A 'hire' authority for advisers and the industry
Branch managers wear many hats. It’s not uncommon to hear the heads of a branch or complex discuss simultaneously serving as recruiters, mentors, coaches and risk managers.
And that’s on a slow day.
It’s not a job for everyone, and those who do it the best will tell you that they are deeply invested in the success of their advisers.
“In our recruiting, we emphasize that ours is an adviser-centric culture. If our advisers are not successful, the parent company won’t be successful,” says Christopher D. Davidson, who heads an Ameriprise branch in Clearwater, Fla.
Davidson’s efforts to recruit and nurture top producers elevated him to be one of our latest Top 10 Branch Managers. Besides being one of the industry’s leading bosses, Davidson is a skydiver. Also on the list is a former Home Depot employee and a self-described “physical fitness fanatic.”
These elite bosses were nominated by advisers and chosen by a panel of industry experts, who judged the finalists based on qualitative and quantitative data to settle on the top 10.
Read the following bios to learn more about why these managers made the final cut, and how they’ve made an impact on both their employee advisers and firms.
Title: Managing Director-Investments, Branch Manager
Location: New York
Years in industry: 20
Advisers managed: 100
Branch AUM: $11 billion
Education: U.S. Military Academy, Columbia University
If it's 10:30 a.m. on a weekday, Chad Allen's employees know where he can be found.
From 10 to 11, Allen walks the two floors of the Park Avenue office building occupied by Oppenheimer's flagship branch. "I spend at least an hour each day maintaining contact with my advisers and their staffs," he says. "They expect me then, and they know I'll be there if they need me."
Daily discipline is nothing new for Allen, a West Point graduate. He played lacrosse at Army and remains engaged in the sport, coaching youth in his community. (Although Allen doesn't mention it, he's on the Army lacrosse list of all-time scoring leaders.)
In addition, Allen is a strong supporter of veterans, particularly in their transition from military service to the civilian workforce. "I'm an active participant with, and supporter of, Wounded Warrior Project, No Greater Sacrifice and American Corporate Partners," he says. "Through ACP, I've served as a mentor to military veterans transitioning into corporate America."
Allen started in the financial industry as an adviser with Merrill Lynch in 1996 and soon moved into management, working for other firms before a 10-year stint with UBS.
Last August, he joined Oppenheimer, bringing with him what might be called a get-everyone-involved approach to branch management. Allen's regimen includes regular meetings with his advisers, a team approach to hiring, client conference calls and introducing advisers to other professionals.
Allen has a goal of meeting personally with each of his advisers a few times a year. "It won't be that easy, with about 100 advisers here," he says, "but I'm tracking it."
Meanwhile, Allen tells of a recent effort to hire an adviser. "As part of the process," he says, "we had a four-hour meeting with that adviser, with three of our existing advisers sitting in. I want to be sure that anyone we hire will be a good fit, from a cultural as well as a professional perspective."
Allen relies on his advisers in other ways as well. "We hold a weekly 'best ideas' meeting, open to our advisers," he says. "The price of admission is one good idea, which can cover anything from investments to practice management. Usually, 15 to 20 advisers come."
Allen cites the exceptional "capital markets IQ" of the advisers, so expertise is welcome, but the best-idea meetings can go into other areas.
"At one meeting," he says, "an adviser told the group how I introduced him to a prominent estate and trust attorney, which led to a trip to the Midwest and a planning session with a wealthy family. After the meeting, other advisers approached me, asking for such introductions, saying that they had clients who could benefit from that exposure."
Firm: Wells Fargo Advisers
Title: Complex Manager, Senior Vice President
Location: Bloomington, Minn.
Years in industry: 11
Advisers managed: 48
Branch AUM: $3.2 billion
Education: Indiana university
Eleven years ago, Peter Danilaitis worked at Home Depot. Today, he's a Top 10 branch manager. How does someone make the leap from big-box retailing to vice president-level financial advising?
