Updated: Dec 8, 2020
October 15, 2020
Chris reflects on his early days as a sales trainee, the benefits of being viewed and treated as a colleague, and why that matters as we strive to expand our hiring pool. And we take a moment to review what exactly our firm has accomplished during a time of quarantine. #hiring #diversity #inclusion #chrisweil #cwcculture #WEILculture #BLM #foundationalphilosophy #financialadvisory #investmentmanagement #assetmanagement #assetmanagers #wealthmanagment #financialplanning #WEIL
Our company has twenty-five employees of whom sixteen are women and ten identify as people of color. There has been no particular diversity calculation on our part to achieve these numbers. We just took people as they came, and this is the way they came.
Rather than continue to “take them as they come,” and because the channels we have used in the past have not yielded many Black candidates, we are now working to make sure our candidate pool includes qualified Black prospective employees, by expanding the networks where we find referrals. “Qualified” often means experienced and credentialed. But for us (as I’ve mentioned in earlier newsletters), it can also mean energetic, curious, honest, ambitious, teachable, intelligent and service-orientated. Historically, many of our hires have been people without any experience in our business. They were hired for the many “soft” skills they possess (skills we consider to be as important as “hard” skills), and became credentialed and/or degreed while working for the firm.
There are a number of good reasons why we feel that seeking to expand our hiring pool is the right thing for us to do. In my case, these reasons go back many decades and are evidence of my slow (perhaps too slow) evolution of consciousness as to the perniciousness and pervasiveness of systemic and structural racism. If you will bear with me, I will share some of this evolution with you.
One day, when I was very young in the investment business, my manager handed me an orphan account and told me to contact the client (in this case a woman) and introduce myself to see if there was anything there for me to do. (Typically, an orphan account was one in which the original rep was long gone, with no activity in the account for years and a small current value.)
There was no phone number listed among the account documents and no listing in the phone book. As the client’s home was only about ten miles from mine it seemed to me the best way to make contact was simply to drive to the client’s home and knock on the door.
This I did.
The home was old, small and inexpensively constructed, an anomaly in the Manhattan Beach community, then and now. The woman who answered the door was small and in her early 70’s. I introduced myself, and she asked me in and offered me a cup of tea.
I was there, of course, to determine whether there might be a business opportunity associated with this account. But as a result of my recent sales training I knew that the best way to get a discussion started was to ask a not-too-personal question about the client’s circumstances. In this case I asked, “How long have you lived here?” An hour or so later she was still talking about her life.
As my sales training also included the maxim “never interrupt,” I didn’t interrupt.
At some point she said, “I suppose you’re here to talk about investments.” I nodded. She said “Well, I do have some money. I have been thinking about investing, and I would like to consider you. But, given the amount, I wonder if you would be willing to talk with my nephew who knows a good deal more about investments than I do?”
“Of course,” I said. “Please give him a call and tell him I’ll arrange a time to talk with him. By the way, how much of an investment are you considering?” When she replied, “$25,000,” I was speechless, but managed to simply nod my head in a way I hoped would convey both approval and what I considered to be the more-or-less-routine nature of the amount.
It was not routine.
In fact, $25,000 would be by far the largest investment made by any client I had dealt with in my six months in the business. (For some perspective, $25,000 in 1963 had the purchasing power of $200,000 in 2020.)
The nephew turned out to be the managing partner of a large Los Angeles law firm. My imagination went wild. He would be gruff, impatient, judgmental. (“You don’t even shave yet”; “I have forgotten more about investments than you’ll ever know.”) But I pulled myself together and called him for an appointment.
He took my call and very graciously invited me to lunch at his downtown L.A. club.
The club was housed in an elegant little two-story building amid the skyscrapers of downtown. The message was clear. “You may think you rule, with your height and your glass walls and your important tenants, but how much does it tell you about me when you consider that my land use is outrageously disproportionate to its value - and I don’t care!”
The lunch went well, not least of all because he treated me like a colleague. He told me that he had looked over the information about the investment (a mutual fund) and felt that it would be suitable for my client and that he would tell her so.
Inwardly, my relief was palpable. Outwardly, I tried to communicate by my demeanor that this was all in a day’s work.
At some point I was able to get beyond self-absorption and begin to take in the details of the surroundings. The room was full of people who looked very much like my host: older white males, all in what looked to me like expensive suits and ties. No sports clothes. And, I realized, no women or people of color (except the waitstaff), the significance of which I managed to miss.
