Assuming the top job at Edward Jones is a bit like playing left field for the Boston Red Sox for the first time: Nothing an executive has done before quite prepares him for the particulars of the new position.
When Douglas Hill inherits the managing partner title from John Bachmann in January, he'll be coming face-to-face with his own Green Monster, but it's a challenge he relishes.
One of the most daunting things about the job is the fact that the St. Louis broker/dealer makes leadership changes infrequently. Very infrequently. In its 81-year history, Ed Jones has had only three managing partners. Hill, who is currently chief operating officer, spoke with Registered Rep.'s Will Leitch about the transition process, the focus of the firm in the 21st century and, of course, all that mutual fund madness.
Registered Rep: You have been working closely with Mr. Bachmann for five years now. Are you planning on just carrying on most of the plans that he put into place, or do you plan on shaking things up a little?
Doug Hill: It's disappointing to a lot of journalists when I get this question, because, frankly, you won't see much change. Since John (Bachmann) made me COO in ‘98, we have worked closer than ever together. I always used him as a sounding board for a lot of my ideas, and any change I wanted to make, he'd fire questions at me, really making me think about it. And then he'd say, “Go for it.” To be honest, a lot of the changes I've wanted to make at Edward Jones, I've already made.
Rep: Do you have any major initiatives that you want to push through when you take over as the top guy? Anything you'll be specifically focused on?
Hill: My main area of concentration for the first few months will be on building an improved succession plan process within the organization. That's not just for top executives, either; that's all the way down the chain. I'm talking about succession plans for regional leaders out in the field. And I'm also trying to amp up our hiring and training efforts. Right now we're hiring and training about 200 people a month, or 96 every two weeks. All that takes place at our facilities in St. Louis and Tempe (Ariz.). We're in the process of putting blocks in place to kick that up to about 250 people a month. That's probably the most important thing we do: teaching talented new people what our way is.
But what we're doing is working, and I've been able to help be a part of running this place for quite a while now. We're too big now to just be run by one or two people. It takes a whole team. I was a part of that team before, and I'll remain part of that team after taking over as managing partner. There's no need for me, or anyone, to come in and start trying to change everything.
Rep: You guys rely heavily on mutual funds, with 41 percent of your revenue related to mutual fund sales. You've been one of the few firms to keep your name out of the scandal-plagued headlines, and you've even called for reforms in full-page ads in national newspapers. Does this whole thing make you nervous? Have you changed any of your policies? Do you have to keep a closer tab on your preferred fund lists for advisors?
Hill: We have a deal agreement with 80 different mutual funds, and we have a broad enough selection for clients and investment representatives to choose from. We don't design our arrangements around whether or not they provide revenue sharing, though obviously some of the funds we work with do. We look at a lot of different things. Performance, definitely, but also we ask, “Does this fund family have a similar mindset as us?”
But as for the scandals, most of the full-disclosure arrangements that the SEC is wanting are the types of things we've been doing, and pushing for, all along. Eighty-five percent of our mutual fund sales are “A” shares, and we try to make sure all our customers know all our fees. We support all these investigations.
I tell you, though, I thought I understood this business. But I had no idea there was this amount of market timing going on. And there are still shoes dropping. It surprises me every day when I pick up the paper. I mean, look what's happening with Alliance Capital. That's a great company, and they're right in the middle of this. It's quite amazing. Can you believe that? I can't.