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Windrose Advisors’ John Haase on Branding and New Names

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John Haase graced our cover in April 2011 to discuss a topic on many advisors’ minds—the move to independence (see “The Right Way to Leave a Wirehouse,” Investment Advisor, April 2011). Having just left Goldman Sachs, where he was one of the youngest managing directors in the venerable firm’s history, for Boston-based Fireman Capital Advisors, Haase had a fresh perspective on the pros and cons of making the leap. FCA, which counts Paul Fireman, former Reebok International chairman and CEO, as one of its first clients and lead investors, at the time managed $1 billion in assets for 12 high-net-worth families.

So what’s happened in the time since? A new name and $500 million in new assets, to start.

We’ll start at the beginning. How’s the firm done since we last spoke?

We decided from a branding perspective that a different name probably better represents us and who we are. When we last spoke, we had a dozen clients and $1 billion in assets under management. From that time, we’ve probably added a half-dozen more clients from around the country to our roster and surpassed the $1.5 billion mark.

Why the name change?

Paul Fireman actually said very early on that we’re probably eventually going to need to change the name to something that resonates and reflects [our] client base. We liked Windrose for a couple of reasons. We liked it because it’s a name that sounds familiar, but at the same time people have a little bit of trouble putting their finger on it. We liked the fact that we could define the brand. It’s a little bit of an empty vessel for us to build our culture and firm inside of and around. Windrose is an older term, something that would help you figure out the direction of the wind from a navigation perspective.

It’s not a mass market brand; it’s a very exclusive brand. How do you balance that in terms of how it will reflect a very small set of individuals?

Most people who hire us have an experience with other providers. We are not typically the first advisor that somebody has. What we represent to people is an absolutely experienced, trusted advisor due partly to the types of people that we hire and partly because we represent a very sophisticated approach to investing. Our people have held very senior roles at places like MIT and Tufts and Tudor Investments and Goldman Sachs. They take over a decade of experience at those various places and come to Windrose. It’s almost their Capstone project. They take all of that experience and have an opportunity, with a dedicated number of clients and a dedicated amount of assets, to say, “In a perfect world, how would I design this?” Then we get a chance to do it.

Are you still about managing the managers?

Yep, we still reflect our views through managers. So if we believe, for instance, financial services in Europe is a good place to begin to get exposure (because you believe there’s going to be opportunity there at some point), then we get exposure to great long-only or hedged-equity managers to be able to express that view. We’ve been extremely fortunate that we have a short list of a small number of managers with whom we’re interested in working. We count as one of our real great fortunes that every single manager that we have had on that short list has welcomed us as partners, so that’s been a real positive for us and for our clients.

When we last spoke, you hinted at a coming golden age for RIAs and independents versus the wirehouses. Still hold that view?

I hope it is just because there are some really fundamental changes that need to take place and they are taking place. I hope that we can continue to define what people can expect. If I said, “An individual or family should have a sophisticated investment solution with access to great investment vehicles, and they should have an advisor who puts their best interests first and can truly serve as their fiduciary,” I think that seems very fundamental at the core. I would add that it should be a group that has no biases and no conflicts. I bet if we added up all the dollars in the world and the way that they’re managed, what I just described probably speaks to the way 10% of the assets are managed. But it’s getting larger and larger, and I think that’s a good thing.           


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