As a couple of our top managers say, it is the people you surround yourself with that matters. For the 10 men and women here, it is also their understanding of how each of their advisors operate that has led to their branches' success. "I listen because I learn more that way," one winner says. That statement epitomizes the main trait rewarded by our judges: David Gardner, co-founder of Smart Consulting, a consultancy in the managed accounts area; Stewart Lee, CEO of Lee Training, which coaches branch managers; Alois Pirker, research director at financial services research firm, Aite Group; and Scott B. Smith, associate director at Cerulli Associates, which focuses on the brokerage business.

Brett Bellcase
Regional Brokerage Manager and Senior Vice President
Wells Fargo Advisors
San Antonio and Austin, Texas
Number of Advisors: 36
Branch Aum: $2 billion

Brett Bellcase believes that the small things can make or break a business. By sitting with, watching and interacting with advisors over time, Bellcase says he is able to identify the small things that might get in the way of meeting goals or providing an excellent client experience.

"It's incumbent upon us as leaders to not just sit in an office, but go out and know what's going on," Bellcase says.

Being a top branch manager also means that you have to balance the short term fears with the long term goals of both your clients and your advisors. "This is the biggest challenge—to alleviate fears when the news is bloody," he says.

Clients' three top priorities are education of children or grandchildren, employing a strategy to reduce taxes and saving for retirement. That comes as retirement has extended to 30 years from 15 years a generation ago. One great adversary to achieving client goals is consumerism. "I want it now, versus saving. There has been some pullback in household debt, and that's a positive," Bellcase says.

Bellcase has been in the industry since 1994, when he joined a third-party marketing firm affiliated with Premier Bank, a small bank in his home town of Baton Rouge, La. He moved to Hibernia Investments, managing offices in a region that encompassed Baton Rouge and Beaumont, Texas. Ultimately, he came to Wells Fargo as a regional broker manager. He became a manager in New Mexico and landed in Austin, Texas, after the merger with Wachovia led Wells Fargo to realign personnel. Austin was at the top of his geographical wish list.

"There are a lot of great things happening here. And for the second year, Forbes said Austin is the fastest growing city in the nation," Bellcase says.

Bellcase supervises two offices, which are one hour apart, and some scattered satellite locations. He says that he is most proud of the branches' ramp up rate in the past two years, with 83% of the analysts exceeding the firm's ramp up rate. However, Bellcase says there is room for more growth in the future.

To help advisors do their best, Bellcase says that he realizes that the advisors have the same hopes and dreams as their clients. "I understand all the visions by helping the advisors with development plans every year."

— Judith Schoolman


Rick Folmar
Complex Manager-Oklahoma and Northwest Arkansas
Wells Fargo Advisors
Oklahoma City, Okla.
Number of Advisors: 128
Branch Aum: $8.5 billion

Despite the image of the gung-ho salesman, Rick Folmar says he finds his biggest challenge is getting his advisors out of their comfort zone, and in front of clients and prospects. "Getting them to engage and commit to being out in public is a big challenge," he says.

But that's just what advisors need, Folmar says. He watches over his charges closely, with Post-It notes on his desk about various advisors and their weekly or monthly goals.

The strength of the Wells Fargo name has been a major draw in the past year with recruiting, Folmar says, helping him lure 11 experienced advisors from other wirehouses. "We've been able to attract quality talent from the competition as other firms were struggling. People looked to Wells Fargo as a brand of strength and stability," Folmar says.

Folmar says he has capitalized on the firm's brand with a busy schedule of client strategy events in his region of Oklahoma and Northwest Arkansas. "We've been extremely active in the community with events in every major community where we do business nearly every month, engaging the public in dialogue about investments."

Now that markets have recovered their footing, every observer has ideas about lessons learned from the bear market of 2008. In Folmar's region, where people tend to be more conservative in general, there weren't as many of the excesses reported elsewhere, he says. Still, Folmar says "clients have been changed forever by the crisis." For one thing, they have learned their own lessons. "Many of them are very clear that they cannot afford to take the risk of having a 100% equity portfolio, regardless of their age," he says.

He helps the advisors in the 16 offices he oversees be their best just by being a supportive presence. "Seasoned advisors know what to do, they just need confidence that management will support them as they come across unique needs for clients," Folmar says. "They need somebody to motivate and inspire them and hold them accountable to what they believe they can accomplish and agree to try to accomplish."

