If keeping your representatives satisfied is the name of the game for broker/dealers, then it’s no surprise that Ralph DeVito and The Investment Center are the winning team in Division II this year. The company, now in its 20th year, currently has 325 producing reps (as of April 1, 2006) with a majority of them concentrated in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, and Florida. “We feel that we can’t be everything to everyone,” says president Ralph DeVito, who founded the company along with his father, also named Ralph. “We stick to our niche of financial planner/advisory-type-business reps and we think we can be everything to them.”

Of the company’s reps participating in this year’s balloting, 85% gave The Investment Center the highest possible grade in all 15 categories, all said they were free to run their practice in the way that’s best for their clients with no sales pressure, and only one of the reps said they wished the broker/dealer would add services.

“We focus everything on support and that comes through every different facet of our business,” says DeVito. “I think what’s driving the success is the personal service and the personal touch that we have.”

The Investment Center’s responsiveness to her practice’s needs is what keeps Pam Herlong happy. “They’re not so big that you’re just a number,” says the rep in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, who had previously worked with both a gigantic broker/dealer and a small independent, but has been with the Investment Center for the last five years. “They’re big enough to get things done effectively and efficiently, but they’re small enough that you have more of a personal relationship with the back office.”

Jim Charbonneau, of Seneca, South Carolina, has been with The Investment Center since 1991 and praises the company’s dedication to the reps, the range of products available, the lack of pressure to meet sales quotas, and the quality of the staff. “I’ve looked at other broker/dealers but nobody’s even come close to making me think about changing. I don’t think they ever could,” he says.

Jeff Heinel in Morristown, New Jersey, has been The Investment Center’s top producer for the last dozen years. With between $1.5 million and $2 million in gross production annually, he’s the type of rep any firm would be glad to have. In fact, he says he gets about five recruitment feelers a week. “The answer’s always the same,” he says. “No. You won’t get me out of here with a crowbar.” Before moving to The Investment Center, Heinel had been a top producer with Morgan Stanley and said that his biggest fear when he moved was giving up the security of the wirehouse environment. “The nicest compliment I could give these people is that their business plan was such that they strove for becoming a miniature wirehouse and they succeeded.”

Like any B/D firm looking to grow, The Investment Center has an active recruiting program, but according to DeVito, it’s not because they are losing good reps. In the last 10 years he says the only reps that left were a few that were unhappy when the company changed clearing firms.–Robert F. Keane