From the C-suite with Wealth Consulting Group's Jimmy Lee: Looking for diversity, screening for attitude

This CEO rejects a passive-aggressive approach, directs employees not to let things fester

Oct 31, 2018 @ 3:03 pm

By Ryan W. Neal

Diversity and inclusion are baked in to the culture of Wealth Consulting Group, where the importance of diverse opinions and thoughts starts at the top.

The advisory firm has long had a focus on hiring staff who are diverse across race, gender and sexual orientation. As a result, women make up just over half of the firm's total headcount, a third are of non-white ethnic descent and 5% identify as LGBTQ.

InvestmentNews sat down with Jimmy Lee, the firm's CEO and a first-generation immigrant himself, at its Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion Awards ceremony in October. His firm won an Outstanding Practice award at the event. The head of the $1.3 billion hybrid RIA shared his thoughts on why diversity matters and what else is important when you're hiring.

Ryan W. Neal: What sort of culture are you striving to foster at Wealth Consulting Group?

Jimmy Lee: One that has great thinking that comes from the minds of very different people with different backgrounds, and of different genders. The culture that we have, we really try to avoid hiring people or affiliating with people where their egos are too big for a teamwork type of environment. Even though our advisers are fiercely independent and successful business owners, they still want to be part of a team.

RN: What qualities do you look for in employees?

JL: Hardworking, nice people — that's important to us — with integrity. We do have some guiding principles that we follow, but we look for people who have great attitudes. We believe that if they have the capacity to learn, we can teach them the skill set. But with the wrong attitude, it just never works.

RN: How do you see your role as a leader in the organization?

JL: My job is to hire people much smarter and better than me and get out of their way. My goal is to make myself obsolete as much as possible in the firm. I know that because of the size of our firm — about 80 advisers and 70 team members — that I'm still needed for certain areas that I am responsible for. But attracting great people and letting them do what they're good at, which oftentimes are things that I'm not good at, is how we built a good leadership team.

(More: From the C Suite with ProVise's Ray Ferrara: The best leaders know when it's time to follow)

RN: How do you encourage employees to deal with conflict?

JL: One of my philosophies has always been to not be passive-aggressive and let things fester inside. We very much approach an open dialogue, an open-door policy when it comes to things that are an issue. We want the team members to go to their supervisor, whoever they report to, to discuss issues right away instead of letting things build up to what can become usually much worse.

RN: Is there any time in your career you feel that you fell short as a leader?

JL: Every day. It's probably cliché to say that, but it's true because sometimes I think that I need to be doing a better job of developing the people who count on me.

I think we have a platform to help. I'm in the position to do that. When I don't do it enough, and when I'm not developing individuals who are around me, who report to me, who look to me for that type of leadership — and it happens a lot — I can tell you I'm not doing a great job of that always, but I try to do better as much as I can.

RN: What feedback have you received over the years about how you manage?

JL: I think I've changed a lot. Naturally, I'm an emotional guy, and so I think that the emotions came out a lot at times when it came to conflicts. I've completely changed that, being much more aware of the situation and to not be emotional, especially when times of conflict might occur or come up. I'm much more calm and still about those situations.

RN: Was there any time in your career when you had to overcome adversity?

JL: Before I started this hybrid RIA, I left a company. I was an independent business owner, but I got involved in a legal battle with the prior organization. Without mentioning any names or anything, it was a time that was very challenging in every single way.

I think it's always important to think that if you're making the right decisions, everything will turn out ok. So if you're in adversity because you made the wrong decision, then pay a lot of attention and learn, right? If you're making the right decisions and that's why you have adversity, stick to your guns and have faith, and things should turn out.

(More:From the C-Suite with Cambridge's Amy Webber: Empowering others to demand improvements)

RN: How much longer do you plan on working?

JL: I don't ever see myself really retiring. Maybe through my mid-60s. Beyond that, there will hopefully be an internal succession plan for my position but with stakeholders that are already with me. So it'll be a very smooth thing. I've got no intention of getting out of the business or selling the business. I communicate that to our advisers all the time, and the people who are relying on jobs that we've created for them. That's the same thing we tell our advisers, is to try to create a succession within their own teams so that number one, they can monetize it at their best values, but do it in a way that is most beneficial to their clients and also their stakeholders in their firm.

RN: So you do have a succession plan in place?

JL: Yes.

RN: Can you tell me something that I would find surprising about Jimmy Lee?

JL: I still play basketball every once in a while. Basketball is one of my favorite sports. I grew up playing basketball in high school, and I was a University of Nevada, Las Vegas Running Rebel college student at the same time we won the only national championship that UNLV has ever had in that sport. I was hooked immediately, and I'm still very involved in the university and helping the basketball program. I can shoot great free throws and three-pointers.

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