The May edition of the 2022 PLANADVISER Practice Progress webinar series tackled critical questions on the topic of firm culture—what it is and what it takes to build a positive and productive environment for both staff and leadership.
The webinar presented perspectives from three of this year’s PLANADVISER Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year finalists. The first interview of the webinar featured Dan Becraft, Morgan Stanley wealth management executive director, who said his approach to practice culture is to first make sure everyone feels like they are a principal or owner of the team.
“As teammates, I feel like we operate from a position of kindness,” Becraft said. “From my point of view, this is the smartest business strategy you can have, and being kind is really not that hard. The benefits are huge.”
Becraft emphasized the importance of being kind to people that normally get ignored by practice leadership, whether that is support staff or junior advisers. And it is critical that the effort is genuine.
“We don’t just want to be kind on ‘support staff day’ or something like that,” he warned. “We want to be kind to them all 365 days and to make them feel valuable.”
Within Becraft’s practice, everyone, all the way down to his assistant, shares in the revenue growth. He said firm revenue grew by around 30% last year, and he wants his employees’ pay to follow his own—something unusual in the industry. Because of this, assistant pay has approximately doubled, which makes even the lowest level employees feel valued and creates a work environment where the team can focus on taking care of the client in a truly collaborative way.
Becraft credited the leadership at Morgan Stanley for supporting his vision and setting a similar tone.
“I feel like my role is that of a servant-manager, not a micromanager,” Becraft said. “Yes, I am leading this practice, but if a staff person needs something, I am here to make sure they feel like their needs are being met by the person leading their team.”
The firm’s focus also includes concerted diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Within Becraft’s practice, which started out as a team of three men, the team is now roughly 70% women. In a field that has been historically male-dominated, his firm is driven by intelligent and strong women who are not afraid to debate on topics or let him know if he is wrong.
“How my team has evolved is actually remarkable just to me, and I know that as a white guy, I look like the industry,” Becraft said. “But I don’t want to think like that. I want to think differently. And I want to think about how I can change, materially, how things are done and how people feel that they’re being treated in the workplace.”