There were two parental “mandatories” in life that Jamie Price and his three brothers were required to fulfill: One was the requirement to get a college education in any course of study they were passionate about, and the second was to take four years of speech in high school.
Price admits to resenting his parents for the latter mandate, only to realize during his professional career the enormous value the speech classes provided by building his confidence and enhancing his leadership capabilities.
“Ninety percent of leadership happens through conversation,” says Price, who is now president and CEO of Advisor Group, one of the largest networks of independent financial advisers.
The import of developing those verbal skills was further emphasized when Price enrolled in a sociology class taught by a professor whose reputation for pedagogy was so stellar the class was perpetually over-enrolled.
“The guy was so engaging and lectured without any notes,” he recalls. “I learned more in that class about how to think — particularly in a section on ethos and pathos and the connection to authenticity and having an ethical underpinning that ultimately drives the way people will act at their core. Your core comes through when times are up or down, and you can judge people by those times and kind of predict how they will act in times of uncertainty.”
Price approached the professor after class one day to ask why he never referred to notes while lecturing. The instructor suggested if he relied on notes and a big wind came along and blew them away, he would have to cancel the day’s class, incapable of carrying out the lecture. Though an implausible example, his point was clear: What a presenter has to say should be born of passion and come from the heart, rather than the crutch of written notes.
Similarly, Price says people who attend his talks are often surprised that he speaks without notes, and often without slides.
“It doesn’t mean I haven’t prepared what I want to say, but I typically then throw my notes away,” he says. “That always goes back to my sociology teacher.”
That instructor also advised Price and his classmates that what interests and engages a person is their “natural self.” Such lessons got Price thinking more directly about his core interests.
FATHER KNOWS BEST
Price never would have attended the life-changing sociology class if not for a mild intervention from his father, a country doctor in suburban Portland, Ore., who carried a medical bag in the back of his car, delivered babies and did minor surgeries. Father would advise his sons they could do well in life by doing good, and even changing people’s lives for the better. Price had such respect for his father, he sought to follow in his footsteps by entering a pre-med course of study at the University of Oregon, seeking to earn his undergrad degree in only three years and head to medical school.
“My dad told me, ‘You have had this in your mind ever since you were a kid; don’t try to rush through college. Take some courses that you haven’t been able to focus on because they weren’t offered in high school.’ He was worried that, because I admired him so much, I had not opened my mind to other ideas.”
It was then that, in adherence to his father’s advice, Price ventured into other subject areas, including the sociology class taught by that professor who brought an “uncanny” approach to instruction. It was at that point Price determined to get his degree in finance and economics, with the realization that moving from pre-med to finance was not a difficult shift, thanks to his aptitude and interest in mathematics.
“I had taken a finance class, and the kind of connection between my math experience and finance was extremely interesting to me,” he says. “I changed my major about three-quarters of the way through my freshman year. I thought, ‘I am loving finance, and I can get a minor in economics,’ which I thought would help me think more broadly about the drivers of the wealth-management industry, and I knew that was the industry I wanted to go into.”
THE WIREHOUSE CIRCUIT
The decision Price made more than panned out, setting him on a course of executive achievement at powerhouse financial firms including EF Hutton, Prudential Securities and UBS, before taking the helm at Advisor Group.
While president and CEO of Prudential Securities, he led the firm to achieve the highest national broker/dealer client satisfaction ranking, as measured by J.D. Power.
At UBS, where he was head of wealth advisory operations for North America, Price had oversight for 7,300 employees and 7,000 financial advisers located in more than 400 offices across the continent. During his tenure at UBS, Price elevated financial adviser growth, as measured by McLagan, from third-ranked nationally to the No. 1 position.
Now, sitting at the head of the independent financial advisory platform that is Advisor Group, Price is ultimately responsible for the performance of its 10,500 independent financial professionals and the $465 billion it has in combined assets under advisement and management. Advisor Group’s sheer heft, Price says, helps differentiate it from peer organizations because of its ability to continually invest in new technology, services and other growth tools to help ensure it attracts and retains its legion of advisers, as well as helping them expand their books of business, serve their clients better and grow their own enterprise value. It’s a situation Price calls the firm’s “industry-leading scale and resources.” To that end, the company made several senior hires in recent years to help enhance Advisor Group’s technological prowess.
Then there are the human resources who run the organization at Price’s side. To pass muster at headquarters there are three particularly important qualities Price looks to cultivate: an entrepreneurial mindset, the courage to stand up for one’s ideas, and the grit and collaborative skills to see ideas through to execution and completion.
The firm’s multitude of advisers serves a broad range of clients, from the mass affluent to high-net-worth individuals, and small-business owners to retirement-plan participants.
THE PINK SLIP PAYS OFF
One can imagine Price thinking back to the lesson imparted during his landmark sociology class, the one about a person’s core and how they will act in times of uncertainty. It likely came to Price’s mind in 2009, when UBS was rocked by the global financial crisis and an entirely new management team was dispatched from Switzerland to push much of the existing U.S. management team aside, Price’s boss among them. About nine months later, Price was also ushered out of UBS as the company continued to remake its executive suite. Though it was a “garden leave,” during which he remained on the payroll but was restricted from working in the industry, it marked the first time Price had ever been relieved of duty. The hiatus proved positive.
“It was a great time of reflection on my career accomplishments, and what I wanted to define the next 10 years of my career and life,” he recalls. “I remember saying to my wife, I wish I would have been fired earlier in my career because it does make you realize that you can take risks and it’s OK to get fired. It was freeing.”
