Venturi Viewpoints discusses the intersection of life, wealth, and wisdom, interviewing a variety of contributors. We hope you enjoy this installment featuring Mike Sanders from our Austin office.
What was your path to becoming President of Venturi? Prior to joining Venturi, I had the opportunity to work at several great firms. I started my financial services career at Morgan Stanley as a programmer. I knew I wanted more direct contact with clients, so I took a position with Goldman Sachs, where I had the good fortune of running several large institutional businesses over the course of 24 years. When I left Goldman in 2008, I was interested in working with smaller organizations, so I accepted the role of Executive Director for Ned Davis Research and Potomac Research Group, where I focused on strategic direction.
Three years ago, my friend George Clark, CIO of Venturi, reached out to me about joining the team in Austin. At the time, my wife and I had been looking for a private wealth relationship but had been dissatisfied with the offerings we had encountered. I liked the idea of coming to Venturi to help build a firm that I wanted to be a client of. I continue to view the firm through those eyes, collaborating with the team to serve our clients in the way that we ourselves would want to be served.
You’ve held a number of leadership roles throughout your career. What have you learned about managing people and creating a culture of excellence? First and foremost, I’ve learned that creating a culture of excellence is the most important thing that you can do. How do you do that? At Venturi, we dedicate an inordinate amount of time finding the right people and then cultivating that talent. It takes genuine skill to find people who can make an organization better every day.
You can’t pigeonhole yourself in identifying one kind of person. The key is how your team works together, and how they complement each other. You want to attract people who are contributors, who have their hands on the oars, and who want to be part of an environment in which one-plus-one is more than two. It’s that belief in the synergy of great people that differentiates the best organizations.
You have led a firm during its acquisition by another corporation. What did you learn about preparing a business for a sale? During that tenure, I learned the value of balanced communication. Once it becomes clear that a transaction will likely occur, you have to weigh the need to communicate with employees with the need to safeguard information that could undermine the transaction or the business itself.
It’s said that markets hate uncertainty. Well, employees hate uncertainty just as much. You need to ensure that your key people stay apprised of the situation—to an appropriate level—so that their needs and those of the organization are in balance.
A sale can be a long process. In my opinion, a good transaction can take a lot of time. Ideally, you want to share enough information so that your employees are not plagued by paralysis and fear over the course of many months.
You also want to hire the right team around you. For the transactions that I worked on, we hired very talented legal and investment banking teams. With significant transactions, the potential for errors to come back and haunt you is high. You need to resist the temptation to go it alone or pursue a sale on a “cut-rate” basis. Hiring great talent can be expensive, but you can save yourself a lot of money and headaches in the long run if the details are handled properly. In this case, the old saying about “penny wise and pound foolish” is particularly apt.
You are responsible for optimizing the client experience at Venturi. How do you advance that goal? Many people come to Venturi because they are looking to upgrade their private wealth experience. My goal is to make good on that expectation. As a team, we focus on some key tenets: (1) Privacy: our clients share their deeply held values and intentions with us about intimate aspects of their financial lives. We never lose sight of the preciousness of that trust. (2) Resolve: we have been able to devise solutions to complex issues when other firms have failed. That dogged persistence is an important part of our fabric as a firm. (3) The three Ts: Thoughtful, Transparent, and Transformative: We look to provide clients with thoughtful ways to preserve and deploy their assets, mindful of each client’s risk profile. We offer fee transparency, as a matter of course. But perhaps more important, we work to ensure that each client has a transparent plan in place—one that is understandable, attainable, and clear. We believe the net effect can be transformative, in helping them reach a new level of financial comfort for themselves and their loved ones. (4) Legacy: we realize that there is a lot more to wealth than spreadsheets. We want to help clients realize the life they envision, not only for themselves, but for the people they care about, now and for decades to come.
You are a father and grandfather. Do you have any wisdom to share about instilling sound financial habits in the next generation? When you think about generational wealth transfer, you have to think about how you want to relay your legacy intentions to your family members. You can make mistakes by being too authoritative, and you have to begin the conversation when the time is right.
You should be prepared to over-communicate because typically, your family members do not have an accurate read on your financial situation. It’s a good idea to include your accounting, legal, and private wealth advisors so that they can help you address any questions that arise. Their involvement also allows your family members to develop their own relationships with these key people in your life, as their financial capabilities grow.
Whatever the age of your children or grandchildren, it makes sense to share the financial wisdom you’ve gained with your family – how they can save for college, how they can build their nest egg, among other topics. You probably have a lot to offer from your own knowledge and insights; be ready to share that advice with the next generation.
If you could encourage people to make one change in their financial or professional lives, what would it be? I would encourage people to try to tune out all of the information that streams at them all day, every day, and put their trust in the people or sources they’ve vetted.
If you’ve built a good team, the team has your best interest at heart. Once you are comfortable with the plan you’ve laid out for reaching your goals and aspirations, the day-to-day noise becomes less relevant. If you can focus on the sources and voices you trust, you will save yourself a lot of time and energy in the long run.
What advice do you have for people who are just starting out in their careers? The very first order of the day is to search out and find a great mentor. There are not a lot of people who are willing to be a mentor. Those who are, are priceless. Find people who have an interest in you and your career. If you are working in an environment that is not interested in you, search out a place that is. You want to find an employer that is interested in cultivating you as an individual and helping you learn and grow. Ideally, you want to be part of an organization whose members are as smart or smarter than you. That’s your litmus test.
Venturi Private Wealth
Venturi’s core mission is to help organize, plan, and manage all aspects of wealth for families and entrepreneurs with substantial assets so they can focus on their personal and professional priorities. We manage more than $1.25 billion in assets, a significant portion in-house, often eliminating additional layers of management fees. Founded in Austin, Texas, we incorporate the city’s entrepreneurial energy into everything we do.
For more information, you can reach Mike directly at (512)220-2044 or firstname.lastname@example.org