On a clear day, visitors to the 48th floor glass-walled offices of ClearBridge Advisors near New York's Times Square can see south to where the new tower is rising from ground zero of the old World Trade Center — where the core of the firm was forged before ClearBridge was even founded.
President Terrence Murphy concedes “it might sound corny, but the culture and the start of the way we work together probably does stem from 9/11.”
He estimates 60% to 70% of the current employees worked for Salomon Smith Barney and evacuated the 45th floor of 7 World Trade Center together before that building collapsed.
And having a common bond is important to creating a new culture at a new company — ClearBridge, which has $56.5 billion under management as of Oct. 31 — from 45 years of history under several different parents including Salomon, Citigroup Asset Management and, since 2005, Legg Mason (LM) Inc. (LM)
Mr. Murphy, who makes a point of walking the floors of the New York office three times a day “to say hello and see” what is on the minds of employees, stresses that the group has been a family for a long time.
Hersh Cohen, ClearBridge's co-chief investment officer has been with the group for nearly 44 yearsand has seen at least 10 different names on the door. He said longevity helps bond the group together but so do shared interests — namely in food.
Scott Glasser, his co-CIO, agreed that tenure and shared experiences are very important to the unity of the firm.
When asked for examples, Mr. Glasser spoke of 9/11 and the sale to Legg Mason, but Mr. Cohen chimed in with his own idea of a critical event “like finding out that the (group's) favorite Chinese restaurant was downgraded to a "C' by the health department.”
The foodie culture of the office is reinforced with bake-offs and other events sponsored by an internal cheer squad known as the ClearBridge Brigade, which also hosts ice cream socials and “Jeans Day” Fridays when money is raised for charities important to ClearBridge staff.
The longevity and unity of the group show in the data. Average turnover is less than 3% annually and the tenure of the staff is far longer than the company's been in its current form, averaging 19 years for all employees and 24 years for portfolio managers.
ClearBridge employees, filling out the Best Places to Work in Money Management survey for Pensions & Investments, cited the “high degree of professionalism” and an atmosphere of “respect” and “camaraderie” in a company that is young, but still benefits from having “continuity of workers,” and “people who have been here for a very long period of time.”
Mr. Murphy attributes a lot of the unity within the work force to a compensation model that focuses on the long term: 80% is based on three- and five-year performance for portfolio managers. The research staff's compensation is based 50% on the results of twice-yearly internal surveys of portfolio managers.
And employee responses to the survey support that idea, citing compensation, collegiality and an open-door policy among senior management, along with “the people,” as the best things about working at ClearBridge.