Each year On Wall Street partners with New York Life/MainStay Investments to honor wealth management’s top branch managers. This year’s nominations came from industry insiders, including advisors and support staff, the people who best know the positive impact that a great branch manager can have on his or her office.

“In the mid-90s, it was about product education. In the early 2000s, it was about risk management and mitigation. In 2008, it was about explaining how we were going to navigate those treacherous waters. Throughout those years you were putting the client first. And as a manager you were looking for how you could help FAs do that,” explains Kirk Mandlin, a Portland complex manager for Wells Fargo Advisors, and also one of this year’s honorees.

Our independent panel of judges – Bill Butterfield, analyst at Aite Group, Kenton Shirk, associate director at Cerulli Associates, and Stewart Lee, CEO of Lee Training – vetted the nominations and winnowed the list down to the top 100 branch managers. From this group of honorees they selected the top ten managers of the year, based on their abilities to motivate, mentor and guide their advisors to higher levels of success.

Read on to learn about this year’s top ten, including what they look for in recruits, their biggest challenge and the achievements they’re most proud of.

 

Steve Pitassi

Firm: Janney Montgomery Scott
Title: Branch manager
Location: Providence, R.I.
Years in industry: 33
Advisors Managed: 13
Branch AUM: $1.36 billion
Education: Roger Williams University


Why did you enter the wealth management industry?
Pitassi has been immersed in saving and investing since he was born. “My parents were blue collar workers and they were emphatic about planning, saving and investing your money.”

How has being a branch manager changed?
Technology has completely transformed the business, providing a flood of instant information. “When I started work here, we still had a ticker-tape in the office.”

What’s the biggest business challenge you face?
Finding competent, qualified individuals that are also good family people.

When recruiting new advisors, what do you look for?
“I look for people that are involved in their community. Their numbers are secondary. You want to find people who will be a good fit and treat their clients right.”

What achievement are you most proud of?
Being named Janney branch manager of the year in 2011. “I was very humbled that individuals in my office recommended me.”

How do you unwind at the end of the week?
Pitassi likes to spend time with his family and is involved in several charities, including St. Jude Hospital’s Rhode Island chapter. “I believe in giving back to the community, as I have been very fortunate and blessed. I try to do my best.”

 

Scott Fergang

Firm: RBC Wealth Management
Title: Senior vice president, branch director
Location: Paramus, N.J.
Year in industry: 27
Advisors managed: 13
Branch AUM: $1.6 billion
Education: Emerson College


Why did you enter the wealth management industry?
After a turn as an actor, Fergang was running a modeling agency when a friend in brokerage suggested a career change. “He said, ‘you’d be really good in this business because you’re good with numbers,” Fergang explains.

How has being a branch manager changed?
It’s much more client-focused.

What’s the biggest business challenge you face?
As a producing manager, time management is a challenge. Having a good staff is imperative. “I couldn’t be successful without the people in this office.”

When recruiting new advisors, what do you look for?
Fergang wants to know their priorities. “When I talk with recruits, I’m asking them not only about production but how they’re involved in their communities,” he says. “I want to know if it’s all about them or about their clients.”

What achievement are you most proud of?
Creating a collegial, positive setting for his advisors. He organizes “popcorn Fridays” and encourages his staff to volunteer, creating what he describes as an extended family. “We’ve created an environment here where people enjoy coming to work.”

How do you unwind at the end of the week?
Fergang likes to go to the theater and spend time with his wife and three daughters.

 

John Banks

Firm: Wells Fargo Advisors
Title: Branch manager
Location: Fort Worth, Texas
Years in industry: 32
Advisors managed: 41
Branch AUM: $2.4 billion
Education: Wake Forest University


Why did you enter the wealth management industry?
After studying history, Banks wanted to go into sales. “I loved to produce, and I loved my clients,” he says. “I love financial advisors—there is a very unique and important personality that is attracted to this business.”

How has being a branch manager changed?
The business is no longer about selling particular stocks or bonds, but is much more focused on objectives and goals. “When I started it was ‘How many shares of IBM do you want?’“

What’s the biggest business challenge you face?
Staying ahead of the curve. “My primary role is to anticipate the future, so those that I am responsible for will be prepared for changes I see in the forecast. That’s the leadership I bring to the equation.”

