A Tour Through Time
Steve Booth, Chairman and CEO, provides a quick introduction of Baird's history and overviews some of the information you will learn.Listen to the Introduction
Take a tour through notable events in Baird's history.
Navigate through the decades using the tabs below, then read more by clicking the image or the three dots below the image on each card.
Our founding father, Robert Wilson Baird, insisted on “integrity in everything we do” as he guided the firm through its first 40-plus years. This mantra remains a key cornerstone to our firm yet today.
“Integrity in Everything We Do”
Since the founding of our firm in 1919, Baird associates have been charged with integrity and driven to serve others – our clients and communities. This “service to others” has been faithfully followed since our namesake, Robert Wilson Baird, led the union of two bond departments that formed the First Wisconsin Company in 1919.
We have prospered through economic downturns by staying true to our values and staying focused on the client even when competitors have been seduced by the siren call of short-term gain. Our track record shows a company steadfastly focused on the long-term financial benefits for those we serve.
Financial services have evolved in diversity and complexity since those days, and Baird too has evolved with the currents of history. We have dramatically grown in both size and areas of expertise.
With all that has changed, however, our cultural compass has never wavered. We have given back time, talent and treasure to our communities, inspired by the example set by Mr. Baird himself and the leaders who followed. We have consistently charted a course toward long-term benefits for our clients, confident that this course brings enormous benefits to our dedicated associates.
Our mission today is “to provide the best financial advice and service to our clients and be the best place to work for our associates.” This echoes the mantra of our founder: “honesty in our business dealings and integrity in everything we do.” Nearly a century of success proves that our people have translated our values into reality.
Mr. Baird was indeed tall, but it is his character that casts the giant shadow over the 95-year history of our firm – with traits that have sustained the firm in both robust and stressful times.
Founding Father: Robert W. Baird
Robert Wilson Baird guided our firm for over 40 years, from its founding in 1919 until his retirement in 1960. Called “Mr. Baird,” he is remembered as a big, tall, gregarious man defined by a moral compass and a reputation for generosity and fair dealing.
Born in Evanston, Illinois, on April Fools' Day 1883, he was the son of a Northwestern University professor of Greek literature and language. In 1905, he graduated from Northwestern and joined a securities firm with responsibilities for Wisconsin and upper Michigan, thus helping to set his new roots – our roots. In 1911, he joined the Wisconsin Trust Company – the firm that would spawn our firm today.
Mr. Baird was our president from 1922 until 1948, when he turned to his colleague, William Brand, to take on that responsibility while Mr. Baird became Chairman. By this time, he had become regarded as the “dean” of the Milwaukee investment community.
He loved his work and expected the same from each associate, but he also set the tone for others through his exhaustive work outside of Baird. The daunting list included gardening, serving on corporate boards, significant involvement in charitable work and taking on leadership roles in investment industry organizations.
A man of high principles, Mr. Baird demanded honesty, integrity and fair dealings with our clients. He believed that the clients’ interests always came before the firm’s. This principle resounds loudly in his cornerstone message: “Our customers have forgiven us for an occasional error of judgment, but we would not expect them to forgive us for an error of motive.”
Mr. Baird was responsible for laying the cornerstone principles that are key to the success and sustainability that Baird enjoys. Five such cornerstones rife within the Baird of 1919 are alive and well in the Baird of today. They are: integrity in everything we do, giving back, clients first, leadership and expertise. He embodied them all but we will focus on one: giving back.
Whether on behalf of a worthwhile community cause or some corporate board that called on Mr. Baird for help, he answered readily. Interestingly, he noted the responsibility in pursuing what some might call the “virtue of selfishness.” Whatever might help the community would, in turn, make for a more successful environment for our firm.
In taking on leadership roles in industry organizations such as vice president of the Investment Bankers’ Association and becoming the third chairman of the National Association of Securities Dealers, Mr. Baird said: “It has been our policy as a firm to devote considerable time and effort to Association work - not as a favor to anybody, but selfishly. When you are a member of an industry, you owe something to the overall good of that industry. And if you see things that you feel ought to be done, you’d better help do them.”
That same spirit influenced his joining the board of Chain Belt (now Rexnord) and Roundy’s as well as tackling the work of many Milwaukee-area charities. This “giving back” is infused in the leaders and associates of Baird throughout its history.
First Wisconsin Group was a three-pronged entity as depicted in its triangular logo. Robert Baird managed the bond effort: First Wisconsin Company. Many iterations of the name would follow, but this logo survived well into the 1930s
Founded in Honest Milwaukee
Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the first decades of the 20th century was a hardworking city that earned a reputation for integrity. Dubbed the “German Athens” for its industrious German immigrants, the commercial port on the western shores of Lake Michigan had matured into an industrial powerhouse with a strong banking community.
