Those in the business of goal setting and professional development have long extolled the power of writing your objectives on a sheet of paper and referencing them often. It is the act of documenting your ambitions that more precisely clarifies exactly what you want to achieve and helps guide daily measures toward realization of those goals. It establishes a destination and sets actions in motion.
That advice is not liable to meet any resistance from Pershing CEO Jim Crowley.
During his early years at Pershing, advancement “just happened” as he accumulated experience. Later, though, Crowley realized he had reached a stage where promotions did not simply happen; rather, they were the byproduct of a more proactive and assertive approach by people who knew positions they wanted to occupy and the roles they wanted to play.
“That was a turning point for me,” he says.
It was then, while setting his sights on the COO’s office, that Crowley decided to become more “purpose driven,” an effort that landed him the assignment — one he admittedly struggled to win. It required persuading the organization’s then leadership that he was up to the task.
With that mission accomplished and a track record established, Crowley turned his gaze toward the CEO suite. He focused on the other skills and areas of experience he needed to demonstrate to BNY Mellon senior leadership to make himself a prime candidate to succeed then-CEO Lisa Dolly, who Crowley says was “doing a terrific job.”
As with the COO position, Crowley prepared himself to fight for the coveted top job. He wrote a memo containing 10 reasons why he should become Pershing’s next CEO, including items such as attention to detail, governance, people, and other “snappy points that are important to leadership.”
Though he never handed the document to anyone, he carried it around as a reminder of the things he needed to achieve and the messages he was seeking to convey to the right people when the opportunity presented itself, whether during a breakfast, lunch, dinner meeting or interview.
“I knew the reasons why I belonged in that job,” he says. “It was all forward looking, and it was why I felt I was qualified to take on the next opportunity.”
Crowley has the document in his possession to this day. In addition to the 10 reasons, he added a “plus one,” which was “to leave Pershing better than he found it.”
He also embraced the lessons learned from the six CEOs who preceded him: Dick Pechter, Gates Hawn, Rich Brueckner, Brian Shea, Ron DeCicco and Lisa Dolly, writing down the most important lesson he learned from each of them.
“It became the things I needed to do to demonstrate the required skills to the senior leadership of BNY Mellon — to show them I had everything it took to become the CEO.”
His ambition came to pass sooner than expected, when Lisa Dolly decided she wanted to do something else and vacated the position, clearing the way for Crowley’s ascension.
“There is a little bit of luck in every success,” he says. Then again, Crowley, an avid golfer, added a saying popularized by golf champion Gary Player: “The harder I practice the luckier I get.”
Crowley believes there is a lesson for young people in his experience at Pershing, in the need at times to be purpose driven.
“It’s important for young people to understand that their manager needs to know what they aspire to be,” he says. “Not everyone wants to go hard at their career, and that’s fine; they have other passions that motivate them. I was highly motivated by my career, and I decided to become much more assertive about where I was sitting in the organization and what I wanted to do.”
Crowley came of age along with his older sister in the Garden State of New Jersey, the town of Fanwood, to be specific. It was a humble upbringing. As was customary for the time, his father worked outside the home and his mother was a full-time mother and homemaker.
He left home to attend Florida State University as a 17-year-old freshman on a golf scholarship. Academically, he found himself more drawn to the hard science of mathematics than the humanities. College became a lesson in figuring out how to manage his time and prioritize his activities.
His path to the Florida State golf team began by accompanying his father to the driving ranges and putting greens at age 12, carrying his father’s clubs through the day’s round, and earning a few dollars for his effort. It was how many kids of that generation were introduced to and eventually played the sport.
“He kept pushing me to improve.”
And improve he did. At 6-foot-3 Crowley had the kind of leverage over the dimpled ball to drive it great distances before resorting to his irons and putters.
“I landed at Florida State almost by accident. I had a very modest upbringing, and Florida State offered the biggest check, so that is where I went to school.”
The sport offered Crowley a host of lessons, teaching him patience and resiliency in the face of the sport’s constant frustrations. One of the buzzwords of the game is to “act like a goldfish” — a reference to the mere 10-second memory that species of fish supposedly has.
“The idea is to forget what just happened as quickly as you possibly can because the only thing that matters is the next shot,” he says. “Golf is a series of mistakes. You need to make fewer mistakes than the other person.”
The sport turned Crowley into a hyper-competitive person, an attribute that has served him well during his professional career.
