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Steady at the Helm

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As Winston Churchill crisply summed up: “The question which we must ask ourselves is not whether we like or do not like what is going on, but what are we going to do about it.”

A history buff who’s read Sir Winston’s entire prodigious output, John Dixon, president of Pacific Select Group — parent of Pacific Life Insurance Co.’s broker-dealer network — not only agrees with that philosophy, he acts on it.

Many folks just gripe about the rapid increase in financial services’ regulatory requirements. This industry executive isn’t one of them. “Some sit on the sidelines and complain about it. I prefer to try to influence it,” says Dixon, who is also chair-CEO of Mutual Service Corp., largest broker-dealer in the Pacific Life group.

For years, Dixon, 64, has contributed big-time to a number of regulatory committees, notably those of the NASD. He’s served on NASD Regulation’s Membership Committee since 2000.

Dixon added the MSC CEO post to that of chairman last February, when John Poff, at the helm eight years, took early retirement. Based in West Palm Beach, Fla., MSC’s affiliate financial advisors number about 1,100 nationwide. Its Scottsdale, Ariz., office serves Western-based FAs.

“John always does the best thing for the long view,” notes Jim Morris, president-CEO of Pacific Life Insurance. “His insights into the latest issues and trends within the NASD are invaluable…He always knows the latest — what’s really happening in the industry.”

Dixon cautions that keeping up with and implementing new regulatory requirements will continue to pose major challenges for broker-dealers. But the onslaught may be over. “There are still some [regulations] in the pipeline that will affect broker-dealers dramatically, though the funnel at the top is somewhat empty now,” says Dixon, whose tough stance on compliance contrasts with his affable manner.

He was named Mutual’s CEO — a job he’d held prior to promoting Poff to it — a month before Pacific Life agreed to sell MSC and two other BDs, Waterstone Financial and Associated Financial, to LPL Financial Services. The deal is expected to close this month.

“I’m very enthusiastic about LPL’s vision to build a Pershing [clearing] platform alongside LPL itself,” he says. MSC and Pershing had a strategic alliance prior to the acquisition.

Dixon’s plans for MSC are, and were before the sale, in sync with those of LPL. They include getting MSC “back on a growth track of 20 percent to 25 percent a year. Pacific Life was thinking of selling for about six months, and that made it a little difficult to maintain recruiting momentum.”

A former Christian education minister who worked with disadvantaged youth, Dixon brought his relationship-building skills to financial services four decades ago. “I enjoy finding younger people with talent and trying to help them develop and find their niche,” says the ex-advisor.

With the big retirement boom nearly here, he says it is broker-dealers’ mission to help FAs take a comprehensive, holistic tack with clients. “Advisors are going to be broadening into more wealth management practices besides [mainly managing] people’s portfolios. We’re returning to a more holistic approach that started in the late ’60s, when the financial planning movement was just getting started.”

Dixon’s roots are in Montana. He was born, second eldest of five, in Great Falls and reared on a wheat farm. At his father’s death, when he was just 10, he got serious about farm work and toiled without let-up until age 21. But his dad’s dying wish was that John attend Prairie Bible College, a prep school for the ministry in Alberta, Canada. He spent four years there, once he left the wheat fields, and graduated with a certificate in Christian education.

For three years, he was a church youth minister while attending classes at Michigan State and Wayne State universities. In 1967, helping kids in trouble at a Detroit church, he began selling life insurance part-time as an income booster.

Dixon soon discovered, he recalls: “I enjoyed business more than the ministry.” With that, he entered the industry full time, heading training programs and investor relations at financial services firms, then became a financial planner. In 1979, he and a partner opened their own financial consulting practice, Dixon, Root & Company, in Boca Raton, Fla.

Five years later, his partner exited and Dixon opted to shut down the firm. He moved on to run West Palm Beach broker-dealer Lowry Financial Services, soon acquired by Pacific Life. In 1989, he helped merge MSC, then based in Detroit, with Pacific Life.

Concurrent with this career ascent, Dixon picked up a master’s degree in both financial services and management, as well as the CFP, CLU and ChFC designations, all from The American College.

His valuable advisory experience gives him keen insight indeed into the hurdles BD affiliates face. The ideal MSC affiliate? “Good at prospecting people who can afford comprehensive financial services, and they should have a really clean regulatory record. They don’t have to fit into a mold,” he says.

Beyond that: “We aren’t interested in anyone who wants to be too free-wheeling. We want people who pay attention to regulatory matters. We don’t need to be constantly contacting an affiliate advisor to tell them, ‘You did [such and such], and that isn’t good.’” Dixon continues: “They can be entrepreneurial, of course, and run their businesses as they want — as long as they meet regulatory guidelines.”

John Dixon

President, Pacific Select Group; Chair-CEO, Mutual Service Corp.; West Palm Beach, Florida

What does he look for in affiliate FAs? “We want to provide services broad enough so that almost any independent financial advisor willing to follow the basic regulatory framework can have a happy home here.”

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


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