Happy employees are vital to success

Playing to employees' abilities ensures firmwide strength, fosters retention

By Liz Skinner

Feb 9, 2014 @ 12:01 am (Updated 3:14 pm) EST

Believe it or not, Armond Dinverno, president and co-chief executive at Balasa Dinverno Foltz, is more focused on his employees' happiness than his clients'.

“For an organization to be the best it can be, each person has to be at their best,” Mr. Dinverno said.

In fact, he and the firm's six other owners make hiring and keeping the best employees a top priority. They make each individual “the best” by helping him or her figure out what each excels at and by rewarding successes.

“The No. 1 focus of our firm is our people, and providing growth and opportunity for them,” Mr. Dinverno said. “Attracting and retaining top people internally is what allows us to achieve our external mission of helping clients make sound decisions to enjoy a full life.”

The way Balasa Dinverno Foltz structures and supports its staff led InvestmentNews to recognize the 28-year-old firm as a leading innovator in the financial advice business.

SPECIALIZATION

To get the best personnel, some of the firm's 16 wealth managers are focused on bringing in new clients and have a compensation structure that's less salary and more incentive-based comp, he said.

Conversely, a wealth manager who excels at client service will be responsible for more client relationships and have a greater portion of his or her compensation based on salary. All wealth managers at the firm are responsible for between about 25 to 100 client relationships, he said.

“We want to work with the strengths of each individual and help them be the best they can be, as opposed to conferring a title or responsibilities on them that expects them to do things they cannot,” he said.

The strategy seems to be paying off for the firm, which has added nine people over the past three years, relying mainly on existing employees to introduce them to job candidates. It manages about $2.7 billion for clients.

In the 2013 InvestmentNews/ Moss Adams Adviser Compensation and Staffing study, Itasca, Ill.-based Balasa Dinverno Foltz was the highest-ranked multiple-professional firm, based on top-performer criteria. The firm had exceptionally high scores in income per owner, revenue per professional and operating margin.

EYE TO FUTURE

In addition to Mr. Dinverno, the founding partners of the firm are Mark Balasa, chief investment officer and co-CEO, and Michael Foltz, a principal and chief compliance officer. They also have increased the firm's shareholders — and did so in a way that will allow for a non-adviser to hold an investment stake in the firm one day.

Owners are selected based on whether the person has talents that add to the ownership team, Mr. Dinverno said. Already, the firm has owners who aren't managers, focusing instead on their individual strengths, which may be client service, business development or other talents the firm needs to fulfill its mission, he said.

“We look for those who have a skill set important to the future of the company,” he said.

lskinner@investmentnews.com Twitter: @skinnerliz