This year's top branch managers all have one thing in common: they have found a way to succeed even during the most challenging times. From turning around a failing branch when no one else wanted the keys to creating a new wealth practice from scratch, these leaders have crafted their own success and pushed for the achievements of their advisors. As one leader on this list says, "If I stayed at no, I'd never have gotten to where I am." This year, On Wall Street teamed up again with New York Life/MainStay Investments to create this ranking. Read on to find out more about the leaders selected by our independent panel of judges-Tyler Cloherty, associate director at Cerulli Associates; Stewart Lee, CEO of Lee Training; and Alois Pirker, research director at Aite Group.

Joseph DeFalco
Branch Manager
San Diego, Calif.
Number of Advisors: 25
Branch AUM: $750 million

As an advisor in the San Diego branch in the early 2000s, Joseph DeFalco's business was doing well. He had built a strong client base, but the office itself was in trouble. Turnover in management had reduced headcount so that by his sixth year the branch consisted of just him and one other advisor. The office was about to be closed in 2006 when they handed DeFalco the keys.

"Now we look back and laugh at it, but it definitely wasn't easy," he says.

The turmoil of 2008 left many advisors looking for new opportunities, according to DeFalco. He has brought on 28 recruits since 2007, although he admits that it took three years' of convincing for some advisors to come on board.

And not having a large branch to run meant that he could spend time assuring those advisors that he was the one they should rely on to help them develop. He has longstanding relationships with each advisor and his or her family. "It makes those difficult situations easier," he says. "The more they know about you, the more they know where you're coming from."

DeFalco sees his role as helping his advisors to jumpstart their businesses, including through practice acquisitions. He is always on the hunt for advisors who may be retiring and looking to sell their book of business.

"That's a huge value I can add to an advisor's business," he says. "It can really be a game changer for them to take their business and practically double it."

DeFalco also works hard to stay in the trenches alongside his team. He co-manages about $75 million in assets to keep abreast of client concerns and regularly engages them on new projects. When five members of his team mentioned they were interested in earning their CFP designation, he decided to take the test with them, and they stayed late studying for nine months.

"If I think it's something that they want to invest time in, they know I'm right alongside," DeFalco says. "That really builds credibility with them."

— Mason Braswell


Jeff Dobyns
President, Branch Manager
Southwestern Investment Group/Raymond James
Franklin, Tenn.
Number of Advisors: 21
Branch AUM: $1.2 billion

In college, Jeff Dobyns spent four hot, humid summers selling books door-to-door in the rural southeast for Southwestern Co. After graduating, he and his colleagues dove into the financial services sector—a career with air conditioning.

Working at his Ohio CPA firm four years later, Dobyns saw a way to connect the two worlds. In 2002 he moved near Nashville, Tenn., and founded Southwestern Investment Group, a financial services arm of Southwestern Co. and an affiliate of Raymond James.

"I started this company because so many of these guys left [Southwestern] to go into financial services," he says. "This business is a great business if you can serve well, communicate well, and follow up well."

The first year was a fresh challenge for the former CPA. Dobyns had no names in his book and no employees. For all their hard-earned sales experience, most of the legacy Southwestern sales representatives had limited financial services knowledge. Of the 21 advisors that are currently at Southwestern Group, none came on board with an existing book of business. "It's all been organic growth," Dobyns says.

One day Dobyns called Dave Ramsey, the financial talk show guru. Ramsey's people agreed to endorse Southwestern locally for financial planning services. Referrals flowed in.

Dobyns brought on another partner that first year and established a mentorship program to develop young talent. Now business is growing faster than he can add advisors, he says.

"The advantage of that [mentorship program] is that it helps get good people and has a high probability for them to do well," he says. "The disadvantage is that it does limit your number of new people you can handle, because we're not having a classroom- style training program."

The office has won Raymond James' award for top producing branch for five years running. "That was a big deal," Dobyns says. "We don't have these old guys who have been in the business 20 years or something. We've had to grow a team."

— Mason Braswell


Rick Folmar
Complex Manager
Wells Fargo Advisors
Oklahoma and Northwest Arkansas
Number of Advisors: 133
Branch AUM: $9 billion

When Wells Fargo named Rick Folmar the company's second-best complex director for recruiting in 2011, he knew he had more work to do. "It's worse to be number two than it is to be number 20. If you're number 20, you never believed you could be number one," Folmar says.

He immediately called the winner, a good friend, and chided him about how he was going to take the top spot. Then Folmar recruited 13 veteran advisors the next year to win the title.

