Mike Schroeder is president of Baird Private Wealth Management in Milwaukee. Since 2001, he has been responsible for all sales and operating activities of Baird’s Private Wealth Management network and oversees financial advisor services, private asset management and other units supporting the efforts of 870 financial advisors, who serve Baird’s individual, institutional and corporate clients.
As of Dec. 31, 2015, clients’ assets with Baird’s Private Wealth Management group totaled more than $110 billion. He spoke with Research by telephone from Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.’s Denver branch.
How did you get started in wealth management?
Mike Schroeder: Next month [March 2016] actually it will be 30 years I started in the business. Back in the 1970s I had majored in finance, investments and banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and I was in a different industry for about six years.
I used to hear these radio commercials back in the early ‘80s of a gentleman that probably had the equivalent of my job today. He used to do the radio commercials for Baird and after about six years of being in marketing and sales, I called this gentleman that was doing the radio commercials and introduced myself over the phone; I guess it was my first cold call. He said, well, come on in, Mike, and I met him later that week on a Friday. I also spoke to a couple of other firms.
The chairman of the board of the company that I worked for knew Brent Rupple, who was the chairman of Baird at the time. I said I’m thinking about a career change, what should I do and he said go work for Baird because “I know Brent and he’s a great guy.” And, that’s what I did.
I started off as a new financial advisor; there was upward of probably a dozen of us in what they called back then a bullpen. I became rookie of the year and after that I got licensed as the assistant branch manager to lend a hand to Gene Witt, one of my mentors in the business.
My career just continued to expand from there. I became a regional director and ultimately in the late ‘90s, right around 2000, the chief operating officer of private wealth management and took over the business in 2001 as the president of private wealth. As we sometimes say around here, I’m sort of born and bred Baird.
What are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen at the firm during that time?
Probably the most significant thing in my three decades at Baird was regaining our independence when we bought ourselves back from Northwestern Mutual. It allowed us to regain our independence, it allowed us to control our own destiny and it just accelerated a partnership culture in the firm unlike any other on Wall Street today. Some of the greatest names on Wall Street, however far back you go, all started off as partnerships.
A key reason for that is it allows you to run the business in a way to focus on clients first and foremost and if you do that really, really well, the rest takes care of itself. Being independent, privately held, employee-owned just fosters a unique culture — it’s the secret sauce to our success. That was probably the biggest thing that I think has impacted Baird over those three decades.
The second thing I would say, and this relates not only to Baird but the industry, is a complete transformation from what we used to call a brokerage firm to a true wealth management, wealth advisory model. Part of that is just a natural evolution in the business. It was inevitable that the industry was changing.
The issues are a lot more complex, client expectations are changing in terms of what they want out of a wealth advisor, technology is advancing. And, frankly, there is a need to have much more highly focused, client-centric teams of advisors to truly meet the needs of the clients from a planning perspective and a wealth management perspective and, ultimately, the need to remain competitive.