Twenty-one years ago when I founded Heritage Financial, my goal was to run a completely independent financial advisory firm where planning and investment decisions were based solely on clients’ best interests. Today, as a registered investment advisor and fiduciary, we serve several hundred clients representing $1.2 billion in assets under management, we have 28 knowledgeable and dedicated team members, and have earned numerous awards and industry recognitions. But, the one statistic I am most proud of is our 99% client retention rate – which means we must be doing something right!
Of course, I haven’t done it alone. Over the past two decades, I’ve been fortunate to quarterback a tremendous team of skilled professionals to elevate Heritage to where it is today. I carefully and strategically hired the right people at the right time, to keep moving us in the right direction.
First, there was Jim Scally whom I met in May of 1997 at a family function. He was as charismatic then as he is now and had a deep passion and interest in understanding the wealth management industry. I offered him a job at Heritage, with the caveat that I couldn’t afford to pay him much. There were months at a time where neither one of us drew any compensation while we barely covered the cost of our overhead and administrative staff.
Together, Jim and I experienced the many challenges and uncertainties that come with growing a small business.
One such incident happened on a frigid January night in 2000. Our office was on the first floor of a small building in Norwood, MA, back then. It was an especially cold Saturday where sub-zero temperatures froze the water pipes on the third floor. A pipe burst and thousands of gallons of water came pouring down into our office. The fire department called me late that evening and before I knew it, Jim and I were in ankle-deep freezing water salvaging our computers and servers. By the time we reached the paper files, they were saturated. The next day, we called in a professional cleanup company with institutional dehumidifiers and managed to salvage the majority of the files. This setback brought two silver linings: first, it led to the decision to make Heritage completely paperless – we now scan and save all our files on a secure, cloud-based server – so, no flood or fire could ever put us at risk again; and second, it reinforced my belief that Jim is one of the most loyal, dependable, and hardworking guys there is – someone you want standing in your corner during a crisis. It has been an absolute pleasure watching Jim develop professionally and prosper into a true leader over the past 20 years. I’m very proud to call him a Managing Partner!
Over the next five years, we grew our business to $175 million in assets under management and kept adding great people to the team. Most notable among these was Bob Weisse. In 2004, we posted a job opportunity for an investment analyst at Babson College. Bob’s methodical thinking and analytical approach impressed me during his interview process and he became Heritage’s sixth employee. He worked to earn a CFA designation, and then a CFP® certification.
Even though he was fresh out of college, Bob had very strong convictions. He didn’t sugar-coat his words or try to sell his opinions to me, he just dug his heels in when he passionately believed in something.
His beliefs were always backed by thorough research and analysis, and he earned the respect of everyone.
Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a Type A personality – I like to be in control of the decision-making process. (If you’d like to learn more about me and how I started the business, please read about it here.) Bob and Jim helped me realize that there are extremely capable, well-qualified individuals with various talents and specialties in our profession. I learned how to capitalize on their expertise and delegate certain responsibilities to them. Bob is now our chief investment officer and he and his team form the foundation of our investment decisions.
For almost a decade, our firm’s leadership team consisted of me, Jim and Bob. In the last three years, however, we welcomed two great additions to our management team – Ann Smith and Sammy Azzouz. Three years ago, I went to a Barron’s Top Independent Advisor Conference where I attended a session on the importance of hiring a chief operating officer (COO). The COO would be responsible for all operations and compliance related tasks, so the rest of the leadership team could focus on financial planning and investment management. A partner at one of our custodians introduced us to Ann. Her resume was more than impressive – over 35 years of experience working on both the Registered Investment Advisor and custodian sides of the business, plus the invaluable insights she gained running her own boutique advisory firm. She was living in Florida, so we flew her up to our office and introduced her to our entire team and client advisory board, before inviting her to join the firm. And what an incredible addition she has been!
Despite the fact that she was surprised by the New England winter and blew out two tires of her Mini Cooper in the first three months, Ann hit the ground running.
Before we knew it, she was managing our client services, operations, compliance, marketing, and administrative departments with ease. She understood the needs of our growing Heritage team and implemented structured policies and procedures across all departments of the firm. She has also elevated the depth and quality of technology usage in our firm, be it our integrated Client Relationship Management (CRM) platform, our Heritage client portal, or sophisticated trading software. She has been with Heritage for just two years, and we already don’t remember how we operated without her.
What value Ann has added to our firm’s compliance and operations, Sammy has brought to our wealth management team. He is an independent thinker, not afraid to speak his mind or shake things up when needed.
Sammy reminds me of myself when I was younger – he has a similar hunger, passion, and desire to introduce Heritage to as many potential clients as he can.
A natural leader, Sammy chairs our business development committee and manages some of the client facing team members. He holds people accountable for their respective roles and encourages them to learn from each other’s successes and failures. Sammy also focuses on maintaining consistency across our six wealth management teams to ensure all clients receive the same exceptional wealth management experience and service we are extremely proud of.
In the next twenty years, as we continue to grow and round out our executive leadership team, I have no doubt that Jim, Bob, Ann, and Sammy will help me take Heritage to even greater heights. I also have my wonderful staff, clients, colleagues, friends and family to sincerely thank for their tremendous guidance and counsel in helping me chart the ongoing course of Heritage.