They may work in the same building, sometimes even on the same floor. They may even have the firm's name on their business cards, but they are separate.
Groups of big-hitting brokers are setting up office suites by themselves, away from other brokers at the firm.
Call it an "office within an office."
It's an emerging trend, driven by the industry's warm embrace of teams in general. Brokers who have broken away say there are benefits to having their own space. They can establish their own image and better control team dynamics.
One rep says her group setup is the foundation of her success. "You simply can't be a top broker without help," says Teri Harmon, who runs The Harmon Financial Planning Group at PaineWebber in Newport Beach, Calif. "If you think you can, you're living a fantasy."
According to brokers who have successful offices within offices, the right mix of personalities and a work environment conducive to teamwork are essential. Here's how three groups built their suites.
The Harmon Financial Planning Group, PaineWebber, Newport Beach, Calif.
If you walk into PaineWebber's Newport Beach, Calif., office on MacArthur Court looking for Teri Harmon, you won't find her. You have to go back outside, walk around the side of the building and head through a private entrance that leads to a separate, custom-designed suite. The 11-member Harmon Group is situated in a light, homey area with a pleasant environment that possesses positive energy.
The whole setup reflects Harmon's belief that having a multi-talented team is the only way to go. "It became apparent to me early on that to do business by myself would be a handicap to future growth," she says. "You have to be able to balance your time to do research while spending quality time with clients who need help."
The office design supports the interaction so essential to smooth teamwork. That's why Harmon had windows installed on two of her office walls, to see directly into the offices of two key team members, Espi Padilla and Mike Dye. Whether she's on the phone with one of them or just talking through the wall, Harmon thinks that eye contact improves communication.
PaineWebber will borrow Harmon's idea when it merges two Newport Beach offices into one building on the coastline this year. Many of the offices--including Harmon's--will have windows to make seeing into adjacent rooms possible.
In another office design invention, Harmon located her key assistants right outside her door. There are no cubicles--just five desks lined up in a row, side by side. There is little privacy; all conversations can easily be heard. But Harmon encourages eavesdropping on client calls and business discussions. That way the assistants are continually learning.
"We've created quite a unique team environment here," says Harmon, who considers herself a mini-branch manager. "It's taken me 15 years to tweak this and to get it just right."
Harmon, whose group generates 4 million dollars in annual production, is quick to say that there isn't a manual on how to develop an office within an office. The design should reflect personal preferences while it makes room for the personalities on a team.
"You have to put together a dynamic combination of diverse talents," Harmon says.
The Fishbein Group, Salomon Smith Barney, New York.
The Fishbein Group is located in Trump Tower, one of the most exclusive buildings in the world, on New York City's bustling Fifth Avenue, overlooking the luxurious Plaza Hotel and picturesque Central Park.
"We consider this the most premier space in the United States," says Norman Fishbein, a 27-year veteran at Salomon Smith Barney. Fishbein formed his group with his son, Perry, and Sharon Cunningham, the third partner on the team, seven years ago.
Fishbein's "digs" are among the most expensive around--about 70 dollars a square foot. And the view is breathtaking. He says it actually takes some degree of willpower to not just gaze out the window at all the commotion and the city's animated, unique characters.
When Fishbein decided to break off into his own group under the SSB umbrella, he got the opportunity to rethink his office space. "We could have gone anywhere in the building," he says. "But there was no way we were going to give up this view."
So he took over the space adjacent to the firm's main area and had the walls knocked down to create a huge glass-enclosed conference room, where the group holds most meetings and negotiations. Elegant French doors lead clients into the conference room.
Back-to-back cubicles are right outside the conference room for five full-time assistants and several interns. The area is designed so all associates can work closely together in what Fishbein calls an exciting, highly energetic setting.
"The environment is such that no one watches the clock," says Perry Fishbein. "They work right through [lunch hour]. If the environment wasn't good, that wouldn't be the case here."
The Hickey, Rogers Group, Merrill Lynch, Chicago.
When The Hickey Rogers Group moves into its new office in May, it will be a wish fulfilled. "We'll be set up just the way I've always wanted us to be since we started this group four years ago," Tom Hickey says.
The Merrill Lynch team, currently located in Chicago's old Board and Trade Building on LaSalle Street, will have its own suite with a separate entrance at the new West Monroe Street building. Inside will be offices for the group's three primary members and five desks in the middle for assistants.
"Being close together encourages camaraderie," Hickey says. "That's extremely important to the success and growth of the group."
Growth, in fact, is what drove The Hickey Rogers Group and the rest of the Merrill office out of the existing space.
The change was welcome since it gave Hickey and his partner, Shelly Rogers, a chance to redesign. Both worked with the architects of the new building to create a space that sends a positive message to clients. "It is important to us that we portray the image that we want projected," Hickey says.
That image, first and foremost, is professionalism.
"We want that professional aura when clients come to our office," he says. So they decided on "a Polo-like look" with dark wood trim mixed with rich green walls. And the view from the new office is impressive: Lake Michigan is to the east, downtown Chicago to the south and west.
Hickey doesn't mind leaving behind a unique feature in his old office--a fireplace, which reflects the building's age and past. He's too excited about the new space, which accommodates the group's current needs and future growth.