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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Portrait of a Branch Manager

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Reaching into a credenza drawer, Cynthia Laden Newman scoops out heaping handfuls of Snickers, 3 Musketeers, Twix and Butterfingers from boxes and plunks the mini bars into a big bowl on a round table in her office.

“I always have candy around. I don’t eat it, but,” she says with a laugh, “my financial advisors come in specifically for candy.”

That’s not the only sweet stuff Newman has brought to the party since taking over as Morgan Stanley’s Los Angeles branch manager in November 2004. Promoted the following year, the former 20-year financial advisor is a Global Wealth Management Group complex manager overseeing not only the Downtown L.A. office but four other Southern California branches: Burbank, Santa Monica, Glendale and Valencia. Reporting to her are 207 employees, 128 of them advisors.

Under Newman, production in the Downtown branch, with 48 FAs, is on track to reach more than $20 million this year, up from $12.5 million when she took over. Assets under management have risen to $5 billion. And the branch boasts 36 ultra-high-net-worth clients — those at $10 million and above. Assets managed complex-wide, with 55 UHNW clients, total $10 billion.

Bloomberg research pegs Morgan Stanley as the world’s second largest securities firm by market value, according to a spokesperson for the brokerage. It manages $690 billion in assets at more than 600 offices in 31 countries.

Out of the wirehouse’s 118 Global Wealth Management complexes — and measured by characteristics such as net new assets, profitability and head-count — Newman’s complex ranks a high No.16. Plus, firm-wide her L.A. branch comes in No. 1 in insurance; No. 4 in non-proprietary mutual fund sales and No. 11 in lending, both out of 377 branches. The office is also No. 17 of 339 branches in retirement services and No. 24 of 373 offices in equity underwriting.

When Newman took over Downtown, with which the nearby City of Industry branch had merged, it was languishing. “Now,” she says, “we’re very much thriving.”

Newman is seated in her office on the 28th floor of an imposing Downtown building at Figueroa Street and Wilshire Blvd. in L.A.’s financial district. An expanse of windows provides a to-die-for view, taking in the famed Hollywood Sign in the hills and stretching east to Dodger Stadium and beyond.

Tall, and slim with shoulder-length blonde hair and a million-dollar smile, the vivacious Newman was a top producer when she stepped into management seven years ago. Two years after that, she gave up her book. Twenty years on the FA front lines have served Newman well in her present leadership role.

“I very much understand what a financial advisor does. It’s so close to my heart. I understand how difficult it is to bring in clients and net new assets, and to multi-task,” says Newman, 46, who speaks with great enthusiasm and gestures frequently for emphasis.

Recruiting FAs, retaining talented ones, bringing in new assets and driving revenues are her chief mandates. She’s an ace at generating a healthy spirit of competition: weekly and monthly, she e-mails all Downtown FAs each advisor’s net new assets and revenues. “I let everybody know what everybody’s business is,” she says.

“I share success stories. If you see someone else being successful, you’ll probably pick yourself up and ask, ‘Wow! It looks like you really did something terrific. How’d you do it?” says Newman, whose compensation is based on salary and bonus.

While the senior vice president has brought vitality and competitive spirit to Downtown, she’s also created a friendly vibe in the branch, which numbers 82 employees. It’s all about business — but without starch. When advisors routinely pop into her office to discuss work, they feel relaxed enough to pick up the practice golf club leaning against a wall and playfully pretend to putt.

Sometimes FAs bring their kids around for a visit. Newman has on hand little toys to amuse them. Twice a year she throws big shindigs for the complex at her home; in between, there are golf outings and bowling parties.

Despite such amenities, this manager is no pushover. The ship she runs is tight. “I’m very tough — but I’m very fair,” she says. “There’s right, and there’s wrong. There’s little in between. I’m very kind, but not overly so. I’m supportive.”

She continues. “I’m very driven to succeed. I like to take on challenges. And once I’ve met one challenge, I push myself to another. I’ve always pushed myself to the next level.”

