he joined firms, E.F. Hutton and later Thomson McKinnon, which underwent mergers that resulted in the shuttering of his office. In 1990, he joined Roney & Co., becoming a general partner in 1992. The firm's CEO? Bill Roney, Hilgendorf's boss today.

Hired initially as an assistant manager at the Auburn Hills, Mich., branch, Hilgendorf was later recruited to turn around an office in Fort Wayne, Ind., that had some serious management challenges. Over a two-year period, he doubled the troubled branch's revenue to $3 million. Roney & Co. merged with Raymond James & Associates in 1999, the year Hilgendorf took over the Grand Rapids branch.

It, too, came with challenges. The week he started, one of his advisors, in his mid-80s, died. Five of the 10 remaining brokers were over 70. Hilgendorf politely refers to the make-up then as "a bit more old school," with the office serving some brokers "just as a place to go." He spent the next several years supporting a core group of advisors in their late 40s and replacing retiring brokers.

Successful recruiting has become a Hilgendorf hallmark. Last year, he recruited two teams representing assets in excess of $300 million and annual production of $2.5 million -- one, a team of three women CFPs from Wachovia/A.G. Edwards, the other a National City bank team in the firm's private client group.

Over the last three years, Hilgendorf's branch has grown its assets by 30 percent and revenue by 10 percent. It's also got an amazing happy quotient. As Roney views it, "The challenge in any organization is to have good camaraderie. It may be more difficult in an industry like ours where, by definition, successful people may have stronger personalities. The fact that Dave is able to blend a group of high performing, highly motivated financial advisors into a pretty cohesive group speaks volumes."

In addition to overseeing the office, Hilgendorf maintains a President's Club-level practice of his own with $100 million in assets under management. He says he's able to manage both jobs as a result of "organization" and "delegation." But clearly, his passion lies in management.

"After working for four or five managers in my career, I adopted the Ritz-Carlton model. I know it sounds clich?, but I want our office in Grand Rapids to be the Ritz of the Street," he adds. "Advisors here know they'll be treated fairly and appreciated. No one's a number."

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