Folmar got his start in the industry as a financial advisor with Morgan Stanley in 1998, right out of college. He became a branch manager in 2002, and was put in charge of four other advisors. He continued to advise his own clients until 2010, when he stepped aside from clients to manage full-time.

— Elizabeth Wine

Greg Gangas
Managing Director, Oklahoma Complex Manager
Morgan Stanley Smith Barney
Tulsa, Okla.
Number of Advisors: 160
Branch AUM: $14 billion

After Greg Gangas graduated from college, he started a small business manufacturing fresh orange juice and grapefruit juice in Texas. Four years later, Gangas sold that business to a large corporate competitor.

That experience inspired him to look to find an industry where he could have the entrepreneurial freedom to run his own business and also compete at all levels for all types of business.

Gangas took a position with Shearson Lehman in downtown Dallas, where he realized he was inclined to help other employees. Gangas' business was mostly fee-based or advisory in nature, he says, which gave him free time. Gangas volunteered to help the trainees sitting outside of his office after he noticed they were not getting a lot of attention from management. "I found that I got more joy out of seeing their successes in some cases than I did with my own," Gangas says.

Gangas then took on a managerial role in Dallas, which led to an offer to run a branch outside of Houston. He took that job as a producing branch manager in 1994, and subsequently moved to his current position in his home state of Oklahoma, where he has been for 16 years.

When Gangas realized there was no telephone etiquette training offered, he was quick to put one in place. Now 10 years since that training was created, all complex staff is required to participate and the complex financial advisors are kept abreast on their progress. The phone training program ties in with the complex's goals of strengthening its client service and differentiating the firm from the competition, which is more necessary than ever, Gangas says.

"It's never been as noticeable as it has been in the last couple of years—the willingness for institutions, high-net-worth individuals, just your average retail investor, to be willing for a second opinion," Gangas says. "Truly, we've never seen an opportunity this big where clients are willing to sit down and talk, who wouldn't have done it before."

Gangas' force is working to address those client needs by making sure they feel better for doing business with the firm. Having those priorities in place also ultimately helps to retain financial advisors, Gangas says.

"It leads to them wanting to stay here," Gangas says, after hiring four advisors this year. "I think our recruiting numbers, in Tulsa specifically, speak to that."

— Lorie Konish

Thomas W. Gower III
Director/Branch Manager
UBS Financial Services
Bangor, Maine
Number of Advisors: 6
Branch AUM: $600 million

Thomas Gower says his branch in Bangor, Maine, gives him "the best of both worlds," including a highly productive and very profitable UBS branch and a lot of time with clients. The branch includes six advisors, three of whom who are new to the firm. "We are very small because of the area but we are very productive and have clients nationwide," Gower says. "This is our claim to fame."

Gower came to UBS after 12 years in corporate financial management and strategic planning for several large corporations. But he wanted something more entrepreneurial. In 1996, he became a financial advisor for Smith Barney in Buffalo, N.Y., but missed the management side.

He entered UBS's management training and leadership program, and jumped at the chance when he was assigned to Bangor.

Because of the branch's size, "we're small enough to talk every day," Gower says, which helps him to formally and informally help the advisors do their best. That includes regular quarterly strategy sessions and check ins on advisors' personal and professional goals.

Gower's biggest lesson in the last year, when he says stocks rebounded nicely, was to instill the wisdom that financial advisors should not allow ourselves their clients to be complacent. Now is the time to bring clients to a proper allocation based on risk tolerance and common sense, he says.

"Risk says not to be too overloaded in stocks, even if the markets have rebounded," Gower says, as cash and bonds have hit returns close to nothing. "It's all about maintaining the proper appropriation for clients."

And while the old broker model was to trade stocks and manage portfolios, in the last year Gower has promoted an ongoing effort to help advisors evolve to a new, more diverse, business environment.

His goal is to help advisors grow into wealth management, which has several fronts: comprehensive financial planning, a lending side and professional portfolio management. "It's not just transactions anymore," Gower says.

