Brett Thelander, Managing Director, Midwest Region, Bank of America Merrill Lynch
What drives him? “In my mind, I like to flip the organizational chart upside down: I love working for the advisors to serve our clients. For me, it’s just natural.”
From the mountains, to the prairies, to the ocean 861 miles from home, Denver native Brett Thelander has crisscrossed America in a variety of Merrill Lynch management posts during his 17 years with the firm. Now, in his newest job, he’s based smack-dab in the country’s heartland.
Promoted last December to managing director of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s 10-state Midwest region, Thelander, headquartered in Chicago, oversees 967 financial advisors in 49 offices who manage $99 billion in assets and liabilities.
As managing director of the Orange County complex, just prior to this appointment, his office was in balmy Newport Beach, Calif.
Since he had earlier endured freezing winters in Denver, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Tulsa, the extreme climate change from SoCal on the Pacific to Chi-Town on Lake Michigan hardly fazed him.
“I got all ready: My wife bought me a scarf, and my assistant got me Merrill Lynch ‘bull’ earmuffs,” says the ebullient Thelander, 45.
He has spent his entire financial services career at Merrill, which he joined as an advisor trainee in Denver. Immediately after training, he began coaching other FAs and found management to be his calling. What to do for a free 30 minutes: tend to his practice or help a colleague? Invariably,
Thelander would choose coaching.
“It just got in my blood,” he recalls.
Now, as managing director of the Heartland region, his greatest challenge is delivering to retail, corporate and institutional clients the wide array of B of A products and resources available following the bank’s 2009 Merrill acquisition — plus services offered by U.S. Trust Corp., the private banking unit that B of A bought from Charles Schwab in 2007.
“We’ve got all the pieces. Now we’ve got to leverage everything,” Thelander says.
At the 7-branch Orange County complex, he increased 2010 revenues 10.6 percent. Thelander says his chief accomplishment last year was the high-level advisor retention rate. Further, a dozen FAs from competing firms joined the complex, contributing to an 11 percent expansion of the advisor force.
“Brett balances a sense of urgency with being reasonable, rational and responsible — the three Rs that I’ve always tried to find in executives,” says Greg Franks, Western division managing director and Thelander’s O.C. boss. “He understands the business because of his depth of experience and has a real passion for people and the industry.”
Given the Midwest’s large corporate base, Thelander sees big opportunities beyond the individual investing needs of company executives.
“We can deliver a whole other side of the balance sheet because we’ve added or significantly enhanced services like commercial lending, financing, 401(k) services and helping private companies go public. Before [the acquisition], we offered advice predominantly around asset management. Now, that’s only a small — but important — piece of what we do. Advisors have many arrows in their quiver,” Thelander says.