Carolyn Armitage’s decades of experience in the broker-dealer and wealth management field have provided her with many insights to tap into when helping her clients, but one in particular stands out.
“How CEOs struggle with managing people in teams,” says the managing director of the Los Angeles-based consulting group and investment firm Echelon Partners. “It’s surprised me at how consistent that is in very, very large organizations as well as small firms.”
The Minnesota native began her career on Wall Street working for First Investors (now Foresters Financial) in the late 1980s. The firm was a great training ground, she explains; plus, “getting to go to Wall Street was a really big deal … , and I was fearless.”
That position was the first of many Armitage, CFP, has held in the BD community. When her spouse transferred to Dallas, she went along and joined HD Vest for seven years, which she says “was such a growing, innovative firm. It was a great culture.”
She later moved out to California to take a position with Financial Network, and then was “tapped to run the advisory for all the broker-dealers that ING had acquired,” Armitage explains.
“I did quite a bit of consolidation work, assimilating all the programs, putting RIAs in place where there weren’t any — it was a big role, and I enjoyed it,” she says.
But the role came to a halt during the financial crisis, and so she took a job with a smaller firm, Western International Securities, in Pasadena. Over two years, the consultant says, she put much infrastructure in place for the BD’s estate planning, advisory services, strategic partner programs and educational programs.
From there, she joined LPL Financial, where she saw a “terrific way to use all of my experience … to help these CEOs throughout the country improve their organizations,” Armitage explains.
“Because I had such a worldview of what advisors, branch managers and home offices went through, I knew where the trouble spots were and the conflicts these CEOs run into on a day-to-day basis,” she adds.
When this program at LPL ended, she did some independent consulting and became part of Echelon in 2017.
This career roadmap means Armitage can tap into “all of the skills, all of the learning that I’ve had throughout my career and give back to help CEOs improve their organizations.”
THINKADVISOR: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve seen in your career?
Smaller and larger firms can have many of the same issues. About 50% of revenue is often attributed to compensation expense, so it’s a big expense category.
But it’s challenging managing the human capital side of the business, which is a major variable. That part is the wild card, and yet it’s the most important element — and I’ve seen it as a struggle for almost every CEO out there.
What key advice do you provide?
It depends where they are in their stage of development.
One of the big kind of “aha” moments for people when they hire a consultant is they finally realize that they can attend a conference and get great practice management tips. But if it’s not applicable to where they are in their development, it’s not going to work.
We help CEOs see their blind spots, and we provide unbiased perspectives on their organization and skill sets. Sometimes they just need someone to be honest and have a critical conversation about what’s going on in their organization so they can break through to the next level.
Where do you think women can best excel?
I’ve actually found that women are better and more easily adapted to the fee-based side of the business than the commission-based side. The sales environment is traditionally male oriented.
Women are terrific networkers and more comfortable getting out from behind the charts and graphs and technical side of the business, to talk to clients about goals and the impact of money on their life. They’re much more willing to have empathy with clients and create connectiveness.
The RIA side is a natural fit. It can be a flexible career for women as they grow and raise their children, and provide financial rewards, which are not often matched in other industries.
What advice would you give to those new to the business?
One of my mantras has been, and I’ve instilled in my children, is to never stop learning, and never let your personal wealth exceed your personal development.
There are a lot of financial rewards in our industry and that can lead to big egos.
But if you continually invest in yourself and continue to grow as an individual, you can continue to evolve and provide well for your employees and your community at large as well as the industry.
What books would you recommend?
I categorize books by function. One on leadership is “Leadership and Self-Deception” by the Arbinger institute; it was so impactful [when I first read it]. It’s good to read [or listen to] every couple of years.
On business management, I go way back to when I got started, Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich.” It [pushes] you to be persistent and persuasive.
For ethics, one of my very favorites is “Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West” [by James P. Owen].
“The Dash” by Linda Ellis is about what will fill that dash on your tombstone someday.
And there’s Thayer Cheatham Willis’ “Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth.” She was an inheritor of the Georgia Pacific paper company, and it goes through all the trials and tribulations of what it’s like to grow up with that silver spoon in your mouth.
It’s a terrific book to help clients who are in a similar situation and to make sure their children have enough to be productive members of society, but not so much that they [migrate] to lesser elements.
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