This was the Milwaukee that a 28-year-old bond trader from Evanston, Illinois, found when he joined the Wisconsin Trust Company in 1911. Robert W. Baird was a capitalist and a man of integrity. The Wisconsin Trust Company was an outgrowth of the Wisconsin Trust & Security Co. chartered in 1903. Baird began in bond sales and quickly enjoyed success.
While Baird established his reputation in Milwaukee, the First World War ravaged Europe. The war triggered anti-German sentiment in the “German Athens” and further Americanized the local culture. Those German immigrants were Americans now.
When the war ended, the world’s appetite only increased for the goods produced by industrialized capitalism, and Milwaukee was its workshop, literally manufacturing its future with every gear, valve and turbine. As business in Milwaukee boomed, the demand for financing surged and young Mr. Baird answered the need by underwriting bonds.
In 1919, Baird’s Wisconsin Trust Company merged with First National Bank to form the First Wisconsin Group. First Wisconsin consisted of three affiliated entities - bank, trust company and bond house. In 1919, Mr. Baird served as a vice president of all three but his primary responsibility was to lead the bond house - the First Wisconsin Company.
Not only did we have great minds as associates, but Baird also tapped into the best business minds of Milwaukee to help our firm during its early years. Our 40 corporate directors included leaders of prominent Wisconsin businesses like A.O. Smith, Falk, Kimberly-Clark, Pabst Brewing, Rexnord and Wisconsin Electric.
Many of these firms also became corporate clients. These relationships demonstrated our respected standing in the community and helped lead to long-term success.
The First Wisconsin Company underwrote and sold bonds such as the Empire Building in downtown Milwaukee – still standing today as the Riverside Theater. This focus considerably eased the impact of the 1929 crash.
Roaring '20s Bond Experts
Prohibition changed what it meant to be a Milwaukeean in a city whose identity was long forged by beer and brewing. Breweries transitioned to production of “near beer,” a beverage with negligible alcohol content, and speakeasies sprang up underground as the corner tavern could no longer legally serve alcohol.
The economy, however, was booming. Prosperity appeared rampant in the 1920s. An extremely bullish stock market combined with easy credit was an irresistible lure for many. While stocks were the craze during the Roaring '20s, our firm dealt mainly in bonds – a focus that would insulate us from the worst shocks of the crash of 1929.
Our philosophy was clear: We were not pushing get-rich-quick schemes. We had little dealing in common stocks until 1937, when we joined the Midwest Stock Exchange. A 1928 prospectus from the Baird archives demonstrates our conservative business approach. “We recommend these bonds for conservative investment,” it advised.
Looking for long-term prosperity was not the overriding philosophy in our industry. Short-term gain proved too seductive for many competitors. Speculation was the rage – even borrowing money to buy securities on the assumption they would only go up. Thus, the Roaring '20s generated both frenzied investment and a distorted perception about the nature of economic growth. Euphoria was everywhere, but it would not last.
From our earliest days, we were experts in bonds. Early municipal clients included the Clark County, Wisconsin, Insane Asylum, Madison, Wisconsin, School District, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, School District, and Waukesha, Wisconsin, road improvements. We also dealt in soldiers’ bonus bonds, Treasury bonds and even many diverse international bonds.
Our company underwrote bonds for Milwaukee Forge & Machine Company just before the market crash. That company celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2013, a testament to both firms for values that stand the test of time.
Surviving the “Years of Judgment”
The frenzied speculation of the bull market had doubled the annual market volume in four years to more than one billion shares in 1929. In early September 1929, stock prices reached new highs – then, the crash.
Euphoria evaporated. The speculative bubble had burst. Many effects were immediate, but over the next months and years, the staggering loss of value and defaulted loans dragged the American economy into the global Great Depression.
Mr. Baird recalled the early years of the Great Depression as “the years of judgment.” “About half the people in the securities business dropped out,” he told the Milwaukee Journal in December 1960. “They lost their capital or their customers.”
Our firm survived for two reasons. We had focused on bonds less affected by the immediate crisis, and our conservative values sustained us. We remained focused on long-term returns for clients, both investors and corporations. Still, surviving the Depression was not easy.
The government took sweeping action to prevent another calamity. In 1933, Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Act which, among other things, forcibly divorced banks from securities dealers. One of the causes of the crash of 1929 was that investors bought securities on credit they could not repay. Separating banking from investment securities made sense.