“Golf is a very challenging game, and it changes from shot to shot,” he explains, drawing a line between the vicissitudes of the sport and the dynamics of business and investment markets. “There are all kinds of variables that impact you. It could be the weather; it could be how you are feeling. I learned a lot of great disciplines through competitive golf.”
Arnold Palmer is the pro golfer Crowley was most inclined to model himself after. He liked Palmer’s aggressive style and how he withstood challenges to his supremacy from Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Trevino, while always displaying the kind of professionalism and diplomacy that made him beloved by fellow golfers and his fans. Crowley made a point of noting that Palmer always signed his name in a legible manner.
“Arnie left it all out there,” he says. “When he hired an agent, there was no contract, there was a discussion and a handshake. That is how his relationship with his agent was carried out throughout his career, which is pretty remarkable. That wouldn’t happen in today’s environment. If you think about our industry and how complicated it is and all the nuances and complexities and risk involved, there is still an element of your word being your bond in the financial services industry. That is really important because it gets back to your reputation, it gets back to building trust, it gets back to building relationships. Those are foundational things.”
Golf wasn’t the only thing that interested Crowley at Florida State, so did the markets. He and a college roommate used to read The Wall Street Journal.
“There were four of us living together and two of us read The Journal and two did not, and they used to look at us like, ‘what do you guys read that stuff for?’ But I was always interested in companies and finance and the markets. After I decided golf was not going to be my future, finance was the thing I was drawn to.”
THE 90/10 INVESTOR
Crowley’s modest upbringing turned him into a more enthusiastic saver than spender, and a risk-averse investor.
“I live very modestly.”
His investment portfolio — 90 percent stocks and 10 percent fixed income — shows a strong equity bias.
“Remember, I work for BNY Mellon, so a fair amount of my equity exposure is to my own company.”
Pershing, a subsidiary of BNY Mellon, was founded Jan. 1, 1939, as Pershing & Co., and boasted $200,000 in capital. The firm’s original senior partners were Van Burger Sr., Lou Froehlich, Dave Foster, and Warren “Jack” Pershing, the only son of celebrated World War I general of the armies, John J. Pershing, who served most famously as the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the western front from 1917 to 1918.
Initially, Pershing’s vision centered on providing trade execution and clearance services to financial services firms located outside the New York metropolitan area, and it built a reputation for providing regional financial services firms with access to the NYSE and the AMEX. It has since grown to become a global financial services provider with offices around the world.
In 2003, Pershing was acquired by The Bank of New York, the longest-lasting financial institution in the United States, having been founded in 1784. The bank opened for business at the Walton House in Lower Manhattan on June 9, 1784, only a few months after the departure of British troops from American soil.
In 2007, the merger of The Bank of New York and Mellon Financial Corp. formed BNY Mellon.
REFINING THE BARBELL
Organic growth will be the driving force in the continued expansion of Jersey City, N.J.-based Pershing, though Crowley is careful to add the organization may also be acquisitive as well.
“Overall, we are going to thoughtfully grow organically, and we are going to look at geographies that might make sense,” he says. “We may think about expanding our capabilities into new, addressable markets that we feel have been underdeveloped — and that is true right here in the United States. We don’t have to go far to find that.”
All the while, the industry will undergo change, or “refinement of the barbell,” as Crowley phrases it, meaning more large firms creating scale on one end of the barbell, and well-valued niche players on the other end.
“We are seeing it in almost every category in financial services, whether asset manager, clearing firm, advisory firm or capital markets firm,” he says. “Over the next five to 10 years we will continue to work toward refinement of that barbell and, let’s face it, there is going to be some unexpected disruptor that does something that no one really anticipated, and we will have to react to it. It is very interesting to see what is happening with direct-to-consumer platforms. It is changing very quickly, and technology is facilitating it. We have got the additional asset class of crypto, or digital assets, and we have got the other variable called the regulators, who are also taking a close look at how the industry is executing in these new asset classes and new technologies.”
The big three in meeting that challenge will be talent, humility and working with purpose, according to Crowley. But, as with challenges of the past, Crowley is likely to commit his ambitions to paper. That document might be in his pocket right now, subtly guiding his actions and communication with his lieutenants.
One can imagine Crowley sipping an Arnold Palmer and taking stock in his ambitions for Pershing, a company he has committed to leaving better than he found it.
Mike Consol (email@example.com) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.