A former entrepreneur who built a home-improvement company in northwest Indiana before becoming a sales manager at Home Depot, Danilaitis wanted to run a business again while having the support that comes with a corporate environment. "That led me to Edward Jones, where I built an advisery practice from scratch, and to Ameriprise, where I became a producing branch manager," he says. "Along the way, I discovered that my real passion was for leadership."
That made a nonproducing branch management position at Wells Fargo an appealing next step. After joining Wells Fargo, Danilaitis soon became responsible for the firm's satellite office in Woodbury, Minn., about 20 miles from his Bloomington base in the Twin Cities area.
As Danilaitis puts it, the size and resources of Wells Fargo offer an ideal setting for "pushing people through coaching." He meets with his advisers individually to determine what's most important to them. "Some say they want more time for their family, for their church or for other pursuits," he says. "If so, I suggest they go through our practice management program."
Nurturing others comes naturally for Danilaitis. He and his wife, Karen, who have been involved in foster parenting in both Indiana and Minnesota, have five children — two biological and three adopted through foster care.
Danilaitis puts special emphasis on coaching advisers during their first 90 days at the firm. "During that time, new hires are most apt to actually change their ways," he says. "Most advisers, though, just focus on the move and keep doing what they did before. They go from one firm to another without changing practices or resources. They wind up exhausted from the move."
But Danilaitis encourages his new advisers to learn new things. "We'll introduce them to our product partners, our private banking partners, our lending partners," he says. "These are all resources inside the firm. I've seen advisers redefine their practice after going through this process."
Advisers who don't follow this process continue to bring in new assets via a "haphazard referral here or there," Danilaitis says.
But new advisers who accept his lead will create client profiles and determine what products and services each client needs. This could be planning or life insurance or long-term care insurance or education planning, for instance. From there, the adviser's team can develop short-, mid-, and long-term plans for the client — and the client's assets.
Brian W. Kurtz
Firm: Robert W. Baird
Title: Managing Director, Branch Manager
Years in industry: 26
Advisers managed: 35
Branch AUM: $4 billion
Education: John Carroll university
At Baird, Brian Kurtz began as a branch manager — with almost no advisers to manage.
"I started the Cleveland branch from scratch," he says. "I was an assistant manager at another firm, which was being acquired, so I wanted to leave. When I was approached by Baird about opening a Cleveland branch, I didn't even know who they were."
At the time, Kurtz recalls, "I was told that there were four or five advisers who were ready to come to Baird; they just want to meet the manager."
Kurtz joined Baird in late 2001; in January 2002, the firm opened a 10,000-square-foot office in Cleveland. "As it turns out," he says, "the person who told me about those four or five advisers embellished a little. Those advisers were nowhere near ready to come. We opened the branch with myself and one other adviser."
So it was up to Kurtz, who sought advisers by cold calling and mailing 10 letters a week.
Fast forward 14 years. Not only does Kurtz now have some 20 advisers to manage in Cleveland, but he is also responsible for another dozen in two older Baird branches, in Columbus and Dayton, Ohio.
Beyond the office, Kurtz, who played football at nearby John Carroll University, coaches youth football. He's also on the board at St. Martin de Porres High School in Cleveland, which sends students to the branch to do clerical work.
Kurtz believes standards of leadership have changed over the past 10 years. "You still need strength and vision," he says, "but different concerns will affect how you make decisions. In my view, today's leader should have humility, openness, collaborativeness, honesty and vulnerability."
Vulnerability? "In order to build loyalty and trust from your employees," Kurtz says, "a leader should be comfortable saying, in the right spot, 'I messed up.'"
Some of Kurtz' other views might also raise eyebrows. "Most teams need a female financial adviser and a generation skipper," which is how he refers to millennials, a group that includes workers in their mid-30s or younger.
"When you were growing up," Kurtz asks, "how often did you get to decide where the family was going for dinner? Or what color your room would be painted? For many people, the answer is never.
"But millennials have been involved in such decisions since about the age of 10. They want to be included in everything; that's how they were raised. It's helpful to have someone on the team who can relate to that way of thinking."
As for having women advisers, he notes that husbands generally die before their wives. "Often, the widow will take the assets to another adviser," he says. "Those assets are more likely to be retained if the widow can relate to a female adviser on the team."