As a consequence of Glass-Steagall, our investment firm separated itself from our banking partners in the First Wisconsin Group. In 1934, we became independent, moved shop around the corner to 110 East Wisconsin Avenue in the now-demolished Pabst Building, and changed our name to The Securities Company of Milwaukee.
Hit but not wiped out by the Depression, Baird's management bought $1 million in common stock from our parent corporation, Wisconsin Bankshares, to allow us to control our own destiny. This forward-thinking, long-term approach would be repeated 70 years later.
Facing the Depression and World War II
The Great Depression and America’s entry into World War II limited the capital and talent to grow our firm but provided an opportune time for us to invest in ourselves. In 1934, business was so poor that we could not pay a dividend to our preferred stockholders, souring their enthusiasm. Two years later, Mr. Baird led our management team in buying approximately $1 million in common stock from our parent corporation, Wisconsin Bankshares, giving our associates control of our own destiny.
In 1937, Baird joined the Midwest Stock Exchange. We no longer had to defer to others for equity trading. The Securities Company of Milwaukee, profitable through the late 1930s, changed its name to the Wisconsin Company in 1939. Profits increased significantly during World War II as we sold war bonds to a supportive public.
World War II had another impact: Four of our own men left us to serve in the armed forces. Mr. Baird honored their service by paying them a $150 monthly salary. “We feel an abiding interest in all who have labored with us in the past but who are now in the service of their country, and, wherever they are, be it near or far, we salute them with deep affection,” Mr. Baird noted.
In 1945, shortly after the end of the war in the European theater, our management bought the Wisconsin Bankshares' remaining investment in us for $250,000.
Mr. Baird also donated approximately 1,000 acres of land in northwestern Wisconsin near the Chippewa River to the Boy Scouts. Mr. Baird was known for encouraging philanthropy among our associates. One unnamed broker told the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1968, “He used to come out of his office and say, ‘You, you and you. Boy Scouts. Cancer drive. United fund ...’ He volunteered brokers and trainees alike.”
Clarence Bickel (left), Robert Baird (center) and Robert Haack (right) each served as chair of the National Association of Securities Dealers. Our firm contributed mightily to the success of self-regulation.
Pioneers in Self-Regulation
Guided by enlightened self-interest, our firm’s leadership led early efforts to self-regulate the investment industry.
In 1938, Congress passed the Maloney Act, which amended the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 to allow for an industry self-regulatory body to hold investment firms accountable for ethical standards. It envisioned various self-policing agencies acting under the ultimate authority of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Mr. Baird personally helped lead our entire industry toward self-regulation. He traversed the nation by train to convince our fellows that self-regulation was in our collective self-interest. Given his reputation for integrity and honesty, he was an appropriate voice for the movement. Mr. Baird saw that taking a leadership role in creating the self-regulating agency would in the long run be most advantageous for our industry. “It was to our own self-interest to organize. I urged our business that if we organized for self-regulation, we’d keep the bureaucrats off our neck.”
In 1939, the effort culminated in the organization of a single self-regulating organization, the National Association of Securities Dealers, or NASD. Within a year, over 2,500 firms signed on as NASD members. The NASD’s influence has been significant in the governance of our industry. It is perhaps best known as the creator of NASDAQ in 1971, the automated quotation system for over-the-counter stocks that has evolved into the largest stock exchange in the United States. In 2007, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) succeeded the NASD in its self-regulatory function.
Beginning with our founder, Robert Baird, our firm has put its belief in fair dealing to the ultimate test in sending three of our own to serve as chair of the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD). Baird himself was the chair in 1941; Clarence Bickel led the NASD in 1952. Robert Haack became the first paid president of the NASD and served in that capacity from 1964 through 1967.
Robert Haack had joined our firm as a stockbroker in 1940 after graduating from Harvard Business School. He left Baird to become president of the NASD, and that position led to him becoming president of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) for 10 years. He was a reformer who pushed for increased automation and helped Congress to create the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), which works for the investment business much like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) does for the banking industry. This development greatly improved the confidence levels of the investing public, not in the market per se, but in the investment firms themselves.
Throughout its storied history, Baird has espoused fairness and integrity. We didn’t simply follow industry methods and rules to ensure these conditions exist, but rather led the development of such regulation.
This stock certificate from 1945 was typical of the equities marketed in postwar America. It promised a small piece of the oil and gas industry that would spur economic growth in the 1950s and 1960s.
Promise of Post-war Prosperity
World War II had helped pull the nation out of the Great Depression. For the millions of GIs returning home and the tens of millions more on the homefront ready to start families, the future looked bright. For our firm, the war’s end also meant the return from service of key young talent, including Robert Haack and Carl Wilson, who would become partners in 1950.
