About halfway through my interview with John Hyland it becomes apparent the man doesn’t really fancy talking about himself.
“People have made that comment many times throughout my life and career. I don’t love the spotlight,” he acknowledges. “I am happy to be in the background.”
But this is anything but background; it’s the cover of a magazine, and an editor who prefers personality profiles to the standard and repetitive mumbo-jumbo talk about one’s firm and how it’s so distinctive from their competitors. Or so they think. Hyland speaks easily about his firm, and even stays away from the trite superlatives used by most RIA chieftains.
He is talking with me because the firm doesn’t mind the spotlight — in fact it is seeking to heighten its public profile — and Hyland doesn’t mind spotlighting his co-creation, Private Advisor Group. It’s only when the subject turns to him personally that one senses he begins to backpedal. Let’s just say John Hyland took a bullet for his firm, in this case, doing a cover profile to raise its visibility and continue attracting advisers in search of independent venues to ply their trade.
I should have figured Hyland would be somewhat reserved. Witness that he is both a marathon runner — including running in the New York Marathon — and a triathlete who has completed 11 triathlons. Training for those events gives a person a lot of alone time, and unless one is comfortable playing solitaire, they likely would have picked a team sport instead. His preference for individual versus team sports signals a contemplative disposition.
“One of the things I loved about training for Ironman is that it was just me, and it created a lot of time to think and created a lot of clarity, be it about my life or business,” he says. “I love those times when I am by myself.”
Hyland might make an inquisitor feel like he’s pulling teeth to get answers, but Hyland isn’t stubborn. You get what you’re after, given some persistence.
THE FAMILY ‘BUSINESS’
Local politics would have been a natural path for Hyland, given that his grandfather, father and mother all did terms as mayor — in that order — of Morristown, N.J.
“There was a certain expectation that I would do that down the road. That is just not my thing,” he says. “I have no interest whatsoever in politics. I like to spend my time with nonprofits.”
The draw to nonprofits gathered in Hyland when his aunt was tragically diagnosed with AML, an acute form of leukemia, which eventually took her life. Hyland decided to become involved with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, also putting together an event to raise money for the organization in his aunt’s memory. Today he is a trustee with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and past president of the board for the Leukemia Society of New Jersey. He has also served as Grand Marshall and the major gifts finance chairman of the Morris County St. Patrick’s Day Parade, chaired the finance committee as a member of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s board of trustees, is an active member of the board for the Mayo Performing Arts Center, as well as vice chairman of Invest in Others.
BACK AT ST. BONNIE
His years studying sociology at St. Bonaventure in the snowbelt of upstate New York were “the best seven years of my life,” Hyland joshes, though only about the number of years it took to earn the degree. St. Bonaventure itself was “tremendous,” he says, as he was surrounded by a close-knit group of people, at least 10 of which he still counts as best friends.
“We get together several times a year, and we make believe like we’re back in college for a weekend,” he says. “At the same time as I call myself an introvert, I also love being around other people. I kind of am a combination introvert and extrovert, if that is possible.”
Post-college Hyland joined an organization known as IDS Financial at the time, before being reflagged American Express and is today known as Ameriprise. That was never part of a career plan, though. He graduated from St. Bonaventure with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, with no thoughts of entering the financial services field, until fate dealt its hand. Hyland’s father invited him to a softball game fundraiser.
“I was playing shortstop and this gentleman came over to me and said, ‘Hi, I understand you are Pat Hyland’s son, and I understand you are looking for a job,’” Hyland recalls. “He asked me to come in and interview the next week with the gentleman running the district.”
That gentleman was Dillard Kirby, who not only convinced Hyland he wanted to work in the private wealth field, but also became a pivotal figure in Hyland’s life for years to come.
