‘Time for a new start’ as Bob Oros takes reins at HighTower
Bob Oros, who surprised many by stepping down as CEO of HD Vest Financial Services after less than two years in the role, has surprised the financial advisor community yet again by departing the firm about three months earlier than originally announced to take on the top role at HighTower Advisors.
“HighTower was looking for an earlier start,” says a spokeswoman at HighTower.
Oros had left the CEO role at the end of October, saying that he needed to care for an ill family member. He had agreed to stay on as a consultant until March. However, on Dec. 31, he left HD Vest to join HighTower. “He was grateful for the time away, but it’s time for a new start,” the HighTower spokeswoman said.
At HD Vest, Oros had been traveling frequently between Irving, Texas, where HD Vest is based, and his home in Boston. When his mother, who lived in Michigan, became ill, the travel became too much, Oros says.
“Commuting that distance as a long-term solution isn’t fair to the business, or frankly to me personally,” he says. “As a leader you need to be present.”
HighTower is based in Chicago, which makes travel more convenient. The decision to leave HD Vest was not related to any dissatisfaction with the company, says Oros.
Oros' decision to step down as HD Vest CEO was made public in October during the earnings call of Blucora, which is the parent company of HD Vest.
“I'm glad that Bob has been with us,” said Blucora CEO John Clendening, responding to an analyst’s question during the earnings call. “We thank Bob for his work here, but understand his need to put his family first and be closer to home.”
Oros says, “My departure, which was on very good terms, was purely for personal reasons.”
An HD Vest spokeswoman did not respond to a request for further comment.
Two weeks after the earnings call, sources told Financial Planning Oros was in talks about the position at HighTower. Oros says those reports were purely gossip. He would not specify when HighTower first reached out.
As CEO of HighTower, Oros will focus on growing and scaling the company as well as building value for advisors, employees and investors, according to the firm.
The company’s founder and former CEO, Elliot Weissbluth, is transitioning to chairman, according to the firm. Gurinder Ahluwalia, the former chairman, will become lead director. Ahluwalia is the executive advisor at Thomas H. Lee Partners, the PE firm that purchased a majority stake in HighTower last year with a $450 million investment.
The CEO’s position at HighTower will not be an easy one, partly because of its new owners, industry consultants say. Thomas H. Lee Partners has high expectations: It will be up to Oros to help redefine HighTower’s brand, and potentially guide the firm through an IPO.
Oros declined to comment on whether the firm would pursue an IPO in the future. “I think we will position the firm over the coming years to have a number of different options available to it,” he says.
The new CEO will also be responsible for navigating acquisitions.
“Our pipeline is very strong and growing,” he says, although he would not give specifics.
Keeping HighTower advisors happy and on board will need to be a priority for Oros, too.
Some of HighTower’s high-profile teams have been departing the firm recently, including the $1 billion Bapis Group in September, one of the first advisor groups to join HighTower, moving over from Morgan Stanley in 2008.
Oros says his strategy will involve listening to teams’ needs. “When you do that, I don’t think you have to worry about retention,” he says.
Oros’ track record as CEO of HD Vest is strong. In a little over a year, he was responsible for dramatic changes at the firm, including a migration to Fidelity and demanding more from advisors in terms of AUM and efficiency, which shrank headcount by 16% in a single year .
If Oros withstands the pressures that lie ahead at HighTower, “I look at this as being my last stop,” he says.
But staying put is not part of his track record.
After nine years at Schwab, he moved in a little over a decade from LPL Financial, to Trust Company of America, Fidelity Investments, and most recently HD Vest, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Will HighTower be the last big career move?
“I’m on Day No. 2 and I feel awfully good,” he says.