In 1946, the Milwaukee Sentinel invited Mr. Baird to comment about his economic forecast for 1947:
"The chances always favor prosperity in this country.
The reason for this is that natural resources are plentiful, Americans are energetic and want to exploit these resources, and the political system of the country has always encouraged initiative in this direction.
Thus, in our own fair country, chances have always favored the optimist when the time has come to make predictions. There is no reason why one turns pessimistic at this time.
America’s capacity for production and capacity for consumption have never been greater. People have money for goods and industry is turning out goods in surprising volume. Financial conditions are excellent, and while prices are higher and will remain higher, the inflationary excesses which were said to be inevitable have not occurred.
Americans very sensibly have discarded all political theories founded solely upon the idea of distributing goods to everybody so that everybody may enjoy them, because Americans believe that everybody gets more goods in the end by sticking to whatever system has proved the most efficient in producing the largest amount of goods."
In 1948, 12 partners signed our firm’s application to the New York Stock Exchange.
New York Stock Exchange Membership
In 1948, Baird became the first Wisconsin-based company to join the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on the centennial of Wisconsin’s statehood, opening more investment doors for our clients. We purchased a seat on the Exchange for $62,000 (the last seat sold for $3.5 million), giving us direct access to the Wall Street trading floor through our New York correspondent, Clark, Dodge & Co.
Joining imposed a name change. As was custom for NYSE-member firms, we took the name of our senior partner. The stock exchange rules dictated that only an individual or partnership could hold a seat, so to comply we formed a 12-member partnership called Robert W. Baird & Co. Our company then became an affiliate of the partnership and was called Robert W. Baird & Co., Incorporated. The partnership handled securities sales while the corporation underwrote securities.
It was the dawning of a new era as we emerged as a leading regional firm, expanding capabilities and horizons. “I can still see Mr. North and Mr. Bickel leaving for New York on the Broadway Limited by train to go before the distinguished men on Wall Street,” reminisced former President Brent Rupple, who joined the firm in 1948 after serving in World War II and then graduating with an economics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In May 1948, the same month we joined the NYSE, William Brand became our second President and Mr. Baird transitioned to Chairman.
It could not have been a better time to join the exchange. In 1949, trading revived and began the longest bull market on record up to that point.
In 1948, we already could claim a healthy list of major industrial and commercial clients: Allis-Chalmers, Chain Belt, Globe-Union, Harnischfeger, Kearney and Trecker, Louis Allis, Marshall & Ilsley Bank, Perfex, Le Roi, Schuster, Weyenberg Shoe, Wisconsin Electric Power and Wisconsin Public Service.
When those 12 partners – Robert W. Baird, Chairman; William H. Brand, President; G. Harold Pfau; Ludlow F. North; Lee C. Rasey; Clarence A. Bickel; Richard J. White; Alan C. Hackworthy; Clyde L. Reed; Newman L. Dunne; J. Garrett Kamerling; and Frieda Mueller – signed that membership to the NYSE, our firm greatly broadened the services we could bring to our existing and ever-growing list of clients.
Frieda Mueller was one of 12 partners when Baird joined the NYSE in 1948. She was an example of Baird's values in action – performance with integrity and service to the community.
Our Woman in Business: Frieda Mueller
In an industry dominated by men, a bright woman was one of our earliest partners: Frieda Mueller.
Mueller was from Milwaukee and graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts with an English degree and minors in German and math.
She came back to Milwaukee to become a high school teacher, but Mueller’s ambition drew her to the finance industry, and her intelligence and personality drew her to Mr. Baird. In 1917, Mueller started at the Wisconsin Trust Company, working her way from a clerical role into advertising and finally into sales. “Miss Mueller is one of the best ‘men’ we have,” Mr. Baird told the Milwaukee Sentinel in September 1937. “She works hard, she has a good head and she uses it all the time.”
By the 1930s, with incredible enthusiasm, Mueller had become the consummate financial advisor, dealing with clients’ entire portfolios of financial needs.
Mueller’s intelligence, good humor and dedication earned her partner status by the time our firm joined the New York Stock Exchange in 1948. As one of the 12 signing partners, the press noticed Mueller as among only a half-dozen women who were investment industry partners in the United States.
Brent Rupple remembered Mueller as “an institution. She would arrive at meetings about five minutes late and, of course, everybody would jump to their feet, spill their coffee, raise total hell and she loved it.”
In a 1968 profile on Mueller written for her alma mater, Wellesley College, her surviving sister praised Mueller’s “lively interest in people, her warm personality, her unusually quick mind and her devotion to her multitude of responsibilities.” Frieda Mueller clearly was a Baird person, through and through.
Ms. Mueller was deeply committed to community service.