Firm: Morgan Stanley
Title: Senior Vice President
Location: Shrewsbury, N.J.
Years in industry: 24
Advisers managed: 50
Branch AUM: $4.5 Billion
Education: University of Miami
Todd Sacks may have missed his calling as a ship captain.Sacks runs his office like a naval officer: He starts his day early, he's laser-focused on details, and he takes care of his crew.
Sacks prides himself on personal touches, taking time each morning to review the previous day's business, and sending congratulatory emails to advisers when they land a big account or post strong production numbers.
"It's one of those things that my advisers have come to expect from me," he says. "I will send out an email to them, and the email typically says, 'Nice day' or 'Great job on closing that business,' because I'll drill down to the detail."
And if a major win or high-production day does happen to go unrecognized?
"They'll say, 'Hey, what happened to my email today?' " Sacks says.
Sacks is a self-described "physical fitness fanatic" who starts his day at 4:30 and works out while catching up on the markets via CNBC or Bloomberg before driving 52 miles to the office.
At the branch well ahead of normal business hours, Sacks takes a lap around both floors of the office, greeting his early-arriving employees. That walkabout is very much in keeping with Sacks' management style, and serves as a not-so-subtle indicator to his advisers that showing up early is encouraged in Shrewsbury.
"I do that for the primary reason that I want everyone — everyone who's here, by the way — to see that I'm here, I'm engaged, and I also like to take a temperature read of who's here," he says. "I want to make sure I'm not only visible, I'm also motivating."
Sacks came up through the ranks at Prudential Securities and then Smith Barney, eventually running a complex of three branches based in Bedminster, N.J., before taking over the Shrewsbury branch as part of what is now Morgan Stanley's southern New Jersey complex. In that one branch, Sacks oversees an operation that is larger than the previous three that he managed combined.
Sacks says that he typically takes two days a week to focus on recruiting — and that's just about the only times his door is closed. As he looks to grow the branch, he says, he is most interested in finding advisers who will be a good fit for the "familial-like atmosphere" at the office.
"I've turned away or declined more recruits than I've recruited over the last 10 years, and it's just because it has to be the right fit," Sacks says. "I want to grow the business, but I also want to protect the business. And if you don't protect the business, you certainly aren't going to grow the business."
Sacks says he sets the tone for the branch. "The office can tell if you're up; the office can tell if you're down," he says. "They are observing you, and if you're upbeat and approachable and truly care, then that, in my opinion, is what it will feel like when you walk into this office. I take a lot of pride in that."
Firm: Raymond James
Title: Senior Vice President, Wealth Management; Complex Manager
Location: Clarkston, Mich.
Years in industry: 19
Advisers managed: 66
Branch AUM: $4.2 billion
Education: U.S. Military Academy, Michigan State University
Edward Sudzina is a leader who never forgets to make his advisers a priority.
Describing himself variously as a "servant-leader," an "open book" and a "player-coach," he says he prides himself on being responsive to the needs and concerns of his employees. Even as he leads a regional expansion of Raymond James in upstate New York, he remains closely connected to each of his advisers, including making the effort to have at least one meal with each of them throughout the year.
Sudzina works hard to instill that ethos when he works with advisers who are making the transition to branch managers within his complex, a move that demands a major shift in priorities.
"Your focus was on you and your clients throughout your career — now you have to eat last," he says. "Every action and decision you take has to be for your advisers and staff — they eat first. If they're not acting in that manner, then they won't stay in the position very long."
Sudzina plans to open a new branch office in Syracuse within the next six months, addressing a notable gap in Raymond James' presence between Albany and Rochester.
Already responsible for eight branches in Michigan and New York, Sudzina has designs on opening another location in suburban Buffalo, and he intends to continue to build out his team's presence in Michigan, where he has been building a complex since taking over the Auburn Hills office in May 2001.
Sudzina says his complex is very much in "growth mode," which, for him, is nothing new.