Supporting Her AdvisorsFirst on her agenda each morning is checking out her division’s revenue numbers for the prior day. “I’m competitive,” she says. “I like to see how we’re doing.”

She spends lots of time with advisors discussing their goals and approaches to practice growth. Newman prides herself on being a “new-school” manager. “Years ago, people would say they liked their managers if they left them alone. Today, it’s more, ‘I like my manager because she understands who I am and what I need to grow my business.

“I constantly walk around the office and talk to my financial advisors to find out what they need, what they may be missing, how growing their business is going,” she says. “You know how your team is doing by communicating with them.”

Teamwork is important all around, and Newman encourages the formation of FA teams because, in part, “it’s very difficult today to start off as a new financial advisor and be a sole practitioner. I encourage advisors to bring in juniors.”

Bucking a trend, the transition to fee-based compensation is not a mandate at her complex — or firm-wide, says Newman. “Where fee-based is appropriate, it’s a wonderful platform. But there is a tremendous amount of transactional business still being done at Morgan Stanley. There’ll always be transactional business. It’s the nature of [investing].”

When she moved from FA to manager at UBS/PaineWebber seven years ago, Newman modified her style and became more subtle. “Clients want to be educated and directed; it’s a stronger kind of direction [than with FAs]. With advisors who have been in the business for 10 or 20 years, you first have to have their respect in order for them to be open to your ideas and maybe go down a path they hadn’t thought of. That takes time,” she says.

Nonetheless, Newman is direct in manner, a hands-on manager, and though happy to delegate, likes to be kept informed. Shunning snap decisions, she says she prefers to take time to digest others’ ideas.

In the two-and-a-half years since she’s been Los Angeles manager, she has recruited 12 FAs, four of them women, bringing the total to 12 female advisors in the branch and 26 in the complex. With Newman, diversity in general is a priority. “I’m from New York City — diversity is all I’ve ever known,” she says. Forty percent of the 48 Downtown-branch advisors are Asian-American, a function, in part, of the branch’s proximity to heavily Asian-populated neighborhoods.

As for overall recruiting, vital to building and developing a branch, Newman calls herself a “relatively slow recruiter. I meet with an advisor many, many times. I need to understand their business and who they are as a person to see if they’ll fit. This is our home.”

She delegates to a management team composed of a sales manager, branch admin manager, complex business service manager, branch service manager and compliance complex manager.

Newman and the team have a close-knit relationship. “I can tell by the look on their faces if they have a concern about something,” she says.

The Downtown L.A. office is a Morgan Stanley training branch; and right now it has eight trainees, or associate financial advisors, as the firm calls them. For training in sophisticated investment areas, Newman brings in Morgan Stanley specialists, such as those focusing on retirement or lending. Acquiring the certified financial planner designation is encouraged, and FAs can conduct the required work online — either in the office or at home.

Upbeat AttitudeNewman puts in 12-to-14-hour days on average, often hosting recruiting dinners or attending evening meetings with visiting New York management. She stops by each of the four other branches once a month to spend time with managers and touch base with advisors. “I’m not looking to micromanage. I’m here to help them,” she stresses. “I’m a liaison.”

But as complex manager, it is Newman who is ultimately responsible for compliance at all five branches. And her Downtown-based complex compliance officer regularly visits the other branches. “I take the compliance responsibility very seriously. The securities industry is heavily regulated. We need to be more careful than other industries,” says Newman, declining to comment on Morgan Stanley’s widely covered lawsuits.

Her day usually begins in the dark, at 5 a.m., on an elliptical exerciser in her home gym. She has some company, though: Robert Newman, her husband of 21 years. He is a Morgan Stanley advisor in Beverly Hills, a separate complex. When he switched careers to financial services in 2000, Cynthia taught him the business, and the two teamed up. At the same time, she was transitioning into management. Robert took over her book in 2002. Now the two talk shop as they work out at sunrise.

After seeing their children, ages 17, 15 and 10, off to school, Newman drives the seven minutes from home, in gated Country Club Park, to Downtown, arriving at the office at between 7:00 and 7:30. She checks out those revenue numbers, then meets with staff to plan the day.