Tapped by the mayor, Frieda shared her financial planning expertise with the community. She served as the city of Milwaukee's public debt commissioner from 1925 to 1945.
Mueller also served on the board of the Lakeside Children’s Center, was treasurer of the American Association of University Women based in Washington, D.C., served on the building committee of the College Women’s Club, as well as served as a charter member of the Zonta Club, a women’s service organization.
Two years after she retired from Baird in 1962, Mueller reflected on her education and career in a note to her alma mater:
"Altho mathematics seems no longer to be a required subject at Wellesley, I’m happy it was in our day. It was of great help in my long business life. Because so few women have had financial backgrounds and training, I’m constantly called on to give financial help. My hobbies are related to my business experiences! I’m always working on the financial picture of welfare organizations and clubs. At the moment it’s the new building plans of the College Women’s Club and the 12-story apartment for 'senior citizens,' the welfare project of our Zonta Club. It’s FUN!"
William H. Brand, our second President, had a harder edge to him than Mr. Baird, but – like Baird – he expected much of associates.
Intense Businessman: William H. Brand
William H. Brand brought years of practical experience when he became our second President in 1948.
Mr. Brand’s professional story paralleled Mr. Baird’s, coming from the other side of the 1919 merger. He started in 1909 at Milwaukee’s First National Bank. The 1919 merger put Mr. Brand and Mr. Baird in the same bond office. Elected Vice President in 1928, Brand rose to Executive Vice President in the 1930s. He also served as governor in the Investment Bankers Association of America. Mr. Brand’s experience and connections made him the natural choice to become President in 1948 when we joined the New York Stock Exchange.
As head of the company, Mr. Brand had his desk in the corner looking up Wisconsin Avenue inside the old Pabst Building at 110 East Wisconsin Avenue. Mr. Brand was in many ways Mr. Baird’s counterpart. He earned a reputation as a stickler who demanded performance and took failure personally. His standards were high, but Mr. Brand rewarded those who performed.
Mr. Brand was fond of playing golf at the Milwaukee Country Club, where he was a member, and often hobnobbed with clients on the links.
Mr. Brand’s seemingly imperturbable confidence was shaken by two major underwriting losses in 1956. We were joint underwriters for Pure Oil Preferred and Willie’s Overland Preferred. The underwritings were mismanaged and we lost around $400,000. According to former President Brent Rupple, Mr. Brand suffered a nervous breakdown and ended up in the hospital. “I don’t think Mr. Brand ever quite got over that,” Rupple recalled. “He had high blood pressure after that and died as a relatively young man.” Brand served as our President until 1957.
After World War II, Wall Street pushed for Main Street to buy into corporate America. Baird joined in that effort, advertising our expertise to guide the conscientious investor toward a responsible portfolio.
Making America Great
Unlike the first 30 years when we were known as a bond house, Baird’s signature in the 1950s was retail equities. The glamour of stock ownership had returned to the American public. Corporations appealed to millions of middle-class Americans to buy shares in the future of their country. With editorial commentary equating capitalism to freedom, investing appeared patriotic. However, the crash of 1929 was still visible in the rear-view mirror, so Wall Street had to regain investor confidence.
Baird joined in the effort to promote common stock ownership. Our early 1950s newspaper advertisement – presented as a full-page editorial – argued that responsible investing was unlike gambling. We made a case that hiring a responsible investment firm – (insert Baird) – could help savvy investors, individual or institutional, to mitigate risk while growing their wealth. Here is an excerpt:
“We think that expression ‘playing the stock market’ is unfortunate. When a man buys a share of common stock, he’s not buying a two-dollar place ticket on a filly in the fifth.
He’s buying a piece of an American business. He owns a share of that business – its tools, factories, everything it has. He can help elect its directors. He has an interest in everything the company does – in the profits it may earn, the dividends it may pay.
The buyer of common stocks plays an important part in the process that helped to make America great, the process that built and is building companies that provide millions of jobs and create billions of dollars of peacetime wealth, the process that has led to the world’s highest standard of living.”
Our employee handbook from the late 1950s set the tone for benefits enjoyed by our associates. Our spirit has always been to help those in need because the happier and healthier they are, the better the work they do.
Taking Care of Our Own
A number of people and firms SAY we care. Baird LIVES we care.
One example involved John Seaman, an investment officer. After his wife was bedridden by a difficult pregnancy, he recalls how Carl Wilson, then Head of Sales, took him into the conference room one day for a private meeting. Wilson surprised him with an offer of unlimited support. “‘If there’s any expense, don’t worry about it. We’ll take care of it,’” Seaman recalls. “We had insurance, and it was adequate, but he wanted us to know the company’s behind you. In those days that was a big thing.”