“Where are the Black members”? is what I didn’t ask because somewhere in my head I registered that this question would be considered provocative. But I did manage to ask, “No women members of this club”? “No, male only. We do have a women’s night each Thursday, but only for wives of members.”
It did not occur to me at the time, but I ultimately came to realize that what I saw that day (moral considerations aside) were quasi-monopolistic and anti-competitive behaviors in the flesh. When my host said “men only” what he meant was “old, white men with power and position.” No women, no black skin, no brown skin (this despite L.A.’s Hispanic roots). If, voluntarily or otherwise, a small pool of senior business and political leaders expands (a pool where the members have heretofore enjoyed significant power and influence), the original members of the pool will experience a dilution of their power and influence. In fact, that is what ultimately happened to the men’s club where I had lunch, as it happened to countless heretofore “restricted” organizations, as people awakened to the fact that behind the veneer of “excuses” for exclusivity resided the 800-pound gorilla in the room: such organizations provided undue competitive advantages to those who “qualified” for membership - but those qualifications were inherently restrictive.
In thinking about the various struggles to evolve from “restricted” to “inclusive” (which is, in economic terms, the struggle to break down barriers to opportunity), it registers with me that Black Lives Matter is an example of large numbers of people joining together in a struggle to complete some serious unfinished business. To be sure, the current focus of BLM is on police use of force (shootings, chokeholds, use of chemical agents, etc.); but the foundational issue is a history of exclusion and the habits of enforcement that these bred: a history of exclusion from certain schools; or certain neighborhoods; or certain unions; or certain professions; or certain churches; or certain clubs. The list goes on. We have come some way from where we were, it seems to me; but not all the way by a long shot. Academic studies have shown, for example, that job applicants with African American names receive far fewer callbacks than do their White counterparts with comparable (even otherwise identical) CVs.
But even if you tend to believe that the worst of active, invidious discrimination is “all behind us” (an argument I don’t believe it is really possible to make), there is still the matter of equity (or, rather, inequity) as to what you could call the starting line for today’s “race” to achieve equitable outcomes.
Consider one example.
Between the 1930’s and the 1960’s it was the unambiguous policy of the federal government to deny mortgage insurance to prospective Black home buyers. In most cases, no mortgage insurance meant no loan. This denial was abetted with the full-throated cooperation of many members of the real estate industry (builders, brokers, mortgage lenders) as well as community business leaders. The policy went by various names but most of us know it as redlining.
Read now, the arguments for redlining are, as my grandchildren would say, cringeworthy. (“Those people don’t take care of their properties.” “Those people can’t be trusted to meet their contractual obligations.” “An influx of those people will drive property values down.”)
These arguments were either pure hogwash or examples of self-fulfilling prophecies, or both. When Black buyers did, somehow, manage to secure loans (not federally insured, and often on much less favorable terms) it is not surprising that, in many cases, items of maintenance and repair were deferred. Cash was always short, such that it could often be a choice between needed paint and needed food. And it was common, if and when a Black family managed to move into a white neighborhood, for brokers to encourage white homeowners to “sell now before property values fall” (as a result of which, they often did).
What the practice of redlining “achieved” was to prevent, with few exceptions, the wealth creation opportunities associated with home ownership and equity buildup. Home ownership, for the middle and working classes, has always been their single most important asset and in many cases the single most important asset of their heirs.
Some today doubtless think that the problem of Black poverty could be addressed if those involved would just “pull up their socks”; but that is like criticizing a sprinter forced to start the race 20 yards back for not running a competitive 100-yard dash. Are there other reasons for Black poverty? Of course. But for generations of Black people, the late start in homeownership has been a major contributor to the economic hardships they have suffered.
It has always been true that “the sins of the fathers/parents have been visited on the sons/children.” This is just a fancy way of saying that each current generation has to contend with the conditions initiated and/or supported by previous ones. Every great social movement (Civil Rights and Women’s Rights being classic examples) have sought, with greater or lesser success, to alter or overturn the sins that many people will no longer countenance.
WEIL’s hiring initiative is one small contribution to the process of addressing these sins.
As we at WEIL continue to work together to create a business that reflects the values of diversity and inclusion, many of us have appreciated the distinctions this cartoon draws. It does not speak precisely to the circumstance we have had here at WEIL (where we have inadvertently walled out potential job applicants by seeking candidates through insufficiently diverse networks), but it seems thought-provoking enough to include as a coda to this quarter’s Report and Commentary.