“He was just an amazing guy from day one,” says Hyland. “He ended up being my mentor for probably most of my life.” Asked what made Kirby “amazing,” Hyland added, “He is super kind and the type of leader that would sit right next to you doing the task that you didn’t want to do, and he probably didn’t have to do them. As an example, we used to do cold calls on Saturday mornings, and he would sit right next to me and do it with me. I found that to be amazing leadership, that he is willing to do anything to help you succeed. He was selfless and a great leader in so many different ways.”
While at American Express, he realized there were aspects of the organization’s platform that didn’t excite him. He was beginning to pine for an independent platform from which to operate, meaning an organization that didn’t manufacture and distribute its own investment products. Hyland found himself attracted to LPL, known as Linsco/Private Ledger at the time, as the independent operation he was looking for.
Hyland and four other advisers decided to break away from American Express and open an independent advisory firm dubbed Morristown Financial Group on the LPL platform. By 2011 they rebranded the firm to the less parochial-sounding name Private Advisor Group, realizing the business had expanded well beyond New Jersey, let alone Morristown.
“The Morristown Financial Group brand was somewhat limiting for us,” Hyland observes.
Hyland’s life as a husband, father, amateur athlete and professional financial services executive was sailing along unimpeded until 2010, when he was diagnosed with AML, the same acute form of leukemia that had taken his aunt’s life in 1993 and was the impetus for getting involved with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It would be a difficult battle for Hyland, one that is still tough for him to talk about, especially because after initially beating AML, Hyland relapsed in 2014 and again in 2016.
“To have acute leukemia three times in a lifetime is unusual, statistically,” he says. “It changed me in so many different ways. You think about your life differently when you’re 43 years old and have to face your mortality with three young kids and a wife. It changes you a lot. I looked at time and my relationships very differently. I realized there was a lot of time I was spending on things that really weren’t important to me. It’s a perspective thing. Someone told me in the process that any problem that money can solve is not a problem. You learn that really quickly.”
Hyland was soundly in remission at the time of this interview.
THE FIRM TODAY AND TOMORROW
Since its humble beginnings, Private Advisor Group has swelled to 650 advisers operating in 38 states and managing about $35 billion, $21 billion of that as assets under management, and $15 billion as assets under advisement.
“It was really the independent RIA model that drew advisers to us.”
Hyland says the firm is also looking at providing its patent-pending compliance platform to growing mid-sized RIA firms to help mitigate risks advisory practices face as they grow, and as Private Advisor Group expands its product offerings to client investors.
“Our model is to help our advisers grow, whether they want to join forces with another adviser or acquire business,” Hyland explains. “And if they eventually want to go out on their own separate from our firm, we support that too. We’ve been there and want to support them as entrepreneurs and financial advisers.”
Hyland points to Private Advisor Group’s No. 3 ranking on Barron’s list of the country’s top RIAs. That annual ranking of the firms Barron’s deems the nation’s best wealth managers hinges on the firms’ assets, revenue and quality of practice.
Some 90 percent of Private Advisor Group’s growth has been organic, adding advisory teams to its platform. But moving forward, Hyland think M&As will be a more significant component of the firm’s growth based on the industry’s need to consolidate.
“There is a tremendous number of small firms across the country with aging owners and the issue of scale moving forward,” he says. “If they don’t have scale, it’s going to be difficult to operate in this environment.”
He emphasizes, however, that the firm’s traditional growth mechanism of attracting advisers in search of independence will continue to be in full force.
“You still have that wirehouse breakaway mentality for a lot of those brokers, and they are looking to get into the independent side of the business. That is going to continue.”
Over the past couple years, advisers have been looking for outsourced solutions, because a lot of advisers have come to realize their value proposition has changed. In the past, many advisers thought their value was as portfolio managers, picking and trading securities. Today, many advisers have concluded their real value to clients is helping them with financial and life planning decisions.
“We definitely see that shift, that advisers have stopped acting as portfolio managers for clients and instead are seeking outsourced financial solutions, third-party management and model-based processes,” he says. “It has been very successful for a lot of advisers.”
Mike Consol (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.