Another anecdote illustrated Mr. Baird’s personal generosity. According to former President Brent Rupple, one of our associates had returned from service in the U.S. Navy and fell seriously ill. He had no health insurance and was hospitalized, running up what Rupple called a “colossal bill.” “When he went to the cashier to pay the bill, the bill had been paid,” Rupple recalled. “Mr. Baird had paid it.”
The company handbook from the late 1950s put those people-centric values into writing. We were far ahead of our time in terms of offering associates progressive benefits that served to attract and retain our kind of dedicated, long-haul talent. We offered associates automatic rainy day bank deposits and fully paid comprehensive medical insurance with the option for family coverage to be deducted from salary. This was great news to associates and unheard of benefits at the time.
Even better news: new similar stories occur every day.
Baird partners Robert Haack, Carl Wilson and Clarence Bickel pose in our new offices in 1963. The 1960s were a time of significant growth for us.
Coming Into Our Own
Our business grew in step with America’s economic growth through the 1960s, and more business meant we needed more space. We were also starting to think of Baird as something far beyond a retail brokerage.
Economic growth was reflected by excitement in the surging stock market. Volume grew at a rocket’s pace, forcing stock exchanges to close one day a week so brokers could catch up on paperwork.
In 1966, we opened an Institutional Investment department. Fred Kasten was one of its leaders and would be instrumental in focusing the attention of institutional investors on Wisconsin companies. Under President Clarence Bickel, our Corporate Finance department handled mergers between Johnson Service and Penn Controls, Weyenberg Shoe and Nunn-Bush, and Harley-Davidson and American Machine & Foundry.
We were strengthening our position as a conservative firm. A 1969 city of Milwaukee brochure celebrating our firm on its 50th anniversary, commented that “the management does not encourage frenetic ‘trading off the tape.’ Rather it considers its men ‘investment managers’ and that requires a bit of research and reflection.” That same year, we also opened an office on Wall Street due to an uptick in over-the-counter market activity.
Starting with just five retail branches in the 1950s, all in Wisconsin, by 1969 we had grown to 15, including new outposts in Illinois and Indiana. We had become much more than a corner brokerage house. “We were conducting a love affair with our industry. And nobody ever gets bored in the investment business – not around here anyway.” – Brent Rupple, Milwaukee Sentinel, April 29, 1968
New rules allowed us to consolidate our firm under one name. In April 1971, we became Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc. Our 34 partners became stockholders in the corporation.
Carl Wilson was a basketball star in college and a man of the people at Baird. He vigorously pursued civic improvement campaigns and always sported a bow tie.
Civic Servant: Carlton P. Wilson
Our fourth President, Carlton Parker Wilson, known as C.P. or Carly, was born in Milwaukee on April 14, 1916. His father was a senior executive at Cutler-Hammer, a major Milwaukee manufacturer. Wilson grew to be over 6-feet-5-inches and became a basketball star at Cornell. He was hailed in the press as “the epitome of businessman-community leader.”
During his summers at home from college, Wilson interned with the Wisconsin Company in our Research department. There he caught the eye of Mr. Baird, who groomed him for a sales role. Wilson graduated in 1938 and started with us in sales in January 1939. Military service interrupted his career and he shipped out to Japan during World War II. Upon his return, he returned to Baird and became our Sales Manager.
“He was a leader that everybody enjoyed working for,” recalled former President Brent Rupple, who started in sales under Wilson. “He was very personable... He really was the first of our leaders who took a big interest in the sales force and he built up the sales operation.”
Former Partner John Seaman recalled that Wilson exuded confidence. “‘I just got back from New York,’” Seaman recalled Wilson advising the sales force. “‘They know less about it than we do. We’ll use good old Midwestern common sense.’”
Wilson served as President from 1965 through 1972, when he became our Chairman just in time for the recession of the 1970s. One characteristic lives on – a Milwaukee associate team created a “bow tie” club dedicated to following his unique style of wearing bow ties.
C.P. enthusiastically followed the tradition that our leaders must invest their time, talent and treasure in our communities. Wilson chaired the 1954 campaign for the United Way of Greater Milwaukee, raising $3.9 million. In 1967, he helped launch Baird Foundation to formalize our associates’ charitable efforts. In 1972, he helped raise $18 million in conjunction with A.O. Smith to relocate the Medical College of Wisconsin to the Milwaukee County grounds. He also served on the boards of Columbia Hospital and the Greater Milwaukee Committee. Upon his retirement in 1978, Wilson led multiple fundraising campaigns to benefit the community.
