Publications

- December 1, 2021: Vol. 8, Number 11

Profile: Andrew Salesky, managing director of Digital Advisor Solutions at Charles Schwab

by Mike Consol

One might have predicted early in Andrew Salesky’s life that the young man was destined to make a professional home in some branch of financial services. As though modeling the kind of financial thrift financial advisers would probably like to see from more of their clients, Salesky was an avid saver from age five, which is when he opened his first bank account — before he was old enough to sign for it. His eldest brother co-signed so the account could be opened.

“You had to sign in script, and I didn’t write script yet,” recalls Salesky, now managing director of Digital Advisor Solutions at Charles Schwab. “I can remember when I crested my first $100.”

When birthday checks were gifted to him from relatives, calls would eventually come asking, “Why hasn’t Andrew cashed my check?”

“That is just how I saved them,” he now explains. “It makes me well-suited for Schwab. I do have this passion and belief in financial freedom.”

Then again, like any sensible financial planner would likely advise, one can be a saver without depriving oneself of some of the good and wise things in life. In Salesky’s case, it’s a comfortable home, his 30-plus year marriage, and supporting the education of his daughter and son.

Then there are the cars.

“I am a car guy, and all my cars have been sticks,” he says, a clear indication of a person committed to feeling the relationship between man and machine.

“I am a believer. The kids had to learn on sticks. I won’t buy automatics, and that is going to be a problem for me with new cars.”

“My oldest car is my wife’s original ride: a 1988 special edition Acura Integra we drove cross country when new. Now with 240,000 miles, it still looks great and starts up immediately every time.”

It even yields compliments from fellow drivers.

“People come up to me at gas stations.”

CROSS-TRAINING DISCIPLINE

Salesky spent his formative years in the greater New York City area as well as in San Francisco. The drive for knowledge and accomplishment struck early. He recalls bringing home a 300-page math workbook from first grade and reading it from cover to cover in a single weekend.

It is that kind of discipline that still permeates his professional and personal lives. By his own account, he was a chubby kid heading into his teen years, but he solved that issue by adopting a daily exercise regimen that persists.

Another reason Salesky committed to an aggressive exercise regimen was the passing of his father at the untimely age of 49. “My dad passed away far too young,” he says. “He was not someone who took very good care of himself.”

On the day of his interview with this magazine, Salesky had a 90-minute session on the rowing machine scheduled. He has become a fan of the Concept2 Rower.

“It is a complement to weightlifting,” he says. “It’s a killer workout.”

Weightlifting is the core of his workout routine.

“I do a weight workout every day,” he says. “I have a good home gym set up. Then, for aerobics, I swim or row.”

At work, his discipline is focused on never ending a day without cleaning out his inbox — which he observes has gotten harder with multiple inboxes for programs and sites such as Microsoft Teams, Outlook and LinkedIn.

He admits to being a “slave to email.”

“I don’t like people to be waiting on me,” he says. “I think there is an element of respect if someone is asking me something or needs something from me, that I’m highly responsive.”

Salesky’s email replies don’t begin and end during office hours, as he keeps at it via iPad on the ferry ride across San Francisco Bay.

“That is the danger with being disciplined, you can become a turn-the-crank kind of guy,” he says.

TRAVEL POINTS AREN’T ALWAYS ENOUGH

Salesky’s path to Schwab was not a straight line. After graduating from Stanford with a degree in industrial engineering, he took a position with the famed (and sometimes notorious) management consulting firm of McKinsey & Co. From a professional standpoint, he was looking to maximize his income and begin accumulating wealth, and McKinsey was a good path for that, a place where one’s annual compensation compounded 10 percent to 15 percent.

He spent two years as a business analyst at the firm before returning to Stanford to earn his MBA at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB). His father was also a GSB grad, having completed the Sloan Program. In the junior Salesky’s case, his advanced business degree was compliments of a McKinsey program that underwrites its people’s continuing education, provided they are performing well. It’s a kind of “McKinsey ROTC,” as Salesky explains it, with the firm offering to pay your tuition by taking out a loan in the employee’s name, which gets paid off by McKinsey in two years if the employee returns. If you choose not to return, you inherit a Citibank loan to pay off on your own.

For those who return, there is a well-structured career path laid out before them, with a new role awaiting them every two or three years. It serves as an incentive to keep good people committed to the firm. Salesky decided to stay, returning to McKinsey for five more years. Over that time, however, the aggressive travel schedule started to have an impact on his quality of life, and soon he realized the situation wasn’t going to get any easier with professional advancement.

“I was already traveling a lot as a young associate, generally traveling to one site per week and being there three to four nights,” he says. “Initially, the idea that you would fly to Paris for a one-hour meeting sounds exciting, but you’re going from airport to airport, and then to a conference room and back to the airport. It’s a lot of seat time in an airliner and a lot of time away from home. There was a point at which I realized life balance was more important.”

