In this month’s cover story (“Portrait of a Branch Manager”) we profile Gregory Laetsch, the manager of Morgan Stanley’s Los Angeles complex. Jane Wollman Rusoff’s article brings out the genuine qualities of leadership that undoubtedly account for the success of his branches.
Like all branch managers, Laetsch has long and impossibly busy days. He rises at 4:30 a.m. and arrives at work by 6:15 a.m., often not ending his workday until after a business dinner. Yet amid all the management meetings, investment research, communiqués, training of staff, recruitment calls and client interactions, Laetsch finds time for not just for one, but two walk-abouts on all four floors his FAs work on.
You might think that with so much responsibility, the walk-abouts are something he might excise from his daily routine. And yet Laetsch evidently understands that leadership requires regular interaction with those being led. It is only in this way that a leader can be sensitive to his team’s mood, morale and pressing concerns.
In addition to being a man of the people, a leader must have a vision and the ability to get people to follow that vision — even if it is hard for them. Apparently, Laetsch has this quality as well:
“We were early in helping people believe in the return of the equity market. In the toughest of times, when it was difficult emotionally for clients, we were advocating to buy stocks…so they could take advantage when the markets rallied.”
This is not a common trait. When times were toughest, there were armies of brokers selling all manner of expensive “safety” products to frightened clients; there were others who didn’t put up much resistance to panic selling. There is a role for safety, but it takes vision and courage to help clients see beyond immediate catastrophe to a brighter future. The result of this kind of leadership is grateful, and successful, clients over the long term.
Laetsch’s connection with his people and his principled vision are qualities that are conspicuously absent in America’s economic leadership today. This is hardly a new phenomenon, nor a partisan one. When George H.W. Bush marveled at the scanner at a supermarket checkout, he was widely perceived as aloof and out of touch. Painful as the early ’90s recession was, the stakes today are higher.
Polls consistently show, by large margins, that Americans of every definable subgroup — men and women, young and old, black and white, rich and poor, Republican, Independent and Democrat — view jobs and the economy as their top concern. Yet Washington is aloof and out of touch. Unemployment is staggeringly high and Americans’ primary asset, real estate, is still in decline just about everywhere but in D.C.
President Kennedy, in a 1962 news conference, offered a valuable insight: “Only full employment can balance the budget,” he said.
Says the leaderly Laetsch, in our article: “If financial advisors make good investment decisions, clients prosper.” And if policymakers make good decisions, citizens prosper. The corollary to this is that if the nation is not prospering, it is because poor decisions have been made. Yet, with genuine leadership, our complex economy could prosper like Gregory Laetsch’s Morgan Stanley complex.