The Financial Briefs of Wisconsin Corporations highlighted companies in our own backyard bringing more Wall Street attention their way – helping provide more capital for local corporations and more investment choices for institutional investors.
Focus on Growth in Wisconsin
The 1970s marked our third decade for our respected Financial Briefs of Wisconsin Corporations, first published in 1943. In each publication, we analyzed the financials of prominent Wisconsin firms and presented the research for potential investors. The Briefs showcased our expertise in Wisconsin markets, a strategic asset that helped develop our relationships with institutional investors.
Leveraging our research to attract institutional investors proved to be a symbiotic strategy that benefited our firm, our clients and our communities. Wall Street brokers were less aware of winner companies in our backyard and we provided a viable alternative. We perceived both a duty and an opportunity in showcasing our own area corporations. It helped Wisconsin institutional investors looking for winners and Wisconsin corporations looking for capital. Serving both aspects of this benefited Baird as well.
The niche strategy worked and we became known as the expert on Wisconsin businesses. In 1970, we introduced the “Baird 40,” an independent index tracking Wisconsin stocks. The Baird 40 was computed daily, much like the Dow, and followed companies like Allis-Chalmers, Briggs & Stratton, Bucyrus-Erie, Cutler-Hammer, Globe-Union, Harnischfeger and Manpower. To be listed in our index became a badge of honor.
We were the leading Wisconsin-based underwriter of securities in 1970, nearly six times that of our closest competitor, Loewi & Co. We co-managed issues with national firms like Morgan Stanley (for Rex Chainbelt), Goldman Sachs (for A.O. Smith) and Merrill Lynch (for Wisconsin Electric Power Co.), helping many prominent Wisconsin firms with their needs for capital. In 1971, our success was noted nationally when the fourth annual investor conference of Institutional Investor magazine featured Baird’s “Growth in Wisconsin” theme.
Baird was a second home for Brent Rupple, who faced the challenge of leading the firm during the recession of the 1970s. Rupple worked at Baird for his entire career.
Cordial Ambassador: Brenton H. Rupple
“The minute I had the Wisconsin Company interview, I knew that’s where I wanted to work,” recalled our fifth President, Brent Rupple, who joined Baird in 1948 for the whopping sum of $200 per month.
Born June 3, 1924, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Rupple attended Carroll College, interrupting studies to join the Air Force from 1943 to 1945. He then completed studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He interviewed with Mr. Baird and Robert Haack, who hired Rupple for the Trading department. “Mr. Baird was a real old shoe,” Rupple recalled. “He was a very competitive executive. He used to tease me unmercifully, a sign of affection on his part.”
Rupple worked in a variety of departments – Municipals, Syndicate, Trading, Sales and Operations. He became Partner in 1958, Sales Manager in 1960, and Executive Vice President in 1967. When Carl Wilson suffered a fall that required lengthy hospitalization to repair his broken foot, Rupple was in the spotlight. “I think they started to look around and say, ‘Who’s had some broad experience?’ and that’s how the finger got pointed at me.”
Brent became President in 1973, and the markets plummeted through 1974. “That, I think, was one of the most difficult periods in the company’s history because we were large enough to have some significant overhead and the only products we had in those days were municipals, a few corporate bonds and stocks, and you couldn’t give stocks away,” Rupple recalled.
Rupple’s personal warmth and convivial leadership brightened those dark days of economic recession when Americans faced high interest rates and gasoline shortages.
Brent became Chairman and CEO in 1976 and remained Chairman until his retirement in 1989.
Brent Rupple perhaps exceeded Mr. Baird’s wildest dreams when it came to serving the community, sharing his time and talent with an impressive slate of organizations.
He was a member and former chairman of the executive committee for the University of Wisconsin Foundation as well as a past president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee. Rupple also served a leading role with more than 25 major groups in the Milwaukee area, including the American Red Cross, Milwaukee YMCA, United Way of Milwaukee, the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Heart Research Foundation, the Milwaukee County Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Carroll College, the Milwaukee Symphony and more.
His dedication to community service helped shape our culture, and led to the creation of the Brenton H. Rupple Citizenship Award in 1997. The award is given each year to an associate who demonstrates an outstanding commitment to the community. Rupple himself received the award in 1998 in recognition of his myriad of contributions. Coincidentally, the award was given as Mr. Rupple was celebrating his 50th anniversary of joining Baird.
Besides his leadership of Baird, Brent was always involved in leadership roles in the industry. He was an executive committee member and a former vice chairman of the Securities Industry Association and served as a governor for the Investment Bankers Association, the American Stock Exchange and the Securities Industry Association.
Rupple also served in leadership roles with the Securities Investor Protection Corporation and the Financial Accounting Standards Advisory Council.
