By Ellen Paris
In late 2010, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Investment Advisors Brian Amidei, Joseph Romano, and Brett D’Orlando (formerly known as the Amidei Romano Group) were looking for a better way to serve their clients. Over at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, Rick Blanke, Robert Schein, and Michael Shields (formerly known as the Blanke Schein Group) felt the same. The two teams were very successful, managing high net worth books of business at their respective firms and earning long-standing reputations of integrity and proactive personalized service. “One of the reasons for our success over the years has been the ‘proactive vs. reactive’ service model we developed for our clients,” Schein explains.
Romano and Schein’s children attend school together at Sacred Heart in Palm Desert. The two men had met briefly at school functions and ran into each other at a basketball game at Indian Wells Tennis Gardens in late 2010. “We talked more than we watched the game, and we both agreed we were looking for the same thing: a way to get out from under the captivity of our Wall Street firms and have a more objective view for our clients,” Romano explains. They were frustrated with constraints of what they could and could not do for their clients. In addition, the sterling reputations of these once top Wall Street firms were tarnished. “I was upset that our team’s reputation was better locally than the big firm we worked for,” Schein confides.
As investors recovered from the shell shock of “Too Big to Fail” financial firms, the two teams wanted to move to an untainted investment advisory firm where the clients’ interests are the priority. After much due diligence on both sides, in April 2011, they chose Chicago-based HighTower. ”We all agreed to check out the independent route and talked to HighTower,” Blanke recalls. “They were really making a name for themselves in the industry.”
HighTower is a national, advisor-owned financial services company serving high net worth and institutional clients. As a dually registered, multicustodial firm, HighTower provides sophisticated investment solutions, as well as an independent and unobstructed view of the markets. “We are no longer limited to a single firm’s offerings for our clientele,” Amidei explains. “We have the best that Wall Street has to offer at our fingertips. They have the model down. It is the ultimate open architecture for an advisor. As registered investment advisors at HighTower, we can do business with anyone on the street because we are backed by the HighTower name and client support services.”
The story of successful advisors leaving their Wall Street firms for HighTower is building steam. The firm was a recent cover story in Registered Rep, a leading industry publication. The cover features an illustration of HighTower’s CEO, Elliot Weissbluth, as Harrison Ford with the headline, “Raiders of the Wirehouse Ark.” The article details that HighTower has snagged some of the biggest and best investment advisors in the business since starting in 2008. The firm is backed by capital partners from The Macquarie Group, M.D. Sass, Franklin Mutual Advisors, Envestnet, and Offit Capital.
It’s no surprise that with their backgrounds, reputations and client lists, the two local teams were a fit for HighTower. And HighTower was the opportunity both were looking for to develop their new partnership. In November 2011, the teams merged their two groups into one powerhouse operation. All six financial services professionals retain the title of managing director, partner and offer clients a varying skill set and areas of expertise. The office operates like a private family office, providing high net worth clients a variety of personalized services from real estate financing to selling a business and more. “We couldn’t have found better synergy,” Brett D’Orlando says. “Now we’re not only the largest independent financial advisory firm in the valley, but also we feel our combined strengths make us the smartest.”
Clients have gladly followed the two teams from their former firms. “We were very successful at creating a seamless transition for our clients,” recalls Michael Shields. “Once we explained the benefits of having a truly open architecture and multicustodial platform for our clients, their only question was, ‘What took you so long?’” Amidei adds.
Meeting and exceeding past, present, and future clients’ needs at HighTower is a philosophy that is shared by every member of the team. “An unobstructed view is the only view to have,” Blanke concludes. “It’s a game changer. Period.”
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