After he completed Prudential Securities' management training program, he returned to Michigan and took a position with Raymond James at the Auburn Hills branch, a turnaround job if ever there was one. "It was a branch on fire," he recalls.
The manager was summarily dismissed on Sudzina's first day in the office, and many of the advisers were already planning to jump ship. But Raymond James had assured Sudzina it was committed to making Auburn Hills work, even if he had to "bring this branch literally down to zero," he recalls.
Sudzina, then 32, addressed the troubled branch at the outset, telling them, "More than anything else, I'm going to be listening to you."
Many advisers were already halfway out the door, and Sudzina embarked on an aggressive recruiting binge. Million-dollar producers weren't interested in his pitch, but he brought on many young advisers looking for an opportunity to grow in the collaborative atmosphere he was trying to build.
"We really did everything together," he says. "We had each other's backs — that's how we built trust and camaraderie."
John M. Banks
Firm: Wells Fargo Advisers
Title: Senior Vice President, Branch Manager
Location: Fort Worth, Texas
Years in industry: 34
Advisers managed: 42
Branch AUM: $2.3 Billion
Education: Wake forest University
For John Banks, volunteering isn't just something positive to highlight in the company newsletter — it's crucial to maintaining a strong branch.
"I believe that community service is an important part of our mission here in Fort Worth," Banks says, "so every year I put together a project or projects. Not only are these projects beneficial to the community, they also add an important feeling of team membership to an entrepreneurial, independent-minded business. I make sure that leadership rotates around so that financial advisers get as involved as staff members in what they perceive are valuable activities. To kindle the competitive spirit, we divide our community service projects into teams within the branch."
For example, every summer Banks' branch splits into teams led by staff members who spend half days, once a week for several weeks, helping to select, sort and pack groceries at a local food bank, which serves some 13 counties. "For the last few years, Wells Fargo & Co. has recognized our efforts with cash grants and awards every year — double bang for our efforts."
Along with a sense of community, Banks also values continuity. With more than 30 years of experience in the industry — 19 with Wells Fargo and its predecessor firms as branch manager in Fort Worth — he knows the importance of smooth transitions.
"In the industry, advisers' average age is in the mid-50s," he says. "Our most senior FA is over 70. We need to help with the transition to FAs who will take care of our clients and be around for their children, even their grandchildren."
Therefore, Banks is bringing in trainee advisers and place them on senior teams. He's participating in a Wells Fargo pilot program to hire people who are new to the business, as associate financial advisers. "In this program, "expectations in the first year are different than they have been in the past," Banks says.
Specifically, these new hires aren't being asked to open X number of accounts or bring in Y dollars. "They'll be on salary for a year while they'll be closely mentored by a senior FA," Banks says. "The trainees will work in that adviser's book of business and help to prepare business plans."
According to Banks, the associate advisers in this program tend to be in their 20s and 30s, including some recent college graduates.
Within the program, Banks pushes to diversify his roster of advisers. "We want our advisers to reflect the communities in our area" he says. "Also, the lack of female advisers in this business is well known, so we're making an effort to bring in women, including single mothers. The assurance of a salary makes it more likely some people will take the risk of going into this business."
Christopher D. Davidson
Firm: Ameriprise Financial
Title: Branch Manager
Location: Clearwater, Fla.
Years in industry: 10
Advisers managed: 19
Branch AUM: $780 million
Education: University of South Florida
Doubling revenue within three years can mean taking risks — but that doesn't faze Christopher D. Davidson, a man who jumps out of perfectly good airplanes just for fun.
A finance major at the University of South Florida, Davidson began his career in the industry with Ameriprise, and 10 years later, he's still there. "First, I built my own practice in Tampa," he says, "and I also did some coaching at another branch, as an insurance specialist. When there was an opening for a manager at our Clearwater branch in 2013, I made the move."
Combined with this recreational skydiver's willingness to take risks, the care that Davidson exhibits for others, including his colleagues and his family, makes him an elite leader. He attributes the branch's recent growth to "putting clients first," the Ameriprise platform and the local talent pool from which he hires. In addition, Davidson exerts a substantial personal effort to support his advisers.
