At William Blair, a sense of collaboration and partnership is at the forefront of how the firm operates.
The firm was founded more than 80 years ago and is 100% owned by current employees, which creates “a sense of pride in the partnership and private ownership,” noted one employee responding to Pensions & Investments' Best Places to Work in Money management survey. That structure, “allows for the firm's success to follow our clients' success,” noted another.
Michelle Seitz, head of investment management at Chicago-based William Blair, said management's role in maintaining that spirit of collaboration is “not about the "big idea;' it's about the little things you do to make peoples' lives better so that we can be better partners with our clients.”
CEO John Ettelson said the firm looks for four main attributes in new hires — people who are smart, driven, collegial and entrepreneurial.
“Most companies look for two or three of those qualities, but we look for all four; people who are self-starters and who can contribute to our client's success,” Mr. Ettelson said.
The collegial nature has produced relatively low turnover at the firm, a three-time Best Places to Work winner. Mr. Ettelson estimated the average industry tenure of portfolio managers at the firm is about 28 years, with more than 15 of those years at William Blair.
“It's amazing what people can do when everybody is on the same page,” said one employee, responding to the survey. “Everyone here is like family,” another wrote.
That sense of family is reflected in a new award established to honor the memory of an employee who, Ms. Seitz and Mr. Ettelson said, embodied those qualities.
In 2002, John P. Nicholas died unexpectedly at the age of 55. Mr. Nicholas began his 30-year career at William Blair as a research analyst, eventually becoming a portfolio manager and partner.
Earlier this year, a member of Ms. Seitz's team gave her a memory box containing photos, copies of condolence letters received and a bound book with every piece of research Mr. Nicholas wrote while at the firm. Moved by the gesture, Ms. Seitz discussed it at lunch with the firm's CFO when the idea to create an annual award in his honor was suggested.
“The award will serve as a touchstone of our values,” said Ms. Seitz.
The recipient will exemplify leadership qualities including humility and selflessness, generosity of spirit and humor, sharing credit freely with others, leading by example, being a patient mentor and educator, and being an effective communicator and collaborator.
Other notable traits include always placing client, firm and colleague interests before their own, and being a deep advocate of William Blair, the company said.
The prize will be a donation to a charity of the winner's choosing.
Mr. Ettelson said: “He was an exemplary force and a basis of how we can recognize others going forward.”