"When you're as competitive as I am—not just as competitive as I am, but as competitive as most people in this business—there's only one goal and that's to be number one," he says. "I have no intention of giving up that spot."

A 15-year veteran of the industry, Folmar started in 1998 as an advisor right out of college. He decided on wealth management when a recruiter said that advisors make more money than lawyers. Four years later, Folmar was not only running his own book of business, but also managing his first branch.

Those formative years, which he split between another wirehouse, training programs, and Wells Fargo's predecessor, First Union, shaped his management style. "There was a revolving door of managers early on," he says. "I had good managers and bad managers, and I learned from all of them, both in terms of how to be a better advisor and what I would do differently if I were in charge."

More importantly, working with clients and pushing himself helped him develop his leadership style, Folmar says. He will not suggest a product to advisors that he would not suggest to his own clients.

He moved out of production in 2010 and expanded his geographic coverage beyond Oklahoma, almost tripling the revenues under his helm. "They don't say this, but a lot of advisors want somebody who will lead them, who will give them a direction to go and something they can look forward to in building their practice," he says.

— Mason Braswell

Michael Gatewood
Complex Director
UBS Wealth Management
Troy, Mich.
Number of Advisors: 91
Branch AUM: $9.8 billion

Michael Gatewood's desire to raise his children in the Midwest prompted his move to Chicago in 2005—and transformed his career. Starting there as assistant manager of UBS's downtown office, he was picked in 2008 to run the Troy office. GM was going bankrupt, and the other car companies were flailing.

It was trying, but also a time of opportunity. "You earn your relationships in difficult times," he explains. "It is easy to forget how important [your role] can be to people."

One of the tougher jobs his team confronted was advising clients whether an industry buyout of their pensions would be right for them. "In a lot of cases, we told people to keep their pension,'' Gatewood says. "Sometimes we had to be adamant with people, because they really wanted to take the money, and sometimes shouldn't." His advisors' advice might have crimped their business, he says, "but we did the right thing."

In late 2010, after the auto industry crisis, Gatewood was named complex director and charged with leading several offices. He wanted his team to be engaged in the community.

They have worked hard to nurture children in Detroit and provide assistance to families whose children have cancer. The team also worked to build and supply a homeless shelter. "We have a lot of people who care about the community," he says.

Gatewood tries to stay in close contact with all of his advisors. "I can't meet with them all, but I meet with about 40 here in Troy monthly. I try to replicate that in the other offices by traveling and by having my branch managers do the same thing."

Gatewood believes the best advisor focuses on a specific segment. "My job is to help them grow their business, " he says.

His goal is to push each advisor past $1 million in production. "Baby boomers need advice, and it is a lot different from the advice they needed during the accumulation phase of their lives,'' he says. "We are transferring to more of a financial planning business, and that's where the growth is going to be."

— Dave Lindorff


Catherine Lapadula
Complex Director, Managing Director
UBS — International
New York City
Number of Advisors: 52
Branch AUM: $6 billion

Catherine Lapadula takes a spot on the Top 10 Branch Managers list for the second year in a row. She's a hard-charging woman who says she is doing what she loves and sitting where she says she always wanted to sit—in the manager's seat at UBS's international wealth management operation in New York City.

"Right out of college, I went to visit my father on the trading floor" in 1987, Lapadula says. "I always knew he was trading stocks, but I never really thought about it. Once I saw it, I knew that's where I wanted to be. I went to a temp agency and said I wanted to have a job as a receptionist for a trading firm. And they got me a job working the floor."

Lapadula spent 18 years at Citibank on different trading desks, rising to bank supervisor before she was recruited to UBS. Today, she supervises a growing team that covers 33 countries. She recruits up to nine new advisors a year and loses few.

She credits that low turnover rate to her management style. "I'm dedicated, direct, and driven," Lapadula says. "People know where they stand with me."

Lapadula sees her job as equal parts teacher, coach, leader, and sometimes compliance officer, "but my main job is knocking roadblocks out of the way for my players," she says. When one of her advisors needed a software program for international institutional trading, she had it on his desk that Friday. "If I stayed at no, I'd never have gotten to where I am," she says.

Lapadula, a mother of three ("four if you count my husband," she laughs), runs three or four times a week, which keeps her stress in check. Asked when she first realized she was a good manager, she says, "I'm still not sure I am. You have to prove it every day. It's a constantly progressing job and it taxes you to the max."