"I believe in giving advisers considerable autonomy," Davidson says. "They can build their practice the way they want it to grow."
For example, one is entirely fee-based. Davidson says this adviser finds more marketing support here than at his old firm, a wirehouse.
Another adviser, who has a more diverse compensation structure, makes more use of social media, the website and turnkey events, according to Davidson. "Both have increased their revenues since coming here," he says.
By "turnkey events," Davidson refers to monthly gatherings offered throughout the year. The branch handles the logistics for these events, including planning, executing and managing compliance details. "The advisers don't have to worry about anything," he says. "They just get to spend worthwhile time with the clients and prospects they invite."
Turnkey events are designed to avoid nonproductive time. Besides market updates and guest speakers, the branch plans six entertainment events a year, including a PGA golf tournament or Tampa Bay Rays baseball game.
Davidson's responsibilities also run to recruiting, with an eye toward transition planning for his existing advisers.
He says the average adviser age in his area is over 50, with many over 60. "At that mature stage, they're not going to want to work forever," he says. "So we're looking for younger advisers who can grow to the point where they'll take over from the older advisers."
That's not to say that age is the only factor in hiring new team members.
"I'm in charge of sourcing new hires locally," says Davidson. "If a team's book of business is 95% bonds, non-discretionary, an adviser with a discretionary equities practice might not be a good fit."
Firm: BBT Scott & Stringfellow
Title: Senior Managing Director
Location: Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Raleigh, Greenville, N.C.
Years in industry: 33
Advisers managed: 40
Branch AUM: $5.25 billion
Education: State University of New York at Plattsburgh
Tim Mann calls his approach to managing a branch "adviser-centric," and he prides himself on a "high-touch" management style just as he encourages his team to work closely with clients on the full spectrum of their financial needs.
Every month, Mann sits down with each of his advisers and reviews their books of business, looking for ways to help them become more efficient and effective producers.
But even with that hands-on approach, Mann says that allowing advisers to follow their own path is a hallmark of his management style.
"If you asked any of my team members, 'micromanagement' is not a word that they would ever use. I would be offended if they ever used that word," Mann says.
Mann calls his style "bottom up." "It's, 'What can I help you with? What are your needs?' " he explains.
"Personalizing it based on their unique needs and wants — that's where I think the effective manager builds trust with their team."
Mann maintains a small book of business but says that his management responsibilities command nearly all of his time.Of course, it wasn't always that way. Mann ran his own RIA in Albany, N.Y., for 10 years and has worked in a variety of sectors of the industry, including insurance and wholesaling.
Eight years ago, his current boss, Mike Owen, offered him the opportunity to take over the Winston-Salem and Greensboro branches in North Carolina. Mann, eager to get off the road, jumped at the chance.
"Sleeping in the same bed every night was kind of wonderful," he says.
Two years into his stint with Scott & Stringfellow, Mann also took over the Raleigh and Greenville branches, filling out a complex that he continues to grow.Mann is not looking to expand to even more offices, however. "I'm set with the four. I think, geographically, I'm spread as far as I want to be because I do want to remain high-touch with the FAs," he says.
"I think we're kind of going back to the future with our model in that we have gone back to a high-touch boutique-y type of feel, not just with our clients, but especially with our financial advisers."
Mann sees the culture that has developed within his complex as a healthy mix of intense competition (he often talks of "winning") and team-driven camaraderie.
"They actually relish each other's success, they lift each other up, but they'll compete because they don't want to get behind the other person," he says.
"We have a lot of fun, but the work ethic of my team I'd put up against anybody."
Firm: J.P. Morgan Securities
Title: Regional Director
Location: Atlanta, Southeast
Years in industry: 24
Advisers managed: 40
Branch AUM: $5 billion+
Education: Palm Beach Atlantic University
Pete Secret keeps a high profile in his office and goes out of his way to make himself readily available to his advisers.
This is a habit that he traces back to the wisdom imparted by the managers who helped to groom him over the years since his first college internship. He also remembers hearing Jamie Dimon, now the top executive at JPMorgan Chase, speak at training classes early in his career, and being inspired.
