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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Hightower's Stephanie Link: Work Hard and Don't Burn Bridges

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Working in the advisory world is in Stephanie Link’s genes.

Hightower Advisors’ new chief investment strategist and portfolio manager comes from a family of financial advisors, who’ve worked mainly at wirehouse firms. But Link decided to take a different route and 27 years ago began her career on the institutional sales side of the business at Dean Witter.

From there, the self-described “market junkie” went to the buy side and, anticipating big growth for the business, moved to the wealth management side.

“[Going to the] independent wealth management space was almost a ‘no brainer,’ because of the favorable dynamics in the marketplace,” she told ThinkAdvisor recently on her first day at Hightower.

She previously worked for TIAA-CREF after it acquired Nuveen, where she was a senior managing director and head of global equities research. Link also co-managed the CREF Stock Variable Annuity Portfolio with $170 billion in assets and managed the $3.7 billion U.S. Core portfolio on her own.

If Stephanie Link sounds like a household name, she is. She’s been a longtime contributor to CNBC and was chief investment officer at The Street for six years, working with Jim Cramer as co-manager of the Charitable Trust.

Her plate remains full at Hightower, where she’ll be “wearing many hats” while remaining a visible expert in the marketplace, she said. Her new role is focused on “providing communication, helping advisors in whatever capacity they want, being a presence on TV, and running money.”

Wall Street Experience

Her first job was on the Dean Witter trading floor “where you’re six inches apart from each other,” she says. Two institutional salespeople taught her the job, and the “importance of communicating and relationship building. They were really wonderful in helping me identify what I wanted to do, because who knows what they want to do right out of college?”

It helped that she “was a sponge,” Link says. “I wanted to be number one and was very driven.”

Her father, who worked as a branch manager for a wirehouse, was her main mentor and was “a great influence on me in terms of motivation,” she explains, adding that she also learned a lot from being a competitive tennis player as a child.

With about five women and 500 men on the Dean Witter floor, Link kept her ears and eyes open. “I listened a lot; a really good salesperson is a good listener. And I worked super hard. It was a challenge, but it was also very rewarding.”

Here are more highlights from our conversation:

THINKADVISOR: What advice do you have for those entering the business today?

LINK: Work really hard, keep your head down, come in early, under-promise and over-deliver, be a good communicator, have confidence but be humble. And [find] a mentor.

You need to have someone by your side who can help you grow as an individual, grow as a business person, and give you confidence. They might be a male or female, it doesn’t matter.

Surround yourself with good people, and stay away from the water cooler, if that even exists anymore.

And don’t ever burn a bridge. Wall Street is the smallest place on the planet. You want to stay friends with everyone.

Has the pandemic changed the business?

Our lives have totally changed. And it might be for the better in a strange way because we’re all learning how to be more productive. We’re all learning how to communicate differently.

We’re all using technology and we’re going to use that to our advantage. Maybe there’s some stumbling points in the beginning — initially it was a little challenging — but I don’t believe that we go back 100% into the office.

But I do think we need people. We do need that engagement, and not just the Zoom chat. It’s really going to be a combination [of in office and online].

What’s your view of the markets today?

There’s still a lot of uncertainty. The enormous liquidity in the market from the [Federal Reserve] and from the government — it’s something like 40% of U.S. GDP — is in fiscal and monetary policy measures that have enormous tailwinds for the overall market.

One thing that I learned right out of college is you don’t fight the Fed, and anybody who fought it in March really missed out.

A lot of the early easy money has been made, and it’s harder now. You are seeing a recovery in the economy as we reopen.

As we get more data on a COVID-19 vaccine, on treatment, on tests, the more we’re going to chip away at that uncertainty. And we can regain the confidence, both business and consumer [wise]. … And that’s why we had such a nice rally in the market because people are discounting this year.

We know we don’t know anything this year, but what we do think is next year, we’re going to start [seeing] a recovery, not only to the economy, but to corporate profits and then eventually to confidence as well.

Any books you recommend?

One of the books that actually influenced me the most is by Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, “Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company.”

It’s a fabulous book about never letting your guard down; you always want to work hard and harder than the next person. [Grove] showed his determination and his hard work, even as a CEO.

You would think a CEO is going to work really hard anyway, but the fact that he was a little insecure about where he was in the world, he used that as a strength to build an empire.

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