The branch has also revamped its client service model to include monthly calls and formal quarterly reviews, which leads to referrals, client retention and asset growth, Gower says. Gower has hired three new advisors in the past year, one of whom came from Merrill Lynch. 

— Judith Schoolman

Catherine Lapadula
Managing Director; Manager, UBS International N.Y.; Branch Manager, UBS International Hong Kong
UBS International
New York
Number of Advisors: 50
Branch AUM: $6 billion

Catherine Lapadula caught the bug early to join the rough-and-tumble world of finance. The vibe always felt right, she remembers, when visiting the office of her corporate-bond salesman father at Mabon Nugent in New York. After graduating from college, Lapadula made a beeline for the trading floor, where she started as a receptionist. Within six months at Citibank International Private Banking, Lapadula was on the desk, trading gold and other precious metals in the basement of 399 Park Ave. She has never looked back.

Today Lapadula, who speaks at lightening speed, has spent two dozen years in international business, including eight years as a branch manager. She heads both UBS International New York and UBS International Hong Kong and oversees some 50 financial advisors, representing roughly 33 countries and 20 languages. "I'm the single mom of 50 [financial advisors]," says Lapadula, who is, in fact, a married mother of three. "My job is to add value and take away any roadblocks of the financial advisors," she says. Lapadula does that by maintaining an open door to her FAs as they work through the markets' rumblings and other issues such as the new regulatory environment and how social media fits into their business. As the boss, it is up to Lapadula to interpret how these three areas play out for her branches and the industry. If a financial advisor is in a slump, it is Lapadula who has a one-on-one with him or her and pores over their book to uncover weaknesses and possible wins. "Good branch managers are good coaches. They can analyze trends and spot opportunities in an advisor's business," Lapadula says. "They instill a culture of education and growth."

A former rugby player in college, Lapadula sees work as a team sport. Six years ago, she had walls of individual offices knocked down to make room for team trading rooms. "It was a big success, as it is a great way to share intellectual capital among our financial advisors," she says.

Life in Lapadula's branches, however, isn't all work and no play. "We celebrate," she says. Throwing parties or dinners for events such as Chinese New Year, an advisor's engagement or new baby, bolsters morale and encourages team bonding, and are, more importantly, another chance for Lapadula to practice the "high-touch, value-add" with her own clients that she preaches to her FAs. "Advisors have clients," Lapadula says, "but my clients are my financial advisors, and I do not forget that."

— Michelle Lodge

Joe Malarney
Managing Director/Complex Manager
Morgan Stanley Smith Barney
Number of Advisors: 144
Branch AUM: $14 billion

When Joe Malarney looks ahead to what clients will expect from wealth management firms and their financial advisors in the future, he sees more of two things: the aggregation of client assets and risk management.

"I believe we're at an inflection point in the business, where clients are demanding even more of us than they have in the past," Malarney says. "They want us to be anything involving financial matters. Heretofore, we've been on the asset management side."

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney's advisors are well poised to respond to those demands, Malarney says, with new technology tools scheduled for a final roll out this summer. Those tools include a proprietary outside asset aggregation system, another system that provides what Malarney calls "institutional-quality" risk management and a FINRA-approved program through LinkedIn. Malarney says that the new offerings should help advisors perform better for clients and raise more assets.

Malarney began his career in 1985 as a trainee at Shearson Lehman Brothers, following a lifelong interest in investing. He was selected for a manager trainee slot in 1988, and was subsequently assigned his first branch in Boca Raton, Fla., in 1989.

At the time that Malarney was assigned to that Florida branch, it was ranked last in the state within the firm. By the time Malarney left in 1995, it was among the top branches of Smith Barney Shearson, in part because of the partnerships he created. Malarney's work there also taught him humility and listening skills, he says.

"Because of the quality of people that stayed with me and helped me, I've learned leadership skills," Malarney says. "Once I realized I didn't have all the answers, my life got a little easier."

From Boca Raton, Malarney moved to Boston after he was offered a position at the retail institutional office. That branch was combined with the Drexel branch in 1995, and grew to include all the branches within Massachusetts and north of Boston two years ago.

Today, the complex has an eclectic business mix that encompasses anything the firm is capable of doing, Malarney says, which often leads to joint ventures. He sees his role as helping the advisors meet and share their success stories. "I think you need to treat your [financial advisors] as clients and as business partners simultaneously," Malarney says. "It's not just a job. It's more than that. And if you do it right, it's very challenging, but at the same time equally, if not more so, rewarding."