Source: https://www.diffen.com/difference/Equality-vs-Equity One final note: Last week, our Culture & Communications Officer compiled a report of projects completed by department during this time of quarantine. (Since all but two of our staff are working from home offices, this still feels very much like a quarantine.) She then circulated this list to the team to congratulate them on their fine work. Because clients often don’t get a behind-the-scenes-glimpse, I thought it would be worthwhile for you, clients and friends, to get a flavor of the character of the WEIL operations. I have enclosed “What We Achieved During Quarantine” for your review.
Newsletter Bonus: What We Achieved During Quarantine (A Memo to WEIL Team Members - September 2020) from Kit-Victoria (Weil) Wells - Culture & Communications Officer
Dear WEIL Team: The last six months have been incredibly challenging for us; individually, professionally, nationally, globally. And yet, we have accomplished so much. In addition to sustaining the excellence our clients have come to expect from us, we have risen to and met many of the challenges created by these crises. Not only that, we have also improved our business by enhancing the client (and tenant) experience, expanding and refining the products and services we offer, making more efficient our administrative work, working to improve our Diversity & Inclusion policies, improving assets of the various portfolios, adding more clients to the platform and much, much more.
Below you will find a short list by department that gives us the opportunity to celebrate the many successes of our business and our ability to rise up during painful and uncertain times. You will notice that some lists are long and others, less long. This is a reflection of the “micro-ness” versus “macro-ness” of department work, and not an indication of one department’s accomplishments over any other.
Accounting & Compliance Team (ACT) (Laura, Jillian, Victoria and John)
Completed tax season and produced 26 entity tax returns and 1,053 K-1s.
Secured PPP financing for both WEIL and La Casa Del Zorro (“Zorro”).
Applied for and received a grant from San Diego County for Zorro.
Fully integrated Jillian into the department.
Integrated cash flow into the new 4D processing system.
Wound up and closed the following entities: Druid, Dallas, Model portfolios and Qmuni.
Successfully created a remote working environment, keeping checks and balances intact.
Advisory Team (AT) (Jon, Rob, Tyler, Matt and Chris)
Brought 15 new clients onto the platform.
Added the largest amount of new assets in any 6 month period in the history of the firm.
Identified and secured investors for an attractive private debt opportunity investment.
Had more than 300 meaningful conversations with clients.
Client Service Team (CST)/Contract & Insurance Team (CIT) (Catalina, Mary, Macy, Christina, Georgia, Erin, Sandra, Kara and John)
Transitioned to eSignature at Fidelity.
Upgraded the portal system.
Transitioned and upgraded quarterly performance and billing systems.
Upgraded group email reporting system (reducing the amount of time spent on each mailing by 90%. This includes eBlasts, cashflow, quarterly billings, CAM, tenant notifications, newsletters, capital call notifications, and compliance notifications).
Audited the MAP billing system back to its inception in 1998 and reconciled all (15) errors.
Processed the onboarding of a record amount of cash and securities for a six-month period.
Opened 64 new accounts.
Culture & Communications Team (CCT) (Kit and Caitlin)
Created and launched the Zorro website.
Made progress on the new CWC website.
Enhanced our Diversity & Inclusion/Anti-Racism Education conversation and policies.
Nearly completed installation of Estate Transition Services.
Formed a hiring committee.
Philanthropy Team (PT) (Macy)
Started a Corporate Giving Committee.
Identified ten nonprofits and made total gifts from WEIL in the amount of $33,000.
Portfolio Management Team (PMT) (Danny, Mike and John)
Identified and brought to the WEIL platform an attractive debt opportunity investment.
Identified iCapitol as a good companion platform for alternative investments and made investments accordingly.
Created the 5G Strategy and designed a 5G model portfolio.
Identified Folio Institutional as a platform for fractional share trading and established a relationship so accounts could be opened on its platform.
Successfully managed client assets completely remotely, specifically through opportunistic tax loss harvesting and portfolio rebalancing.
Continued to vet and communicate with outside managers and made timely additions to our Core GEP, DIP, and ALT Strategies.
Real Estate Team (Jens, Anna, Jill, John, Sandra and Laura)
Integrated Appfolio into 4D.
Added 18 tenants to the Appfolio platform (commercial and residential).