When recruiting new advisors, what do you look for?
An entrepreneurial spirit and grit.

What achievement are you most proud of?
Growing his office from 18 to 41 advisors. “I look across the market here, and the industry in Texas, and I’ve mentored and sponsored quite a few advisors.”

How do you unwind at the end of the week?
By spending time with his daughters and volunteering for his church. “I find it very gratifying,” Banks says.

 

Thomas LaPorte

Firm: Raymond James & Associates
Title: Branch manager
Location: Scottsdale, Ariz.
Years in industry: 38
Advisors managed: 26
Branch AUM: Almost $2 billion
Education: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Why did you enter the wealth management industry?
After having had some success investing part of his paycheck as a Los Angeles architect, he switched careers in 1976 and became a branch manager in 1981. He has designed branch offices from scratch, including his current office at Raymond James.

How has being a branch manager changed?
Technology has changed the way the business is run. When LaPorte started his career, the office still had ticker-tape machines.

What’s the biggest business challenge you face?
Time management. The key is hiring the best staff, LaPorte says, noting that his compliance officer and administrative assistant have been with him for more than 15 years. “I can’t be a top manager, a top recruiter and be available for all my FAs without the support of people like that.”

When recruiting new advisors, what do you look for?
Integrity. “We’re not interested in people with checkered pasts,” he says. “Usually leopards don’t change their spots in this business.”

What achievement are you most proud of?
“Through all the years I’ve been in management, I’ve never had to lay off any support staff,” he says. “I’ve always been able to grow the office.”

How do you unwind at the end of the week?
Spending time with his wife and four children.

 

Fred Brown

Firm: Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Title: Resident director
Location: Montgomery, Ala.
Years in industry: 28
Advisors managed: 22
Branch AUM: $2.6 billion
Education: University of Alabama


Why did you enter the wealth management industry?
Brown followed in the footsteps of his father, who had worked for Merrill Lynch and E.F. Hutton.

How has being a branch manager changed?
The industry has become much more client-centric and goals-based.

What’s the biggest business challenge you face?
The complexity of regulation. “With advisors there is a lot of red tape out there, and as a manager I try to mitigate that as much as I can so they can focus on their clients and be successful,” Brown says. “It’s a challenge, but we try to keep all that off them as best we can.”

When recruiting new advisors, what do you look for?
A strong work ethic. “Successful advisors work hard, and they have a track record of doing so either in this business or another.”

What achievement are you most proud of?
Brown is proud of his advisors and support staff, who keep the branch running smoothly. “It’s not my office per se. It’s their office.”

How do you unwind at the end of the week?
Brown spends time with his wife and children, goes salt water fishing and reads.

 

Kirk Mandlin

Firm: Wells Fargo Advisors
Title: Complex manager
Location: Portland, Wash.
Years in industry: 23
Advisors managed: 44
Branch AUM: $7.8 billion
Education: Western Washington University

Why did you enter the wealth management industry?
Having seen his family make some mistakes with regard to finances, Mandlin wanted to help other people make better financial decisions.

How has being a branch manager changed?
When Mandlin started, it was still about selling specific stocks and bonds. Today it’s providing clients with comprehensive financial planning.

What’s the biggest business challenge you face?
Time management. Mandlin’s solution is to have a high-caliber staff. “You have to have an excellent team surrounding you,” he says. “It’s not a one-person job. It’s a team effort.”

When recruiting new advisors, what do you look for?
Integrity. “I want someone who is first and foremost ethical. It matters every day. I don’t want to ever question if I can trust you.”

What achievement are you most proud of?
Motivating advisors and enabling them to embrace the best practices. “You do it through education, motivation and influence that you have earned by being trustworthy, ethical and consistent.”

How do you unwind at the end of the week?
Going to baseball games and taking history trips with his family. Mandlin even finds time to coach his son’s baseball team and serve as president of the Little League. “It’s a huge job,” he says. “733 kids.”

 

Jim Hawkins

Firm: Wells Fargo Advisors
Title: Regional brokerage manager
Location: Seattle
Years in industry: 23
Advisors managed: 25
Branch AUM: $2.3 billion
Education: University of Oregon

Why did you enter the wealth management industry?
After serving as a Congressional intern, Hawkins did an internship at Shearson Lehman Bros. and fell in love with the brokerage business.

