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.