Barron’s “The Top 1,000 Advisers” recognizes the best financial advisors in the business. As always, Research joins in congratulating all the winners and this year takes a closer look at three special firms that made the cut. What makes them stand out?
For starters, each is ranked tops in their respective states: The 545 Group in California, The Rodriguez/Hardie Group in Louisiana and The Barry Garber Group in Maryland. For the rest of the story, please read on.
And for a complete list of the Barron’s Top Teams by State 2009, click here.
Your Chief Investment Officer
The 545 Group, Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management
Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, Menlo Park, Calif.
The 545 Group deals daily with some of the heaviest hitters in Silicon Valley, solving problems a lot of advisors wish they had.
Consider: The average account size of a 545 Group client is roughly $25 million.
But the group’s principals don’t aim to wow their clients with complex solutions — just the opposite.
“You learn a lesson every week and we have a lot of scar tissue to show for it.
“We’ve had complex problems with clients, but the more simple you can keep the solution and the more simple you can present, the better. Your client doesn’t have to know how smart you are or how smart are the people who work with you,” notes Robert Dixon, executive director of the Menlo Park, Calif.-based team. “If you can put your solution on one or two sheets of paper, that’s better than 20 or 30, and it eliminates a lot of problems going forward.”
It’s good advice from someone who has a lot of skin in the game. Dixon, 62, and Gregory Vaughan, 53, first formed their partnership at Morgan Stanley 28 years ago. The “545″ refers to their cost center number at the time. One of their longstanding hallmarks is consistency in the client experience — but their practice has been anything but static.
As their clients’ chief investment officer — and that’s how they actively position themselves — Dixon, Vaughan and their two younger partners deliver a global, tax-efficient investment process and, importantly, the multi-step process concludes with their own accountability.
As Vaughan frames it, “Many of our clients run organizations and are very used to delegating. We view ourselves as an employee of the client. I would suspect our clients run their businesses the same way: You hold people accountable for results.”
The great majority of the 100 or so families The 545 Group serves are corporate executives or founders and private equity professionals. Many have spent their careers running a company driven by a business plan — so the idea of a CIO isn’t foreign to them. Best yet, says vice president Jason Bogardus, 38, “Our CIO role forces clients to think about their personal investment portfolio as a business plan. Our goal is to try to add a lot of value to as many people as possible by focusing on what it is we do best: managing investments.”
Certainly, something is working. With more than $10 billion in assets under management as of end July, the practice didn’t lose a single client in 2008, a very difficult year. And, notably, most of its referrals continue to come from the firm’s fiercest marketers: satisfied clients.
“We’re not out shaking the bush quite as hard,” says Dixon. “We’re more intent on the day-to-day business of managing client assets.”
The 12-person team includes partner Mark Douglass, a chief administrative officer, and several traders, analysts and service associates. Everyone sits in the same office on renowned Sand Hill Road, a reflection of the group’s horizontal design.
“We understand what’s going on day to day, we overhear conversations and a lot of synergies come from that,” according to Vaughan. “Being in your own office is not creative and doesn’t create the kind of dynamic atmosphere we want.”
Not long ago, Vaughan arrived at the office, early for him, at 5:30 a.m. He had expected to be the one to turn on the lights.
“I walked in here and there were four people in the office. I thought I’d be the first one there,” he says. “These are folks who work as long as they need to get the job done. We’ve set an expectation level to get things right the first time. It’s what clients expect. As a group, it’d be tough to find another that works as hard as we do.”
All in the Family
The Rodriguez/Hardie Group
Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management, New Orleans, La.
It wasn’t the market meltdown that started last fall or any that preceded it that has most tested The Rodriguez/Hardie Group. It was a hurricane called Katrina.
Not only were the then eight members of the team scattered in eight different cities during the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane, but the New Orleans-based group’s clients were displaced with no immediate access to their accounts.