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Binney Wietlisbach wanted to be successful on her merits, not genetics. But the family business sucked her in.
December 17, 2010 — 1:59 PM UTC by Steve Garmhausen
Binney Wietlisbach runs the trust and advisory firm her father founded in 1979, serving a mixture of institutional clients and high-net-worth individuals (70% of the client base.) Wietlisbach is Barron’s 14th ranking female advisor for 2010. She golfs and runs competitively—she clocked in at 3:51 in the Philadelphia marathon this past November.
Name: Binney Wietlisbach, president of The Haverford Trust Co.
Location: Radnor, PA
Assets under management for whole firm: $6.5 billion
Wietlisbach’s assets under management: $877 million
Years in business: 19
How does it feel to be Barron’s 14th highest ranked female adviser?
It’s very exciting, especially since, for me, managing my book of business is only a portion of what I do. This was my first year in the Barron’s survey. They don’t tell you in advance whether you’ve made the list or not. When I got Barron’s at home that Saturday, I didn’t even say anything to my husband. I started going down the list to see if I was included, and suddenly I said “Oh my, I’m number 14!” My husband didn’t react, and my kids were like, “Why aren’t you number one?”
Do you feel women are underrepresented in the high-net-worth advisory business?
I think we’re very much underrepresented. Look around at how many women run an investment advisory or wealth management business, and I think you’d be hard pressed to name 10, or even five. There are not a lot of female role models in running a firm or even being a portfolio manager. In general, women are often ignored when it comes to the whole process of wealth management.
How are you able to balance your advisor responsibilities with running the company?
I have a very good (companywide) staff, and some of the members of my direct staff, we’ve been working together a really long time. That makes a big difference. I have complete faith and confidence that they’re doing what they need to do to support me in terms of running my book of business.
I’m organized and I’m also very efficient. I just don’t waste a lot of time because I don’t have time to waste. I don’t spend a lot of time second-guessing decisions, I move forward. I actually have a couple of friends who sometimes get stuck in analysis paralysis, mostly with personal matters. They know that if they have to get a decision made and can’t do it, for whatever reason, they call me. They know I’m going to give them a very direct answer.
Your dad, George Connell, founded the business. Do you feel you’ve had to work harder to establish your credibility as a result?
Absolutely. I started out in banking, and had absolutely no desire to come into my father’s business. I’m a very independent person who wanted to be successful on my own merits, not on genetics.
After I’d been at Meridian (Bank, in Philadelphia), for a number of years, my father asked me to come work with him. I said ‘Thanks but no thanks.’ But he was very smart—he’d ask my advice on how to handle different situations. He kept coming back to me and back to me and sort of sucked me in.
Then he came to me and said, ‘I’m serious—I want you to help me in two areas. I want you to manage my portfolio of 209 accounts, and I also need help managing the business, and I know that’s something you’re very strong at. I’d had success at Meridian Bank. I knew I could do it, and decided it wasn’t important what others think.
I came here 19 years ago and I still feel I need to set the bar very high. I don’t want anybody to ever say, “Oh, she’s the boss’s daughter.” People here know if they introduce me as the boss’s daughter they will be in big, big trouble, because it really undermines your credibility, in my opinion.
A combination of advisory services and trust is something that many RIAs can’t offer. Is that one-two punch going to be an advantage in the contest to serve baby boomers?
I think so. We haven’t really exploited that as much as we can and will. I don’t know that we’ve done a good job heretofore at exploiting that, but we have great opportunities looking ahead.
What was your worst day as an advisor?
The worst day in the office for me wasn’t as being an advisor, but being president of the company, in October 2008. The market was tanking and I was looking at our financial statements, and I knew we would not be able to pare down expenses as fast as the revenue was going to be dropping. I knew were going to have a situation we’d never had in 29 years: Our firm had never laid off anybody or had a reduction in salary. I knew we were going to need to make that change very soon. At the beginning of 2009, we reduced salaries by 10%. What we had to do was relatively nothing compared with others in the financial services industry. But having to be the one to make that decision, that was the worst day in the office for me.
What was your best day as an advisor?
There was the family that had started with me when I joined the firm in 1992, that had $300,000; she had a couple of younger children and her goal was to deal with a heavily concentrated portfolio—she didn’t want to just liquidate and pay the capital gains—and to get her kids educated. Blink your eyes, and the next thing you know it was 2000, and she had her kids educated, and we diversified the portfolio with a low cost basis—the portfolio was almost $1 million at that point.
Whom you look up to in the industry and why?
This is going to sound pretty corny, but I guess it’s my father. He totally believed in the investment philosophy; it’s one he invented, and that now seems to be coming into vogue-high quality, dividend paying stocks. By the way, 10 years ago, this used to be the most unloved strategy. But my father never lost the courage of his convictions. He also took risks that I never would taken. He started the firm when he was 44 years old—with five kids. And it wasn’t easy at that time. Interest rates were high and he borrowed a lot of money to get things rolling.
Elizabeth’s note: For a couple of other profiles of top women advisors, see: What Meg Green was thinking when she purposefully shed $40 million of assets and How to market to women: Don’t.
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