Salesky was a senior engagement manager at the time, just one step away from a coveted partnership. Still, that is when he started thinking in terms of the next stage of his career. He interviewed with companies such as Intuit, PepsiCo and Williams-Sonoma, yet opted for Charles Schwab. It was financial services that triggered his ignition.

“Financial services are meaningful to everyone,” he reasons in explaining his decision to sign on with Schwab. “It’s in the news every day, and it is constantly changing. It’s interesting in that the objective really doesn’t change. The objective is financial security that leads to a successful retirement. But how you get there is constantly changing.”

Interestingly, there were several ex-McKinsey people at Schwab when Salesky was looking to make the jump, and he was able to seek their advice. He was struck by how each of them was occupying very different roles, despite having a fairly homogenous consulting background.

“I was at McKinsey for seven years in total, and it is very much a pyramid structure, move up or move out. Many opt out for a variety of reasons.”

Still, Salesky identifies McKinsey as the turning point in his career because of the foundational skills he was taught there, as well as some of the attributes that he later discovered Schwab excelled at, such as executive leadership and brand management. Part and parcel of his McKinsey training were lessons in data gathering, communications, written and verbal skills, and how to build peer-to-peer relationships with senior individuals and influence leaders.

“It was a great experience.”

READY, SHOOT, AIM

It’s probably fair to say that Salesky’s had a charmed career, though not without occasional missteps. One especially poignant misfire he recalls was made early in his career at Schwab when he was given the responsibility of leading branch merchandising.

At the time, Schwab branch offices had posters taped to windows, making them look too much like doughnut shops than professional financial management providers. Seeking to professionalize the offices, Salesky and his team were convinced custom graphics were in order, requiring the hiring of professional photographers and the arrangement of original photo shoots. About $1 million later, Schwab had original, professional photography and graphics, but they didn’t stand the test of time, quickly becoming outdated.

“I look back on that and realize I spent a million bucks of the firm’s assets in a pretty poor way, and it could have been solved if I had just asked a few people with a bit more experience for guidance and advice,” he says. “I think they would’ve said, ‘Hey, there is a lot of stock photography out there for everything you’re looking to shoot.’

“It reminds me that my gut is not always right, and it’s worth taking the time to ask others for their point of view. Schwab is a large organization and there are a lot of resources to draw from. You are not alone.”

PLAYING LEAD

Now, as managing director of Digital Advisor Solutions at Charles Schwab, Salesky leads the division that provides a variety of digital platforms to more than 13,000 independent RIAs, responsible for more than $3.5 trillion in client assets.

The digital platform connecting RIAs and their clients to Schwab is a cornerstone of the firm’s custodial services and begins with Schwab Advisor Center, which serves as the division’s mothership, the place where an adviser would go to open a new account, move money, and do account maintenance activities. In addition, there are several customized platforms to help advisers with needs, including portfolio management, performance reporting and billing. His team also supports a vast ecosystem of third-party providers, enabling choice for advisers as they craft their individual tech stacks.

Salesky fires off three words when asked about his leadership style: empowering, supportive, collaborative.

“I give people the autonomy and discretion to make the decisions. I view my role as greasing the gears, finding out where things are stuck and getting them unstuck.”

As an organization, Schwab emphasizes four characteristics of the leadership brand: people, purpose, collaboration and courage.

The people characteristic has to do with being able to work in teams, rather than operating as an island. Purpose relates to being a purpose-led organization, with the purpose being to champion every client's goals. Collaboration emphasizes seeking other points of view, yet not requiring full alignment, avoiding “groupthink.” Courage is a reference to team members being willing to disagree and challenge others.

A TIME TO BE HEARD

Salesky speaks swiftly and at length when he gets on subjects of interest or importance, and yet he is decidedly an introvert, pointing to the significant time he spends alone rowing and swimming, activities whose repetitiveness lends themselves to meditative states.

“It is restorative in some ways.”

Still, a leader of people needs to vocalize.

“There was a point in my McKinsey career when I was an analyst and you speak when spoken to, which is your role in a senior client team meeting,” he says. “Then there is the point when you become an associate and a team manager. I can remember a partner saying to me once, ‘It is no longer speak when spoken to, you have to be out front and be vocal.’ That woke me up in some ways and made me realize I needed to mature into a different role, and that I needed to be more extroverted. It doesn’t come naturally to me. I clearly got more comfortable with it over the years, but it was an evolution, and early on it was more of a struggle.”

It turned out to be yet another struggle that Salesky had the drive to win.

 

Mike Consol (m.consol@irei.com) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.

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