"Part of the principle I was built on is always have an open door and manage by walking around," Secret says.
"Twice a day, I'll literally get out of my office and do a whole lap around and ask everyone: 'How is your day going, and is there anything I can help you on?'" he adds.
Secret says he "fell in love with the business" while he interned at Prudential Securities one summer, and he joined Smith Barney as an adviser when he was 22.
But it was a different college job — selling educational books door-to-door and managing other students who were doing the same — that convinced Secret that he wanted to lead others. After getting off to a "really fast start" working as an adviser, he set his sights on management.
Eventually, Secret found himself overseeing a complex populated by more than 100 advisers. After a while, however, he determined that he would actually prefer a smaller, more intimate, "higher-touch" environment.
About six years ago, as J.P. Morgan was still digesting its acquisition of Bear Stearns, Secret took over the firm's Atlanta branch.
There, he has helped to lead the transition from Bear Stearns' wirehouse model to more of a boutique shop focused on high- and ultra-high-net-worth clients.
Now, having hired more than 30 advisers and rebuilt the Atlanta office, Secret sees himself as an advocate and enabler for his team. That means leveraging the considerable resources within the J.P. Morgan empire to help his advisers build their businesses.
For instance, he is planning a two-day event in May where Atlanta-area business owners will be invited in to meet with advisers.The business owners will get the chance to hear from senior J.P. Morgan officials representing a variety of units within the firm, including commercial banking, investment banking and employee stock ownership plans.
"I try to make it turnkey for the advisers, so we're handing out leads for them to call and we're setting the whole thing up," he says.
"All the adviser has to do is call one or two people and invite them to the event," he says. "I'm always trying to think about how to help the advisers."
Firm: Wells Fargo Advisers
Title: Senior Vice President, Regional Brokerage Manager
Location: Beverly Hills, Calif.
Years in industry: 26
Advisers managed: 42
Branch AUM: $10.08 billion
Education: University of Massachusetts Boston
In Phil Winterson's world of Beverly Hills mansions and celebrities, Wells Fargo is the little guy — but under his confident leadership, his domain is growing by leaps and bounds. "One of the challenges is Wells doesn't come to mind as a private banking company," Winterson says.
Earlier this year, Winterson moved from Orange County to take over the Beverly Hills branch for Wells, and, just weeks ago, added the Manhattan Beach office.In the toniest sections of L.A., his branches compete with the biggest financial houses and "every boutique private bank in the world," both for the accounts of celebrities and billionaires as well as the advisers to serve them.
Winterson says he spends about a third of his time on recruiting and has a well-rehearsed pitch.
He talks about the substantial growth within the firm's private-banking brokerage channel, along with the numerous resources within Wells Fargo that enable recruits to become what he calls "full balance-sheet advisers," offering clients a full complement of planning services.
"I think that's what wealthy clients want. Today, they want someone who's truly holistic and thinking about their entire financial world," he says. "We're where the business is going. I'm very confident of that fact."
He also speaks of being an advocate for his advisers. Just about every day, he says, he will go to bat for someone on his team, often calling up another business line within Wells to ensure that one of his advisers gets "proper credit" for a referral, or to enforce the professional courtesy rules within the firm.
"My approach is one of advocacy and support," he says.
"It is a culture, from my standpoint, of support and advocacy and openness and inclusion," he explains. "I think that sets the tone in the rest of the office. If you have a manager who really cares, and the employees know it instinctively, ... it just creates a positive work environment."
After stints as an adviser at a series of brokerages that culminated in a management spot with Citigroup in 2003, Winterson joined Wachovia three years later, tasked with launching the California branch of the firm's investment service group. As Winterson recalls, Wachovia at the time had four employees west of Texas, and he was one of them.
"That was such a growth experience; it gave me such confidence and credibility," he says of building an office from the ground up.
Winterson draws on his many years as a financial adviser to keep him grounded as a manager.
"I was an FA for a long time and I understand very well what it means to come in and do that job every day," he says.