Tom James: Who 'Changed Everything' at Raymond James—The 2015 IA 35 for 35

This is the second time Tom James has been featured on the IA 25. He first appeared in 2008. (Portrait: Joel Kimmel) This is the second time Tom James has been featured on the IA 25. He first appeared in 2008. (Portrait: Joel Kimmel)

Tom James became CEO of Raymond James Financial in 1970, succeeding his father Bob, and held that role until 2010; he remains chairman, and remains highly active on the big-picture level for the company but also in recruiting new reps. Under his leadership, Raymond James not only built a successful public company, but also a big tent for advisors.

How successful? For the first six months of its fiscal year, Raymond James Financial posted $383 million in pretax income, an 11% increase over the prior year, on a 7% increase in net revenues to $2.54 billion, leading now CEO Paul Reilly to say the firm “had the strongest start ever to a first half of our fiscal year."

How big? As of the end of March, the Raymond James Private Client Group, which includes both its employee FAs and independent contractor registered reps, rose to a record 6,384. Speaking during Raymond James’ national conference for its independent contractor reps in Las Vegas, Reilly pointed out that “a record number” of advisor prospects—72—were attending the conference. “Recruiting is robust,” he said, while existing RJ “advisors choose to stay here; our turnover is very low.”

Under the RJ umbrella, you can be an employee advisor, an independent contractor or a fully independent RIA. Long before other IBDs and even wirehouses discovered that giving their advisors a choice of affiliation was a good rep retention move, it was business as usual at Raymond James.

Mike Hines, founder and CEO of Consolidated Planning Corp. in Atlanta, is one of those advisors. He joined Raymond James in 1975 because it was “financial-planning oriented,” he recalled during an April interview, which reflected Bob James’ approach to providing advice. “When Tom came on board,” said Hines, “he changed everything.”

In those early days, he knew he could “call Tom James up on Sundays” at his office telephone extension because he knew James would be there. When asked how James changed everything, Hines said simply, “Raymond James had integrity, even in the 1970s,” and conducted extensive due diligence on investments before approving them for sale by reps, which Hines said “still happens today.” That’s why, he said, “in 2008, they didn’t get in trouble.”

James also “brought in Harvard Business School graduates” (James’ own alma mater) who were “top-notch people. That’s been a Raymond James differentiator” then and now, Hines said. “To do well, you have to be willing to change” to succeed in any business, Hines said, and “Tom changed before he had to.” As a client-focused advisor himself, in fact, Hines gives James and the company the ultimate compliment. “Raymond James has always treated us—the advisor—as a client.”

Upon receiving an alumni award from Harvard Business School in 2013, James summed up his approach: “You have to have very good people; you have to delegate authority to those people. If you apply those principles and a hard work ethic, you will be successful in business.”

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