One clue that Legg Mason Global Asset Management is not your typical multinational conglomerate is the handwritten notes from Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Sullivan to recognize a special effort or good idea.
Plus, “it's not unusual for him to pick up the phone, and say, "Let's have lunch,'” said Patty Lattin, head of global human resources in Baltimore.
And despite having 1,100 corporate employees, 31 offices in 14 countries and $672 billion in assets under management, the firm, which dates back to 1899, really hasn't changed its core principles. Founder Raymond “Chip” Mason favored the playing field analogy of not going out of bounds — or even near the chalk line — by saying, “Don't get chalk on your shoes.” The expression continues to be used on a daily basis.
Mr. Sullivan was hired in 2008 as head of global distribution and chief administrative officer, and by October 2012 was named interim CEO and made permanent in 2013. But he calls himself the “accidental CEO” who still enjoys the day-to-day business of asset management.
Instead of dictating from above, he prefers to learn from everyone. “You have to listen to the people,” he says. “We just have a lot of really good people with really good ideas.” It's a two-way street, he insists, giving feedback to employees in a style he calls “candor with respect — sometimes brutal candor.”
Legg Mason employees also appreciate their clients, which “is not particularly different than what Chip envisioned when he built this company,” Mr. Sullivan said. “This is a tough business. It's very competitive and it's changing all the time. We have to distinguish ourselves as true partners with our clients.”
Investing to improve lives “really is the red thread weaving through everything,” said Ms. Lattin. Other employees echo that feeling. One employee surveyed described Legg Mason managers as “a great team led by a great visionary,” all of whom are accessible.
The chance for advancement is a big part of that. The firm's “Lead Forward” global leadership development program gives selected employees one year to experience all the different parts of a global organization, learning topics from finance to self-development, and being part of a team working on a real-life investment management challenge.
Last year, the lead forward program led to a prototype for an innovation contest to be included in Legg Mason's Innovative Tournaments, one of several programs that recognize and reward creativity, which employees appreciate.
“I consider our company to be an untouchable breeding ground for learning the markets and the business,” one employee commented in the survey.
“There is a reason people build their career here and stay. There is a real emotional connection to this organization,” Ms. Lattin said.
Since the financial crisis, Mr. Sullivan said, "there's been a much greater coming together. We are partners.”