What is the quickest way to build a Winner’s Circle-quality team? In each of the Winner’s Circle teams, we consistently found that it took many years of accumulated, disciplined actions among passionate team members with common resolve and purpose.
NOTE: A complete list of Horizontal, Vertical and Family Teams appears at the end of this story, as an associated chart.
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When Mark Curtis of Smith Barney — No. 1 on both our vertical teams list and our Barron’s Top 100 list — practically invented the stock option business model among financial advisors, it was the outcome of many years of hard work with his team acting in the best interests of his entrepreneurial client base. Hardly the overnight sensation it may appear to be.
For our leader among horizontal teams — the 545 Group, a private wealth management team at Morgan Stanley — Greg Vaughan, one of the five partners, says their success was essentially built by always acting in the best interests of each client one day at a time, the result of many decades seeking to exceed their clients’ expectations.
And for our family teams (for our ranking purposes, a husband and wife, or three or more closely related individuals), business cultures developed around family values and work ethics.
Regardless of the team structure, when asked about any transformational events, not one team could mention a single defining moment; virtually every team credits a strong culture, always acting in the best interests of clients, and disciplined business processes. Here are some of our key observations relating to these processes:
o Top teams have developed a strong team culture that shares unifying principles, such as integrity of process and product — and personal integrity of team members.
o Top teams have determined the two or three different types of clients they believe they can serve and advise better than anyone else in the world; other clients are referred to other advisors who can better serve them.
o Top teams have collegial atmospheres with high morale and free from a bureaucracy that conceals a lack of discipline. This includes employing individuals passionate about their area of work.
o Top teams have proven systems that are instilled in daily processes, from welcoming clients into the office to a highly disciplined asset allocation process; these processes are typically documented, along with back-up procedures and overlapping responsibilities.
o Top teams know where they are “best-in-class,” and are not distracted by opportunities outside their competencies.
We have found that the biggest opportunities for growth go hand in hand with a commitment to bettering the team’s processes and levels of competency. In other words, it all comes back to doing what’s best for the client, including anticipating and meeting clients’ changing needs.
Congratulatory GalaIn July, Franklin Templeton hosted an event in New York City to celebrate our two featured teams. During lunch, Dan O’Lear of Franklin Templeton remarked to the group: “In our many years of working with the Winner’s Circle, it’s become obvious that every one of its advisors is absolutely passionate about serving the client and acting in their best interests. If there is a secret to success in this business, that’s it.”
The Cenname TeamMerrill Lynch & Co.Columbus, OH
The Dream TeamAugust Cenname only has one complaint about the Cenname Team: its name. While “Augie” may be the founder of the team, he considers himself an owner like everyone else on the team.
Entrusted with more than $7 billion in assets, this Columbus, Ohio-based, private wealth management team has built a culture devoted to serving clients and a commitment to constantly getting better at what they do.
“We’re a big team, but our real strength is leveraging the breadth, depth and global reach of Merrill Lynch into a very customized and personal experience for each family,” Nicole Reehil says.
Managing all of these moving parts requires constant interaction and communication within the Cenname Team itself. Each family works with a team of four or five people, each responsible for overseeing the different aspects of that family’s plan.
To that end, each family is assigned a “customer care” team, consisting of a relationship manager, a private banker, a specialist in asset allocation, a wealth manager, and the concierge. “We’ve found that clients are more comfortable speaking to a few people than to a whole team,” Nicole continues. The relationship manager could be anyone on the team, depending on factors such as a client’s needs and comfort level with particular individuals.
With nearly 42 years in the business — all with Merrill — Augie is part of each client service team; but rather than interact with clients on a daily basis like other teammates, he meets with clients on a quarterly basis. He is also available around the clock for anyone — teammate or client; everyone has his home and mobile numbers.
Nicole, Angela Contini and Gina Morell are the private bankers. Peter Motta, the team’s COO, is in charge of day-to-day operations, and specializes in asset management, with an emphasis in equities, managed money, research and portfolio strategy.
Charles Jarrett focuses on the estate planning and retirement planning aspects of the client relationship. Rounding out the investment side is Mike Denti, a 25-year Merrill veteran. Mike oversees the team’s asset management and performs in-depth due diligence on money managers, hedge funds and private equity managers.
Cindy Elmore, supported by Lydia Johnson, leads the corporate services area. Chris Chatfield is the team’s analyst. Carlin Depaepe is a dedicated concierge who provides lifestyle and family services. Her planning has ranged from assembling clients’ travel arrangements to helping one client plan a 50th birthday party in the Caribbean.