I grew up in Orange County, N.Y. Math always came easy to me. I was able to see patterns and connect the dots, and I wanted a career which involved that. I graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in applied math and economics, but I also took literature and liberal arts courses, which were good for my soul.
I've always wanted to make an impact. I started my career in management consulting, working for Booz Allen Hamilton followed by Boston Consulting Group. In 1987, when I was attending Harvard Business School, the markets crashed around Michael Milken and junk bonds. Three years later Barbarians at the Gate was published, a book about greed and the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco. In those years I had a very negative view of Wall Street. We didn't call it "Occupy" at the time, but if the recent protests had taken place then, I probably would have been at the front of the line. I never saw myself on the Street.
In 1994, when I was working with a recruiter to move on from the Boston Consulting Group, I stressed that I wasn't interested in finance or Wall Street. He told me there was one company that was very different from what I thought, a private wealth management firm that cared about its clients and were good fiduciaries. It was Sanford C. Bernstein. It was the beginning of a 17-year love affair. I had countless mentors, including Mr. Bernstein himself. It was an extraordinary time.
I grew up in one of the golden eras for analyst research, with Sallie Krawcheck, Gary Black, who went on lead Janus, and Steve Galbraith, who became the strategist at Morgan Stanley. I saw the firm through numerous changes. In 2000, we merged with Alliance Capital to form AllianceBernstein. In 2002, I became CEO of the sell-side brokerage part of the firm. In 2008, my boss, Lew Sanders, was let go and Peter Kraus was hired as chairman and CEO. Peter had a different vision about how the firm should serve clients and it did not resonate for me. In 2010, Sallie Krawcheck asked me to join Merrill Lynch.
The industry is transforming into a model both where clients pay a fee for advice, and our advisors are asked to operate not only with full discretion, but also potentially as full fiduciaries. Sallie envisioned my role at the intersection of these two forces. Sallie left the firm but we remain close.
I'm an Aspen Institute Fellow. I was selected to participate in the Henry Crown Fellowship [named for an industrialist in the 1920s.] He believed that to be a good leader you need to understand philosophy, history, psychology and the mistakes of past leaders. It's a program and philosophy focused on values-based and enlightened leadership. Our motto is: "Turning success into significance." My class has a reunion every year. It's a way of staying grounded and humble, and doing the right things for the right reasons. I feel blessed to have been chosen.
As Told To Pat Olsen