George D. “Bo” Bragaw, III | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

George D. “Bo” Bragaw, III

Background:  

Founded in Baltimore in 1800, Alex. Brown & Sons was the country’s first investment banking firm. Thirty years later, the firm helped finance the B&O, the country’s oldest railroad, and Baltimore’s first municipal water system. After a series of mergers and acquisitions in the 1990s and early 2000s, Alex. Brown partnered with Florida-based Raymond James in 2016, and focuses on wealth management for high-net-worth individuals. The division has 16 offices with 600 employees, including 100 based in Baltimore. Alex. Brown manages about $50 billion in assets. Bo Bragaw has worked in the brokerage industry for 30 years, and joined Alex. Brown in 2016.

The Mistake:

The mistake was not pausing to consider whether a new opportunity was the right fit.

I’ve been in the brokerage industry for 30 years, on the production side and the management side, which has allowed me to make lots of mistakes.

One mistake which affected my career took place years ago during a series of Wall Street mergers. When I entered the brokerage business, I interviewed with local and regional firms, as well as national wirehouse (also known as broker-dealer) firms. I chose to work with a regional firm for several reasons, principally because of their culture, their capabilities, and that they were more of a boutique, people-to-people firm. That was really, really important to the firm. Eventually that firm was bought up and we were blended into a bank culture. I took a lot of time and decided it was the right fit because it was still small, but then we began acquiring companies, including some large companies, and I’d gotten away from the cultural fit that I originally connected with.

Fast forward 10 years and five different mergers later, and the firm was again being bought, this time by Wells Fargo, a very, very large bank. We’d grown from 500 advisors to 15,000 advisors over the years. I started wondering how I got here. When you’re in the midst of it, the changes and the moves seem to be incremental, or you convince yourself they’re incremental.

Had I taken the time somewhere along the path when we became large, like the firms that I had no interest in being a part of when I initially got into the business, I would have made a transition to join a firm that was a better fit for me and the way I like to do business. The advantage there is, in time you develop relationships and build your practice and your business through relationships, and I ended up doing it later than I probably should have.

The real lesson is to hit pause or reset, and then analyze.

The Lesson:

In this case, upon every merger and acquisition that occurred I should have asked myself, “What is the end game if this is a series of acquisitions?”

Some people like to adapt and change, to the degree that the picture is very, very different as they go through their professional career. For others, including myself, while I can change and adapt, the core interest in culture and setting is at the core of the way I do business. From a professional standpoint, look inside yourself and determine what is the setting that you perform best in.

When you hit the pause button and have that long conversation with yourself, ask, “Does what I do professionally feel good to me? Does it empower me? Does it make me happy?” Because otherwise it’s pretty tough to be effective when you don’t like going to work every day.

I think everybody goes through phases in their career, regardless of whether it’s through mergers or acquisition or simply because industries change. Those that do hit the pause button and really analyze where they are today and where they want to be three, five, or ten years out, are the ones that end up with the best job satisfaction and enjoyment in their career, whether they stay in a position or move.

WBO Partners is on Twitter at @WBOPartners and Alex. Brown is at @AlexBrownRJ.

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