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Career dev tips from ex-Fidelity analyst, current CLS chief investment officer

Rusty Vanneman got his start as a product manager at Thomson Financial before joining Fidelity.

Early in his career, Rusty Vanneman worked as an analyst, manager and product manager at Thomson Financial in a group called Technical Data, which was eventually re-branded Thomson Global Markets. It provided real-time market analysis on primarily fixed income and currency markets for traders around the world, primarily over machines such as Telerate and Knight-Ridder (tools that Bloomberg eventually vanquished).

From there, Vanneman went on to Fidelity Investments, where he was a senior research analyst. In the 1990s, Fidelity started a group called Strategic Advisors to manage a variety of products, including their repurposed mutual fund wrap, Portfolio Advisory Service, to start including non-Fidelity funds into the portfolios.

“This required a high-quality, institutional due-diligence effort, and I was fortunate to be a founding analyst who was heavily involved in establishing the group’s investment methodology,” Vanneman said.

After five years at Fidelity, Vanneman joined Kobren Insight Management (KIM) initially as the director of research and portfolio manager – and eventually as chief investment officer. He was hired to build an investment process and team to support the founder Eric Kobren and create an institutional process to survive him.

After Vanneman was with the company for five years, Kobren sold the firm to E*Trade and Vanneman stayed on as the CIO for another six years.

In 2011, KIM was sold again to Advisor Investments, where Vanneman was a partner for another year before he exited the firm. Less than six months later, he became the CIO for NorthStar Financial Services Group’s CLS Investments, one of the largest ETF strategists and turnkey asset management programs (TAMPs) that manages more than $7bn. He oversees a team of 12 investment specialists.

How were you able to climb the ladder from an analyst to a management position at Fidelity?

As one of my mentors once said: make your boss look smart and do everything you can to make his or her job easier.  Step up and do the work that is required. Show initiative. Make decisions quickly – if you’re good, you will make many more good decisions than bad. Always give more than you expect to receive.

As for colleagues and direct reports, give people the necessary structure, tools and encouragement to assume more responsibility. Believe in them.  Hire people smarter and more talented than you and let them run as fast and as hard as they can run. Always encourage people to get better.  Strongly embrace a growth orientation for individuals and the firm.

What are some candidate red flags that are deal-breakers for you?

  • Not preparing for the interview and doing your research. It’s simple to at least read the company’s website!
  • No enthusiasm
  • No genuine interest in investing
  • Lack of follow-through after the interview
  • No connection
  • Not asking intelligent questions – not only about the position but about the company, the team and the industry

I see interviews not only where the candidate should be impressing me, but where I need to impress them too. I really want them to be examining me, my firm and the position to decide if it is a good fit for them too.

What are some of the positive qualities and characteristics you look for when conducting job interviews?

When it comes to reading a resume, I can review one fairly quickly and know if I’m interested. It’s not just one thing I’m looking for, but a combination of factors.  In short, does the person look like they have energy?  An achievement-orientation? Are they bright and do they have discipline?

Most of this comes from extra-curricular activities, which could range from athletics to the arts and social organizations – the more the better.   If a candidate has no extra-curricular activities, it’s a non-starter for me.

Another key is to determine if there is any legitimate interest in investing. If a person is already interested in investing, that is a huge plus. I want my team members to think they have careers – not “jobs.”

Lastly, in the interviews, I want a connection.  I don’t seek to hire people like me, but team members who will augment my capabilities and diversify my decision-making.

It’s not easy to build a cohesive team – especially when you want people that want to win and are different from each other (both desired qualities) – but I think we have done so at CLS. To build a team, it’s about recruiting and having a solid company culture.  It’s about “having the right people on the bus”.   It’s about having an environment where people believe they can make a difference. They need to feel relevant, while having the support and flexibility to get things done.

Here are a few examples of the qualities that I look for in candidates:

  • Passionate about markets and investing
  • Achievement-oriented. Going above and beyond and doing what is expected of you – plus one.
  • Growth orientation – always trying to get better
  • Service orientation – always looking to serve
  • Competitive – every basis point of performance matters
  • Confident to debate/disagree with others while still maintaining a good environment
  • Being a team player
  • Reliability and integrity – doing what you say you will do and always acting with integrity

What advice would you give to current students interested in a career in financial services?

Always be learning – not just about investing, but communication too. Read, read, read – everything you can get your hands on, and don’t forget books.  This truly advances knowledge, but is also a marker of legitimate interest in investing.

Communication is critical for every position in the investment management industry – even the most quantitative positions.  We should always be working to improve their writing and verbal skills.

Always be networking – You never know who will provide the big breaks in your career, and which connections will turn out to be the important ones.

Invest real money – Doing this will help you feel the emotions of investing. To become an effective investment decision-maker, one needs to make many decisions. It’s best to start with your own money. Paper contests don’t really count.

Photo credit: RBFried/GettyImages

AUTHORDan Butcher US Editor

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