It was during that hiatus that Price got involved in 1-800-DOCTORS Inc., a free service to consumers seeking the right doctor, in which callers are assisted by a live counselor. In addition to his financial commitment to the startup company, Price served in a variety of executive roles, culminating his tenure as executive vice president. Specifically, after years of working in the wirehouse and wealth-management space, Price was challenged to apply his skills as a leader and manager in a new industry that, by his own admission, he knew very little about. But he familiarized himself with the technology and direct-to-consumer models involved in the operation of 1-800-DOCTORS and adapted to his new circumstances.
“What a great learning experience,” he says. “Managing is one thing, and understanding an industry is another, but leadership has real qualities that can transcend multiple industries. If you’re open minded to that, you can positively broaden your horizons on what you can contribute from a work standpoint, and what you might find interesting and enormously rewarding. It was a period of exceptional growth for me personally.”
Let’s just say Price passed the uncertainty test.
WHAT EF HUTTON SAYS
Price credits E.F. Hutton with kindling an entrepreneurial spark within him that was actualized at 1-800-DOCTORS. During his years at the storied stock brokerage firm, which was founded in San Francisco in 1904, Price witnessed innovation on a grand scale. He points to E.F. Hutton’s culture of fostering innovation, in part by being a leader in product development, bringing managed accounts to retail investors in 1974, long before its rivals were using institutional money management for individual investors. Until then, stock brokerages had multimillion-dollar minimum investments for managed accounts, but E.F. Hutton found a way to bring those down to $100,000 minimums and created the first separately managed account, followed by the first separately managed platform of accounts.
“This was done well before everybody else, and that kind of mindset around real client focus, working backwards on innovating for the client,” observes Price. “Products and services that have been primarily used in institutions ultimately make their way to retail because of technology, product bundling, and so on. Hutton was way ahead of that trend. It was a very entrepreneurial place, even for its size and the kind of regulatory framework that it worked under. You can absolutely be innovative in a regulatory environment; we are obviously proving that at Advisor Group, where we have to operate under a set of rules and regulations. I don’t think it should keep you from being able to do ‘possibility thinking,’ as I call it.”
Price acknowledges that large companies tend to lose their ability to think and act entrepreneurially as they lose agility with size, though he insists those factors should not preclude innovation.
BACK TO HIS CORE
As his time at 1-800-DOCTORS wound to a close, Price was ready to return to the financial services business. By this stage, he had been working at wirehouses for 30 years and had decided they would not be a growth area going forward, and so was not interested in going back.
Fortuitously, the opportunity at Advisor Group presented itself in 2016, after the board of directors decided to do a search for a CEO. At that stage, the firm was composed of four broker/dealers and about 5,000 financial advisers managing $160 billion in client assets. Although the firm is immensely larger today, Price remains focused on Advisor Group’s future growth, one avenue being acquisitions. Price says Advisor Group is regularly approached with acquisition opportunities, though most are declined.
“We are only interested in acquiring firms when there would be clear benefits for our financial professionals, when there is an ideal fit culturally and philosophically, and when it works from a risk-management perspective.”
Going forward, the firm’s expansion will come, primarily, from the rising tide of assets under management and assets under advisement brought under the purview of its financial advisers. Those advisers have an especially big responsibility, according to Price, who contrasted the Advisor Group clientele with the clientele he worked on behalf of at UBS, where clients were extremely wealthy and UBS advisers focused on getting them fair market returns, while protecting their assets and financial legacies. By way of contrast, the responsibility in the independent space is far bigger, he says.
“We have an awesome responsibility of shepherding and being a partner to roughly $460 billion of AUA in the hands of mass-affluent clients,” says Price. “Those clients can absolutely, positively have their lives changed or ruined by not having good financial advice.”
The weight of that responsibility has Price out of bed at 5 a.m. every day, the fortunate beneficiary of a naturally high energy level.
“No one is going to outwork me,” he says. “It is just the way I have been built my entire career. When I ended up in New York in a senior leadership role, I realized I was going to be around a lot of very smart and highly educated people, and the one thing I could control was that I could outwork people. I have always come with that attitude that no one is going to work harder than me, and I am not going to expect anybody to work any harder than I do.”
It’s a formula that has worked. So has his philosophy about leadership.
Over the years, Price has concluded there are several misconceptions about leadership. His definition is the ability to alter what people think is possible and appropriate. Too many people in leadership roles focus on people’s behavior rather than their worldviews and seeking to change those worldviews, he explains. Essentially, he says, effective leadership boils down to a combination of three factors: (1) bringing the right people into the organization; (2) altering your people’s worldview regarding what they think is possible; and (3) listening to your people to learn what’s broken inside the company, so it can be fixed.
“If you can combine that all into a stew and get your employees thinking the same way and thinking about possibilities, then nothing is un-accomplishable,” he says.
To fall short on those efforts is to endanger the viability of an organization of Advisor Group’s ilk, he says, because “our advisers choose to be on our platform, they are not employees, they have a say, and they can go affiliate anywhere else they want to. They don’t have to affiliate with us and, therefore, why are they on our platform? Obviously, they want good service, they want good product, they want innovation in product and technology. In the end, however, they have to be growing faster and serving their client better with us than the other 3,000 choices they have.”
It’s a major and daunting responsibility of leadership. But, as Price says, 90 percent of leadership is imparted via conversation, and given his upbringing and professional background, Jamie Price will not be at a loss for the right words.
Mike Consol (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.