Baird managing director of asset management Mary Ellen Stanek discusses what she thinks makes the firm's investment management group a two-time winner of P&I's Best Places to Work.. View more in this series

Best places to work: BAIRD ASSET MANAGEMENT

Milwaukee | 53 employees | 1st among organizations with fewer than 100 employees | Two-time winner

(updated with correction)

Working at Baird Asset Management is as much about molding character as about delivering client objectives, according to Mary Ellen Stanek, managing director and chief investment officer, and Paul E. Purcell, chairman and CEO of parent Robert W. Baird & Co.

“Our whole view of the world is it's all about people,” Mr. Purcell said. “We're really a human capital firm. The only assets we have are people.”

As a result, “we need to create an environment where people are valued highly for what they bring to the work place. Our job is to find really good people and help them get better, not only what they do (at work), but as persons,” Mr. Purcell said.

“It begins and ends with people at the firm.”

“We have some key principles of our culture,” Mr. Purcell said. “One of them is that people need to lead balanced lives between work, family” and other outside activities. ”We try to approach everything on a balanced basis and a holistic basis for the growth and development of the entire person.”

Many employees responding to Pensions & Investments' Best Places to Work in Money Management survey confirm that balance. As one remarked, ticking off attributes of the workplace, “1. My co-workers have become friends. 2. A product that makes me proud and helps others achieve their goals. 3. Compensation allows me to live the kind of life I want to live.”

Ms. Stanek describes the culture at Baird Asset Management - a repeat Best Places to Work winner - as a three-legged stool based on work, personal life and community.

“We want to see a strong work ethic we hope to nurture with incredibly strong talent,” Ms. Stanek said. “We want people to have that personal balance where they are able to be very engaged in their family's lives and also supportive of the community.”

“We encourage people at Baird to give back” and volunteer. “The firm has a charitable gift-matching program.”

“That's our secret sauce,” Ms. Stanek said. “This culture of putting clients first (comes from) valuing associates, that everybody matters, that everything someone does on a given day is important ... is very powerful.”

Mr. Purcell said: “We invest a lot in every person. We know the cumulative effect of all that will have a profound effect on how the firm not only is perceived, but how well we do over time.”

Baird offers “programs to help people move along both in individual development and ... leadership development. It's key to keep people moving, to give them upside, to give them more responsibility and ultimately accountability for what they do,” Mr. Purcell said.

Being privately held and employee owned — employees own 94% and Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., 6% — is key, Mr. Purcell said. “We have shared the ownership broadly and deeply within the firm and so we created a great client environment and teamwork environment for our associates.”

Some 75% of Baird Asset Management staff owns stock in the parent company.

“So the whole philosophical view is people who are currently producing for our clients ought to have an economic interest” in Baird, said Ms. Stanek.

As one responding employee remarked, “We are privately owned by employees, so we think and act like owners. As a result: Clients come first. We work toward long-term objectives. ... We have terrific stability.”