Employees’ ideas are heard at Edward Jones InvestmentsJanuary 28, 2012 6:00 AM
by M.J. McAteer
Photo by Mark Rhodes
When Willie Randall got out of the Army after 20 years and a tour in Iraq during Desert Storm, he expected employers would be eager to hire him. Fifteen hundred résumés later, he realized he’d been wrong.
Then, he applied to Edward Jones Investments. The St. Louis-based financial services firm has more than 36,000 employees nationwide, with 467 employees in Virginia staffing more than 215 branch offices.
In Randall, Edward Jones saw potential where others hadn’t bothered to look. That approach to hiring is one reason why the company came out on top of the large-firm category in the Best Companies Group survey: It lets its employees show what they can do. “I was a military man with no financial background, but they took a chance on me,” Randall says.
After intensive training, Edward Jones sent Randall to a tiny town on the Eastern Shore to start a branch office. He got generous technical and financial support from the home office in St. Louis, but it was up to him how to build a business.
Randall’s strategy: Work hard. He says, “If someone asked me when I was open, I’d ask them, ‘When do you want me to be open?’” He also volunteered and served on many local boards. Gradually, people grew to trust him. Now, 15 years after parachuting into town, Randall has 900 client households, an impressive stat, given that his hometown, Exmore, has a population of fewer than 1,200.
“You supervise your own career trajectory,” explains financial adviser John Murphy of Chesapeake about the Edward Jones approach. “We are by ourselves, but not alone.”
Edward Jones has 7 million clients worldwide, but most of its advisers, like Randall and Murphy, are solo practitioners who work out of offices with only an administrator on site to support them. That business model leads to another positive about the job: a close working relationship.
Ruth Bane, a branch administrator in Halifax in Virginia’s southern Piedmont, says Edward Jones fosters “a culture of partnership” where her ideas “are heard, used and appreciated.”
Laurie Merry, an administrator in Galax in Southwest Virginia, calls her office “warm, welcoming, very respectful” — of both employees and clients.
Often, the line between business and home fades away. Bette Schutte-Box, a financial adviser in Richmond, had been working for Edward Jones only briefly in 2000, when, in rapid succession, her mother died suddenly and her fiancé was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died shortly after they were married. “My colleagues reached out to me in ways I’ll never forget,” Schutte-Box says.
“Freedom,” “flexibility” and “family” are words that come up repeatedly in conversations with Edward Jones employees. The company, they say, understands the sometimes-intrusive demands of home and encourages involvement in the community.
Murphy, for example, serves on the educational foundation board for the Chesapeake schools, Bane volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, and Merry is the president of her local Humane Society. Randall was elected to the Northampton Board of Supervisors in 2009 and now is its chairman.
Money, of course, counts for something, and Edward Jones employees believe that their salaries, commission rates and benefits are competitive. They can earn bonuses based on their office’s profitability, and high performers are rewarded with “diversification trips” to exotic locales such as Beijing and Costa Rica.
In 2010, Edward Jones shared 24 percent of its net profits, $87.7 million, with all employees of at least six months’ duration who worked 20 or more hours a week. After three years of service, employees also can become eligible for what they see as an important perk: part ownership in the company. About 40 percent of “associates,” as Edward Jones employees are called, become owners, which ensure that they have the potential to personally profit from their work.
But the bottom line on loyalty to Edward Jones isn’t about money. It is about integrity and respect. “I truly believe we do what is right for the client,” Schutte-Box says.
“I feel I am making a difference in people’s lives,” Bane says.
But Merry perhaps sums it up best. “You can make a lot of money and have a really good title,” she says, “but it’s really about who you work with and who you serve.”
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