The financial industry is experiencing a crisis of confidence.
So says Ronald Kruszewski, chairman and CEO of Stifel Financial Corp., a 5,000-employee securities-related financial services company headquartered in St. Louis, Mo.
“It’s the (lack of) confidence in our political process and in the fact that we can remove uncertainty from the business environment,” Kruszewski says.
Smart Business sat down with Kruszewski at the 2011 Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum to discuss how Stifel Financial Corp. inspires confidence in its clients through a decentralized model that empowers the individual employee.
As a service-oriented organization, how do you approach process improvements?
It’s an education process. We deal in a human capital business, so we can’t do a lot of things with technology. We can do a lot of things within streamlining processes, we can do things in terms of how we buy things cheaper, none of which adds to the quality of the product that we deliver, which is financial advisers working with their clients to meet their individual objectives. So what we do is educate our people and make sure that they understand what’s going on in the marketplace.
We embrace the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur in our place is the individual financial adviser who deals in their clients’ interests versus an overall company viewpoint.
How do you embrace that individual financial adviser versus an overall company viewpoint?
Financial advisers attract clients that share their views. One financial adviser’s views can be diametrically opposed to another financial adviser’s views. From my perspective, that’s a good thing. As long as they’re dealing with their clients and dealing in their clients’ best interests, it doesn’t matter to me if one client thinks the market’s going up and another thinks it’s going down.
If you think about it, for any organization to think that every client is homogeneous is a ridiculous assumption, to think that everyone thinks the same way or that my viewpoint on the market should be all of our clients’ viewpoint on the market. That is a unique way that we run the business, and very different from those very large firms that believe that they have an asset allocation and a strategy that everyone should follow.
I don’t have an executive committee, where people believe that everything has to be run through an execute committee. We have built the company by embracing change.
How have you embraced change?
We’ve made nine acquisitions. This company today is the melding of nine different cultures versus us saying “Well, you know, we’re going to do it our way.” My viewpoint is that “You did it right. We can do it together.” And when you build that culture where people know that we will do what’s best, not what was made here, that culture’s pervasive and it breeds doers. I like doers. If you want to work in our organization, you’re a doer, not a listen-to-orders type person.
My personal management style is very hands up. I don’t believe in committees at all — I believe in doing. I believe in my people asking for forgiveness, not permission, and that my management style is dependent on talented entrepreneurial people having the freedom to do what they think is right.
HOW TO REACH: Stifel Financial Corp., 800-679-5446 or www.stifel.com