How has being a branch manager changed?
The amount of information has increased many times over, requiring FAs and managers to help clients navigate that data flood. “If we help them with that, we are doing our job.”

What’s the biggest business challenge you face?
Staying organized. “This may fall into the dull category, but it’s critical for me to stay organized,” Hawkins says. “I’m a list maker. I am constantly trying to stay focused on those things that are urgent and important.”

When recruiting new advisors, what do you look for?
FAs who are eager to grow and learn.

What achievement are you most proud of?
Growing his region in terms of headcount and assets. “My responsibilities when I came in were much smaller than they are now.”

How do you unwind at the end of the week?
Spending time and skiing with his wife of 16 years and their two girls.

 

Dennis Schmidt

Firm: Wells Fargo Advisors
Title: Senior vice president, branch manager
Location: New York
Years in industry: 37
Advisors managed: 60
Branch AUM: $10 billion
Education: Lycoming College; Babson College

Why did you enter the wealth management industry?
Schmidt, who started in the industry immediately after college, followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, who owned a small broker-dealer.

How has being a branch manager changed?
It requires more of a team approach today. “If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, my market manager and regional manager know everything about my branch,” Schmidt says. “They know our strengths, our problems, what we are working on. Managers are not islands any more. You need to communicate everything.”

What’s the biggest business challenge you face?
Managing his staff and helping them succeed. “The people I work with understand that execution at a very high level is important.”

When recruiting new advisors, what do you look for?
Intelligence, motivation and grit. “I like people who have done something very successfully, whether its athletics or playing the oboe, and I like people who can pick themselves up after failure.”

What achievement are you most proud of?
Growing his office from about $40 million in revenue to $65 million.

How do you unwind at the end of the week?
Running, yoga and biking. “It’s been a very good release for me.”

 

Thomas Hirsch

Firm: Raymond James & Associates
Title: Branch manager
Location: Louisville, Ky.
Years in industry: 31
Advisors managed: 45
Branch AUM: $3 billion
Education: Wharton School of the
University of Pennsylvania

Why did you enter the wealth management industry?
“I didn’t come from money, but I got into the brokerage business because I thought I was analytical and I could learn this,” Hirsch says.

How has being a branch manager changed?
“A manager has to be able to digest more info more quickly than he or she did years ago.”

What’s the biggest business challenge you face?
Helping FAs succeed. Hirsch says he tries to be a resource for their every need. “I try to understand what they are trying to achieve just as they are trying to understand their clients.”

When recruiting new advisors, what do you look for?
First integrity, then ambition. “I look for people who are going to chew the bark off the tree.”

What achievement are you most proud of?
Seeing his advisors succeed. Some have called him over the years to talk about milestones they’ve hit in their own careers. “I may not be their manager any more, but they felt good enough about the help I provided early in their careers that they called me up.”

How do you unwind at the end of the week?
Being with his family on his small Kentucky farm. “I love sitting on my tractor, planting soybeans and corn,” he says. “This may sound hokey, but it’s my little slice of paradise.”

 

Deborah Shepherd

Firm: Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Title: Managing director
Location: Princeton, N.J.
Years in industry: 24
Advisors managed: 41
Branch AUM: $2.4 billion
Education: U.S. Naval Academy


Why did you enter the wealth management industry?
After leaving the Navy, Shepherd felt ready for a career change and chose wealth management because she wanted to be in a profession that rewarded her for the effort she put in.

How has being a branch manager changed?
“The breadth of knowledge required is much broader today,” she says. “We’re really helping out FAs structure and build teams. The days of one person being all things to all clients is numbered, if not already over.”

What’s the biggest business challenge you face?
Making it as easy as possible for her advisors and their clients to do business.

When recruiting new advisors, what do you look for?
A high level of integrity. “That is the first ticket for even having a conversation with us.”

What achievement are you most proud of?
Seeing a few more advisors each year reach the million-dollar producer level.

How do you unwind at the end of the week?
Being outdoors. Shepherd did a 500-mile, one-week bike ride for charity, the Ride for Runaways, which supports the Anchor House in Trenton, N.J.