She intends to make her unit better, but not necessarily much bigger than its current size. And she expects the competition will thin out. "There are going to be fewer players in the international marketplace,'' Lapadula says. "Some companies are doing this more as a hobby, and they won't be able to keep doing that."

— Dave Lindorff


Brock Loen
Branch Manager, Senior Vice President, Portfolio Manager
D.A. Davidson & Co.
Number of Advisors: 21
Branch AUM: $2 billion

Brock Loen says he uses the same skills to raise three sons as he does to supervise his 21 brokers at Davidson. His mantra:"Being fair with everyone, accessible at all times, and telling each other the truth." And while Loen appreciates the professional development coaches his firm provides, he strives to set a good example, especially in team building.

Loen says the key to maintaining credibility with his advisors is his genuine interest in them as people and his willingness to share knowledge and resources, and to help create partnerships to help them grow their businesses. He continues to service his own book of clients. Loen believes that his own commitment to clients helps him to be empathetic to his brokers' pressures.

Loen learned the importance of building long-term relationships during his first job selling airfreight. In both jobs, every detail matters, he says. Loen moved into financial services because he was motivated both by the opportunity for unlimited earning potential and the flexibility to choose his own work associates. Also, he wanted to continue living in the Pacific Northwest where he grew up. Above all, he credits his father, an independent management consultant, with helping him to thrive as an entrepreneur.

Loen's father, Raymond O. Loen, offered his son ideas for reducing stress and increasing efficiency. His father's classic management book, Manage More By Doing Less, sets out basic principles for time organization and prioritization. Loen now tries to make his own management more systematic and productive by taking inventory of daily tasks, compartmentalizing, and delegating them.

With the entire industry facing challenges because of today's low rate environment, Loen notes the necessity of keeping his team as productive as possible. They also must help clients accept tradeoffs, including delayed retirement, part-time work, or a commitment to saving more. "Our role is to keep their money safe, and earning as much as possible, to last for their lives and those of their dependents," he says.

— Vanessa Drucker


Rob Malenfant
Executive Director, Complex Manager, Family Wealth Director
Morgan Stanle
Number of Advisors: 130
Branch AUM: $15 billion

Rob Malenfant's financial services career began in the collections department in the windowless basement of a Boston bank branch where he called on delinquent debtors and assisted on deals as he worked his way up to loan officer. "I learned about proper risk management, and I also became pretty efficient and effective on the phone as a prospector, which I later used in building my business as an advisor," he recalls.

Malenfant's career as a loan officer was sidetracked by a fortuitous late-evening house call to a Smith Barney branch manager around 8:30 p.m. Noting how late Malenfant worked, the branch manager told him he should check out the investment side where the hours were better.

Acting on that advice, Malenfant worked his way up the ranks at Smith Barney, spending several years in Connecticut, New York, and Los Angeles before returning to Boston as a branch manager. The variety of experiences and people he worked with inspires him now at his Boston Harbor complex, he says.

"You gain exposure to some super-talented advisors," Malenfant says. "I've learned a great deal from all of them, and one of my passions is really sharing the best of the best with my current group of advisors." That includes using some creative ways to boost his advisors' confidence, such as spending time videotaping a mock elevator pitch or cocktail introduction and then evaluating the conversation play-by-play like a football team watching tapes.

"Once you leave the training center, you almost never spend any time videotaping. Yet when you look at the professional athletes or anyone in a professional organization, they spend a lot of time roleplaying and videotaping," he says. "The feedback has been terrific."

To keep his 130 advisors growing, Malenfant is working to expand the capabilities his branches have (including banking and lending) so that they can aggregate assets and help clients cut through the complexities of retirement. "There's a real desire to simplify their financial lives," Malenfant says.

— Mason Braswell


Kirk Mandlin
Complex Manager, Managing Director
Wells Fargo Advisors
Portland, Ore.
Number of Advisors: 140
Branch AUM: $7.1 billion

Kirk Mandlin has a simple goal for this year and any year. "To be the best leader, husband, and father I can possibly be," he says. With the power of positive thinking, Mandlin expects to use those strengths to expand his business.

"The challenge is to refocus our financial advisors on external growth," Mandlin says. Clients are aging, and their investment profiles have become more conservative. Many baby boomer clients are living on their distributions. Both these factors have resulted in a slightly reduced assets under management this year compared with last.

Mandlin's five-year plan calls for those assets to double, which means striving for increases of 15% per year. That will require enlisting the parent company, the advisors, and the office staff to think creatively and "get out there," he says. That includes meeting with potential clients and taking them to golf shows and Portland Trail Blazers basketball games.

