Morgan Stanley Smith Barney gained two advisors, Robert Tholl and Jerry Pearson, from rival JPMorgan Private Wealth Management, and - at a time when branch manager discontent is growing - lost Kevin Whitehead, former complex manager of three offices in the St. Louis market, to Wells Fargo Advisors.

Depending on who you ask, the executive changes are either business as usual, or another indication of the Morgan Stanley [MS] culture overtaking Smith Barney.

Danny Sarch, the founder of Leitner Sarch Consultants, an executive search firm in White Plains, N.Y., has seen branch managers at the combined firm become more discontented.

“The branch managers at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney are under siege. There is a lot of pressure to recruit,” he said.

There were managers who thought they should have been given bigger roles and bigger pay when the two companies were combined, but were unhappy when it did not work out that way, he added. 

Morgan Stanley branch mangers have always had less power at the branch level than Smith Barney managers, Sarch said. That is a direct result of the way James Gorman, the chairman of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, has developed as a manager, dating back to his time at McKinsey & Co., a Chicago-based management consulting firm.

“They just feel it is best managed at the top and that’s how you manage a big firm,” Sarch said. Ultimately, though, that approach could frustrate legacy Smith Barney managers, and advisors. “The more decisions taken away from point of sale, the less broker-friendly a firm gets,” Sarch said.

In Whitehead’s case, Sarch said, it is unclear as to why he took an offer from Wells Fargo Advisors [WFC], leaving a hole in the St. Louis market. He is a legacy Morgan Stanley advisor. That situation might have come down to the fact that Wells Fargo Advisors made Whitehead, who will oversee 13 offices in the St. Louis area, a much better offer.

A Morgan Stanley spokeswoman confirmed that Whitehead had left the firm, and that the company is searching for his replacement.

One industry recruiter familiar with Tholl and Pearson’s move, added that: “Everyone is looking to recruit, and do so actively.”


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