Quitting Retirement: John Taft Blogs About Joining Baird

In a post to his LinkedIn account, John Taft blogged to friends and professional contacts about his rationale for coming out of retirement and why he chose to partner with Baird. The full content of the post is excerpted below.

I am going back to full-time work.

A year and a half after retiring as CEO of RBC Wealth Management, I have been offered one of the most exciting opportunities of my 35-year career in financial services – to join the executive team at Baird as Vice Chairman.

I can’t think of a better fit. Baird, an international wealth management, capital markets, asset management, and private equity firm, embodies everything I have cared about throughout my career: Strong values. Ethical business practices. A client-focused, employee-centered culture. A long history of quality and excellence.

I am joining Baird because I believe they are ideally positioned to succeed. There is really no other firm quite like it in America today. Employee owned and, therefore, in control of their own destiny. Well capitalized. Diversified across several businesses. Small enough to be intimate, but with scale enough to invest for the future.

The US wealth management and investment advisory business continues to split into two competitive camps. In one camp are scale players and aggregators. They tend to be publicly owned. They also tend to be highly regulated. They have a particular view of the world. They believe in a centralized advice model. They believe client relationships belong to and should be managed by the institution. Clients should be segmented into “homes of best fit.” Investment strategies should be developed in the home office, packaged and delivered out through relationship managers whose compensation is tied to corporate priorities.

In the other camp are independents. They tend to be employee owned. They, too, are regulated but (unless they own a bank) aren’t subject to the kind of onerous oversight imposed by the Federal Reserve or the Comptroller of the Currency. They also aren’t beholden to the short term financial pressures imposed by public shareholders. These types of firms practice a decentralized advice model. They believe client relationships belong to advisors. They believe decisions about what kinds of clients to work with, what advice to provide, and what investment products and services to offer should be left up to advisors.

The result is two entirely different types of client experiences. And two entirely different types of employee cultures.

I’ve worked in both.

I’ve been a client of both.

And in my experience, there is absolutely no question that the independent, employee-owned, decentralized advice model offers the opportunity for better client outcomes and the opportunity for a better employee culture.

Which isn’t at all surprising. Because in wealth and asset management, client experience and employee culture are interrelated. Wealth and asset management are people businesses. In people businesses, employee engagement translates directly and immediately into client satisfaction. Get culture right, and anything is possible. If not, then nothing else matters.

As an example, a couple of years ago, I posted an article on LinkedIn titled “The Long Haul” about a successful advisor-client that had lasted more than 40 years. That kind of continuity is critical to effective wealth management. But it just doesn’t exist at big, complex, highly regulated financial service firms any more.

Instead, at big firms, a soul-crushing combination of top-down risk management and profit-maximizing imperatives leads to the kinds of initiatives you’ve read about recently – like “cross-selling”; or transferring smaller clients to “robo advisor” services centers; or threatening to sue employees if they move to other firms.

Which is driving out the best financial advisors and investment advisors. Who don’t want to be told what to do. Who don’t want to be manipulated. Who don’t want anything to stand between them and doing what they believe is the best possible job for their clients.

When I retired from RBC in May of 2016, my plan was to build a portfolio of activities that would sustain me through the next chapter of my professional life. I joined the Board of the Columbia Threadneedle Funds as an independent Director. I became a Senior Advisor to Deloitte and Touche, LLP. I was slated to join a second corporate board in January.

In short, I achieved what I set out to do. But I wasn’t fulfilled.

To use a sports analogy, it turns out I missed being on the playing field. Serving on boards and in advisory roles is like sitting in a booth atop a football stadium with offensive and defensive coordinators, watching the game through a plate glass window and communicating with coaches and players through headsets.

I missed being close to the game. I missed wearing a jersey. I missed being part of a team.

That’s what I have again at Baird. I can’t wait to get down to the field again to help my new team win.