— Lorie Konish

Michael O'Meara
Senior Vice President, Complex Manager
Raymond James & Associates
St. Louis, Mo.
Number of Advisors: 33
Branch Aum: $2.4 billion

From early on in his career, Michael O'Meara says he enjoyed connecting with both clients and other advisors. Now he perceives a rare opportunity to recruit dissatisfied advisors, by offering them an alternative practice to Wall Street. Having launched the St. Louis office for Raymond James in October 2006, he has developed it from scratch and hired every advisor there. "My real passion is recruiting," O'Meara says.

The opportunity to get to know his crew on a close personal level is what makes O'Meara's role of branch manager most satisfying, he says. He uses his sense of rapport to help each of his office team to achieve their professional best. "The highest skill of management is to understand each individual on a personal level, and know what makes them tick," O'Meara says. Some advisors would prefer their manager to keep a low profile; others appreciate being encouraged, helped and even pushed a little. The key is to discover the optimal approach for handling each person, he says.

That can sometimes include helping advisors reinvigorate their business. O'Meara begins by trying to analyze how they are running their operations, and focusing on exactly which tasks they are performing. After breaking down their routines, he coaches by reorganizing the priorities. The key is to take everything off the plate, except for the essential functions, such as contacting existing clients and putting in place marketing strategies to acquire new ones. O'Meara helps direct their energies into more client contact, rather than research or long hours of paperwork.

Over the past years, and indeed the last few months, O'Meara has observed the volatile markets, and works to convey his experience to his team. O'Meara says he stresses the importance of constant discipline, and the need to take the emotion out of investing. "We should really be buying our equities the same way we buy groceries and clothing—when items are on sale, and not when they are fully priced," O'Meara says. When stock prices offer value, he advocates buying, even when the investment climate is uncertain.

When markets are plunging, and the advisors' heads are down, O'Meara says it is the time to be most visible, which is what clients need. As much of investing revolves around mood and sentiment, it is critical that advisors provide a calming influence. O'Meara reminds his team that the financial news they watch provides a distorted view during extreme periods. He cautions his advisors that they would do better to tune out the media noise, and instead focus on hard numbers and solid research.

— Vanessa Drucker

Christopher Shaw
Complex Manager/Executive Director
Morgan Stanley Smith Barney
Red Bank, N.J.
Number of Advisors: 180
Branch Aum: $15 billion

Chris Shaw has landed on the Top 10 Branch Managers list for the second time following his 2008 debut. After Shaw started out as a financial advisor at Dean Witter in Atlantic City, N.J., in 1994, it did not take him long to decide he wanted to pursue a managerial role.

Shaw's inspiration to become a branch manager came in part from his experience playing sports. Shaw played football through college, even receiving the coveted All-American honors, and then went on to coaching after he graduated. Serving as a branch manager offers the perfect opportunity to combine financial services advice with coaching skills, Shaw says.

It was the end of Shaw's second year of production when he approached his local branch manager to talk about how he could land a management position. But the manager told Shaw he was still too fresh to the business.

Shaw persevered. He worked as a financial advisor for another year, and then went back to that same manager again to express his interest in taking on a leadership role. This time, their talks continued on and off, Shaw remembers, until he ultimately nabbed a slot in Morgan Stanley's management training program in New York. Shaw completed that program, called the Management Training Associate program, in '98 and '99 in the World Trade Center.

From there, Shaw went on to serve as the complex manager for the state of Arkansas, based out of Little Rock, for several years. He then spent several years as a regional sales director in New York before assuming his current role in Red Bank, N.J., seven years ago.

Shaw's early start definitely taught him some lessons along the way, he says. The most important of those were to surround yourself with great people. "Once I really understood the impact that could make, and I started taking a little more control of the people I surrounded myself with, it made a big difference in my life," Shaw says. "That was a big factor in going from a younger manager to a more experienced manager."

Shaw says he also emphasizes getting to know all of the employees in his complex, and letting them know he is there for them. Even though there are other managers to help with that, Shaw says he sees his role as just as important. "There's a lot of things you can delegate, but at the end of the day you can't delegate you," Shaw says.