Nine to eleven o’clock is typically earmarked for a walk-around aimed at communicating with the FAs. After lunch — usually soup and salad at her desk — Newman meets with advisors either individually or as a group.

Once a week she holds a management lunch meeting to discuss branch and complex matters. “I don’t hide things from [the managers]. They know what’s going on in the P&L. They know what the mandates are. That allows people to be themselves. I don’t attack them when they have their own ideas. In fact,” she says, “I don’t like making decisions in a vacuum.”

Once a month, there is a “mandatory” sales meeting of Downtown-branch FAs. “I like having everybody together. The advisors share ideas,” she says. The periodic social gatherings that she holds partly serve the same purpose. “It helps them to talk about what’s working in their businesses. Sharing knowledge is powerful.”

Since last December, the Downtown branch has been undergoing an extreme reconstruction make-over. The offices were “antiquated,” says Newman, who is reconfiguring the suite, in rich cream with tasteful dark-wood trim, to provide greater continuity and communication. Despite the months of noise and inconvenience, all the FAs have been more than troupers.

“Even with the construction going on, our revenue numbers are up very high double-digits from last year,” brags Newman. “The advisors’ attitude has been wonderful going through all this. But they feel really good about themselves, and they should: they’re succeeding.”

But Newman, take a bow too. Perhaps the statue of a bull — without a bear — on her office bookshelf sums up this manager’s underlying strength. “Right, there’s no bear. There aren’t any bears in my office!” she declares. “I’m not a negative person.”

Challenge Seeker

Her college roommates tell Cynthia Laden Newman they always knew she’d be a big success because she was group leader in cleaning their apartment.

That early sign proved to be right on.

The Morgan Stanley Global Wealth Management complex manager and former 20-year financial advisor was born in Manhattan to a New York City real estate developer dad and a real estate broker mom. She earned a bachelor’s degree in history and political science; but by the time she graduated from the University of Vermont in 1981, she’d become intrigued by the securities industry. So she took a sales assistant job with Merrill Lynch in Manhattan and picked up a Series 7 license.

Two years later, she joined Drexel Burnham’s FA training program, rising to become an Executive Council producer. Her book, consisting largely of an attorney clientele, was built via cold calling. (“It never bothered me. I didn’t know any different!”)

In 2000 Newman stepped into management, steadily advancing to her present post that has put her in charge of five Morgan Stanley branches in Southern California.

Being a female advisor in the predominantly male financial services industry never posed a problem, she says. The toughest part of the job was coping with rejection. “Even when I got into management, as I learned to navigate the politics, there was rejection from financial advisors and upper management.

“As a sales manager, it’s hard to manage your peers, other FAs. And being a branch manger interacting with FAs, you need to make sure you’re not offending or criticizing but leading and coaching. It’s a fine line. When you’re a complex manager,” she continues, “it’s, again, managing peers — not micromanaging their world but guiding and helping them.

“This is an ongoing challenge of developing as a person. The less you beat yourself up,” she says, “the stronger you get.”

By 1989, the then-advisor was wed to Robert Newman, whose job as a clothing-company national sales manager brought the family to Los Angeles. Cynthia returned to Merrill Lynch — this time, at the Downtown branch — for six years, then joined PaineWebber for five.

By then, she was ready for a career change. “I needed a different mental challenge. I wanted to grow and pass along my years of knowledge as a financial advisor,” she recalls. In 2000, she segued into management as a sales manager at UBS/PaineWebber. Two years later she became associate manager of the firm’s L.A. Century City branch.

She joined Morgan Stanley as Los Angeles branch manager in 2004. The following year she was upped to complex manager, overseeing four other branches as well.

Morgan Stanley is “so different from the other firms I’ve been at,” she says. “It’s a culture about doing business, about doing one-offs. There’s no cookie-cutter system here.”

A sprinter, Newman has no intention of hopping off the career track any time soon — or any time at all. “Oh, my God,” she exclaims, “I can’t even fathom not working. I couldn’t imagine not pushing myself. What would I do with all this energy?”

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


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