So far, the technique is working. Results for the first quarter of 2013 are triple what they were for the first quarter of 2012. Much of this is thanks to increased exposure, Mandlin says.

The complex's Medford, Ore., office, used to assign one person to attend senior fairs to talk up Wells Fargo. Now the firm hands out tote bags—emblazoned with the Wells Fargo logo—to thousands of the fairs' visitors.

Mandlin is constantly seeking new recruits. Those coming from other firms usually have excellent training, but he is also looking for prospective hires who have been "successful in life and are looking for a second career."

Mandlin has spent nearly his whole professional career with Wells Fargo, after earlier employment with UBS Financial Services. For him, managing is not only professionally fulfilling, but personal as well.

"Leading people and doing great things fulfills me as a person," Mandlin says. He strives to fill the leaders' job, which he says is to "find the vision and ask the right questions," and wants his offices to be "the place to work [and] the employer of choice."

— Judith Schoolman


Eric H. Siber
Senior Managing Director, Complex Director
RBC Wealth Management
Parsippany, NJ
Number of Advisors: 40
Branch AUM: $6 billion

Eric Siber's focus for the last several years has been making sure the advisors in his office make a smooth transition to RBC's brand, technology, and products following J.B. Hanauer's merger with the firm in 2007. "Change can be difficult even when it's change for the better," Siber explains. "You have to have a tremendous amount of patience and show good leadership in making sure that everybody is on board and understands the advantages of the new platform and the new company."

As a result of his dedication, Siber's complex quickly ascended the ranks at the new firm. Siber's office, which saw its revenues jump by 22% in the first two years he was at the helm, has an average production per advisor of $918,000 and last year won the award for the top complex at RBC Wealth Management.

Now he is excited about his new mission: "I'm focused more on recruiting in 2013," Siber says. "I'm moments away from an acceptance. It's going very well."

In 2013, Siber is hoping to bring in around $3 million in revenues. In addition, he also hopes to inspire a 10% increase in revenue among his existing cadre of advisors.

As a branch manager, Siber's role is handling crises and taking calls that, with 40 advisors under one roof, sometimes keeps him at the office for 12 to 13 hours a day. "You need to keep a healthy perspective on life as a manager in this industry," he says. "Advisors are constantly being challenged by their clients, clients are constantly challenging managers, advisors are constantly challenging managers, compliance is constantly challenging managers, and it's a tough role."

To maintain his focus, he consults a Rudyard Kipling poem "If," which he keeps in the center drawer of his desk. "If you can trust yourself when all men doubt/But make allowance for their doubting," he quotes from memory. "I continually remind myself that it is an effective way to run a business."

— Mason Braswell

Stephen Viets
Managing Director, Market Manager
Wells Fargo Advisors
Las Vegas
Number of Advisors: 100
Branch AUM: $6 billion

Part strategist and part cheerleader, Stephen Viets is a three-time Top 10 branch manager. Viets says that the job also requires a diplomat's tact. "It's all about handling insecurities and misunderstanding," he says.

Above and beyond the daily performance targets and machinations of the financial markets, Viets sees his job as dealing with the delicate balance of personalities that make up a highly charged financial environment. By using his study of clinical psychology and his love of chess to see the myriad possibilities of personal interactions, Viets tries to "insinuate myself into situations—not reacting—and find out what both sides are looking for."

Viets, an Army brat, credits his time in the Air Force with helping his management start at Paine Webber, Prudential Securities, and later Wachovia, which morphed into Wells Fargo.

Viets says the financial climate last year was the worst he'd seen in scores of years. Since then, he's brought in 11 people and business is up 25% this year, due in part to efforts by advisors to reach the needs of the community. Advisors are encouraged to do charitable work, which they get credit for with the firm. "We spend a lot of time and money in the community," Viets says. "To us, this breeds good will."

The challenge for Viets is to find fresh talent. "We do not see a flow of younger talent wanting to come in" to the advisory field, he says. This may be because of the pressure and a compensation structure that can scare off young prospects who don't see the longterm earnings potential.

Viets says he finds more potential in professionals in their 30s—former business owners, teachers, clergy. Ministers have proven to be especially strong candidates, he says, because they have the ability to "communicate the benefits of an intangible."

Viets still depends on a daily trip to the gym. "There's a 30- pound weight on my desk, and I do curls when I'm stressed," he says. Looking ahead, Viets says, he has no plans to exchange the 30-pound weight for anything smaller, or for that matter, larger.

— Judith Schoolman