Profile: John Dowd, CEO of Fiduciary Trust International
- October 1, 2020: Vol. 7, Number 9

Profile: John Dowd, CEO of Fiduciary Trust International

by Mike Consol

John Dowd joined Fiduciary Trust International as CEO in April 2016 and has nearly 30 years of leadership experience in wealth management. His previous professional stints include executive positions at the Bank of New York and Wells Fargo.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell a 25-year-old John Dowd?

Don’t sweat the small stuff — and it’s all small stuff.

How do you like to spend your time outside of work?

With my family and my three dogs. I also like to play music, paint, cook and read.

First choice for a new career?

Travel writing for magazines

Most influential book you have read?

The Power Broker by Robert Caro

What are you afraid of?

I don’t like heights — and I’m 6-foot-7.

Biggest lesson learned?

Give others the credit and be the first to own the blame.

Best piece of career advice you received?

Don’t procrastinate the tough decision, confront them directly and take action that day.

Favorite quotation?

“This is not the end, it’s not even the beginning of the end, but perhaps it’s the end of the beginning.” —Winston Churchill during his speech on the Battle of Britain during World War II

Tell us something people would be surprised to know about you.

I get my battery charged by doing solitary things (introvert), but I enjoy being in front of large crowds (extrovert). Maybe I’m an ambivert.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table with all of my family, cousins and friends. Last year the number was 35.

You’re organizing a dinner party. Which three people, dead or alive, do you invite?

Muhammed Ali, Groucho Marx, Golda Meir

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Teddy Roosevelt

What is your greatest extravagance?

Musical instruments. I have five guitars, three pianos and a drum set.

What is your biggest regret?

That I haven’t worked abroad

What phrase is most overused in your industry?

Open architecture

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would be more patient.

What is your most pronounced characteristic?

I love change, and the creative surprises it brings.

If the most recent year were set to music, what would be the first cut on the soundtrack?

“What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye

What book might people be surprised to find in your bookcase or iPad?

I’m a huge Travis McGee fan. I have a full set of John D. MacDonald’s books.

Where were you raised?

I was born in Queens, N.Y., and raised in Montclair, N.J.

Describe your education

I attended Guilford College and have a bachelor’s degree in history, and an MBA from Columbia.

Describe a path not taken in your life

I was considering a career in law until working as a paralegal the summer after college graduation. I got working on some commercial real estate transactions and putting mortgage portfolios together for a bank that I ended up going to work for. That, for me, was a lot more interesting than what I saw my friends doing, who were lawyers. That opened a door for me.

What is distinctive about Fiduciary Trust International?

We are an organization owned by Franklin Templeton, the global asset manager with boots on the ground in countries that cumulatively account for more than 85 percent of the world’s GDP. There is considerable benefit to being a wealth management firm owned by a global investment manager. We would not have access to that firepower if we were a standalone trust company. We use a lot of the same tools as Franklin, whether it is trading systems or research systems. There is some really cool work that Franklin is doing that we can customize for high-net-worth clientele. And more than 70 percent of Fiduciary Trust’s high-net-worth clientele have $20 million or more invested with the company, and many of them are multi-generational families.

You work a lot with families. What lessons have been learned by that experience?

Research shows that 90 percent of family wealth is extinguished by the third generation. The families that do not fall prey to that trend are those who create a unifying mission around what that wealth means — when they each feel a sense of stewardship toward getting it to the next generation. The successful families I have seen over 35 years also have the common characteristic of being deeply engaged with their advisers. They know what they own and why they own it, and they don’t panic in times of market dislocation or stress. They also don’t try and time the market; they are long-term investors.

How do you start your day?

I load up on market information reported by Bloomberg, the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal while commuting by train on New Jersey Transit. Once in the office, it’s a series of meetings with staff members.

Who was your mentor?

He wasn’t a mentor, per se, but I have modeled some of my leadership behavior after John Lipori, an executive I worked for at the old Bank of New York. We had so much fun together. He made the blocking and tackling activities fun, such as setting up an accrual, or doing a systems conversion, or creating a budget for next year. I picked up on that style and continue to do that today.

You have pointed to the longevity of the organization’s advisers, portfolio managers and other professionals. What has made the organization sticky in that way?

We have a very client-centric focus and team approach. We do not use investment models when creating client portfolios; portfolios are built ground up by portfolio managers and then run through an integrated team approach. That team includes a tax officer, a trust officer, a trust counsel and a portfolio manager. The portfolio is then actively handled by a portfolio manager going forward. We believe the full team is really important to have deeply involved in almost every decision we make for the client because there is really a lot of opportunity for optimizing the client’s situation if you have got those different specialists sitting around the table. We think that creates better outcomes.

How has the business changed?

When I started in the business, private wealth clients would come to financial advisers seeking the traditional 60/40 stock-and-bond portfolio, and firms would throw in some advisory services, such as trusts or financial planning, for free. Today it is almost the opposite. The 60/40 portfolio has become a commodity. That means a firm needs to differentiate itself with both alternatives and real assets, as well as advising clients on financial and non-financial life decisions.

Fiduciary Trust recently made two acquisitions, the organization’s first in 18 years. Describe them, please.

We expanded our footprint and capabilities when we purchased Athena Capital Advisors, a $6 billion Massachusetts-based RIA focused on the ultra-high-net-worth client and impact investing, and with deep capabilities in private markets. (Editor’s note: Athena Capital was founded by Lisette Cooper, who was the cover profile in the August 2015 edition of Real Assets Adviser.) We also recently acquired Pennsylvania Trust, a $5 billion trust company that has a very similar product offering to Fiduciary Trust but with strong expertise in areas such as special-needs trusts that are important to clients who have family members with special needs. Both Penn Trust and Athena are great cultural fits that add great capabilities.

Your organization currently has 16 offices and about $80 billion in client assets under either management or advisement. Is more expansion in the offing?

We see opportunities in places such as Colorado, Texas and Wyoming. Those areas of the country are exciting because they tend to be around a lot of innovation and maybe some fintech stuff. I know in Boulder and in Denver, where we have had some discussions, there is a lot going on, and it is really important to be where capital is being raised and business are starting and being sold.

Are you thinking in terms of establishing some overseas offices?

Franklin Templeton generates about 50 percent of its revenues from overseas, and that creates possibilities that Fiduciary Trust might eventually expand beyond U.S. borders. Finding the right partner is really key. That it not easy. You have to go on lot of blind dates before you get there.

How do you want to be remembered?

That I created an environment at work and home where people could stretch themselves and perform at their best, while knowing they had a friend ready, willing and able to listen and support.

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

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