— Lorie Konish

Amy Sturtevant
Senior Vice President, Branch Director
RBC Wealth Management
Washington, D.C.
Number of Advisors: 18
Branch Aum: $2 billion

As a teenager, Amy Sturtevant says she always enjoyed saving any money she made from small jobs. She stashed it away in a drawer, rather than spending it, and was fascinated with the concept of compound interest.

That interest in finance has led her through a 25-year career as a financial advisor, at both a large wirehouse and a smaller boutique. Sturtevant agreed to become branch director in Washington, D.C., in 2009, inspired by her commitment to encouraging and attracting women to the industry. In her own office, she concentrates on reinforcing close-knit camaraderie among the female advisors (50% of the team are women), and creating an environment for sharing ideas, communicating and networking. She periodically brings the women together to brainstorm and discuss ways for improving business. They also share insights about their careers, business practices, marketing and development strategies. "It's a powerful motivation to remember we are all on the same team, and not competing against each other," Sturtevant says.

During her relatively short tenure at RBC, Sturtevant has elevated her branch ranking to 32 from 138. Among her successful initiatives, she organized a spring seminar series last year, and opened it to the entire complex. Advisors used the forum to discuss multigenerational issues, social media, trusts and estate planning and retirement income strategies.

Sturtevant is no stranger to demanding roles, both in as a financial professional and a mother of four, three of whom are triplets. While she was mulling over the offer to manage her RBC branch, she worried at first that the added duties might impact her own successful advisory business, built up over so many years. But after thinking about her family, she says she realized: "Branch management will be a walk in the park compared to that!"

In the past year, Sturtevant has been weathering this year's volatile markets for her clients. As stocks climb back from October lows, she has taken to heart the importance of acquiring quality stocks, concentrating on diversification and total return in portfolios, and the key role of dividend-paying stocks. "As much as people say they want to make money, when push comes to shove, they really want not to lose it," Sturtevant says.

And her triplets, now 22-years-old, have inherited some of their mother's fascination with compound interest. Two of them have wisely invested 10% of their graduation money, watching it earn quite a bit over the past year.

— Vanessa Drucker

Stephen Viets
Managing Director/Major Markets Manager
Wells Fargo Advisors
Las Vegas
Number of Advisors: 100
Branch Aum: $6 billion

This is the second year in a row that Stephen Viets received word that he was named a top 10 branch manager.

Using his graduate degree in clinical psychology and an undergraduate degree in business, Viets says that being a good manager means being connected with his colleagues. "I recognize any achievement worthy of note—life experience or changes in the family. Any excuse to make a phone call," Viets says.

Viets has been in the money management business since he became registered as a Series 7 advisor at Paine Webber in November 1982. But he credits his stint in the Air Force as a management analyst and a post-military job at Wendy's for helping to launch his career.

While working with his father who had a Wendy's franchise in Sacramento, Calif., Viets served a local businessman who frequently bought lunch for his staff at the restaurant. After that customer told Viets, "If you can flip burgers, you can flip stocks," Viets stapled his resume to a takeout bag filled with burgers and fries and got his first job.

Viets decided to be his own branch manager after watching the departure of three branch managers in four years. He moved from Paine Webber to the company across the street, Prudential Securities. Prudential morphed into Wachovia, which in turn became Wells Fargo Advisors. The territories grew and changed into the Las Vegas office that Viets now calls his home-with frequent flights to other offices around his territory that includes more than 100 advisors in 11 offices. The Las Vegas office alone has $15 million in assets under management. Viets has recruited three advisors in the past year, and six in the past two years.

Now that there's a rebound in U.S. equity markets, investment opportunities abound. Calling recent years "the most difficult time in 75 years," Viets says he and his advisors have "come out on top." However, with opportunities come challenges. One is rebuilding confidence, not only with customers, but with advisors as well.

"I'm constantly trying to instill confidence in the advisors to step back into the market. Customers are sitting on an inordinate amount of cash," that needs to go back into the markets, Viets says.

Looking back on the past year, Viets says he has learned a lot about the value of involvement and discussion with his advisors. "I ask my advisors, 'Tell me about your business. What do you see?' I listen because I learn more that way."

— Judith Schoolman