In 1974, we moved into the brand new First Wisconsin Center, leasing three floors and 66,000 square feet. More than 40 years later, it remains the home for our headquarters.
Surviving the '70s
Stagflation, oil shocks and political turmoil drained investor confidence, deflating our business as the country slipped into recession. The bear market of ‘73-’74 thrust Baird into survival mode. We began merger discussions with Cleveland-based Prescott, Ball, but soon recognized our cultures would not mesh well. In the meantime, we took on client records of Braun, Monroe and Co. and Frederick & Co. as smaller investment firms cut costs in the recession.
In 1978, we merged with a seemingly compatible regional firm, Reinholdt & Gardner in St. Louis. The merger would make us the nation’s largest regional investment banking firm under the ownership of a new holding company, the Regis Group. Baird, with $9 million in capital, and Reinholdt & Gardner, with $3 million, would each become subsidiaries. Unfortunately, the venture almost sunk us.
We suffered a perfect storm of technological hurdles between the influx of new business from St. Louis and transitioning our bookkeeping operations from the Midwest Service Corporation into a new in-house accounting system. “Our technology didn’t support our activity,” recalls Fred Kasten. “We were all working seven days a week trying to get the books straight. Happily we had a very strong culture that Brent had fostered that goes back to Mr. Baird. Without that incredibly strong culture of quality people, we would not have made it.”
To right the ship, we cut support staff and liquidated the St. Louis firm. In 1979, a new leader emerged as Fred Kasten became President. “1979 has been a year of transition for our firm… facing the monumental task of restoring our firm to normalcy,” Kasten wrote to associates at year’s end.
Fred Kasten joined the firm in 1963 and rose to the presidency in 1979. His steadfast insistence on values and culture helped Baird prosper when other firms failed to do so.
Culture Steward: G. Frederick Kasten
Fred Kasten recalls the story of a man who came to our office on Water Street with a bearer bond certificate. “I bought 10, but you delivered 20,” the man told Kasten, who continues: “That’s Midwestern ethics. That’s what Baird was about. That’s what our clients were about. If we were located somewhere else with different people and a different culture, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Born on Valentine’s Day 1939, G. Frederick Kasten came from a long line of Kastens in the Milwaukee banking and investment industry, stretching back into the 19th century. Kasten earned a bachelor’s degree at Williams College, then his MBA from Columbia Business School. He accepted Baird’s offer of $5,200 a year. He turned down nearly three times that amount ($13,000 from Mobil, $12,000 from Chase, $11,000 from Merrill Lynch) because he thought he could make an impact at Baird. He had interned for two summers and he began full-time with Baird on July 1, 1963.
He became the number-two guy in syndicate and in 1966, Kasten started to target institutional investors. This institutional focus led to Baird hosting capital goods conferences and seminars to connect investors and Wisconsin industrial firms using Baird’s expertise in research.
Kasten was elected president in 1979 at only 39 years of age. He had the good fortune to lead our firm when “the wind was at our back” during growth years of the 1980s and 1990s. But Mr. Kasten insisted that growth never compromise our values or culture, which Fred embodied. “We wanted to win for our clients,” but, Kasten cautioned, “How you win is as important as if you win. Winning at all costs is not what we’re about.”
Kasten’s community and industry service continued the considerable record of his predecessors. Among them, he served on the board of the Midwest Stock Exchange and was a director of the Securities Industry Association. He has chaired the United Performing Arts Fund and is a trustee of Lawrence University.
One significant act of leadership happened in the mid-1990s when Kasten wrote down those values that had sustained Baird throughout its long history. These values and practices underscore the culture of Baird. The booklet entitled “The Baird Way” was a primer circulated to every associate and provided a document against which to measure all of our actions.
The 1980s brought tremendous growth, but the firm still focused on our "clients come first" approach, as touted in these ad mock-ups from the period.
The Wind at Our Backs
In 1982, the year the Milwaukee Brewers made it to the World Series, Milwaukee’s own insurance giant, Northwestern Mutual Life (NML), made an offer we couldn’t refuse to buy a majority interest in our firm. Baird became a majority-owned subsidiary of "The Quiet Company." Our cultures were similar and our offices were literally across the street. The relationship with Northwestern Mutual would last more than two decades.
Backstopped by NML’s capital, we opened a suite of new branches: Dallas, Texas, in 1985 and Naples, Florida, in 1987. In 1988, we outbid local competitor Blunt, Ellis & Loewi to acquire Buys-MacGregor & Co., based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This western Michigan acquisition added six branches and 70 brokers, bringing the total number of Baird offices to 40. The same year, President Kasten could proudly proclaim, “Our revenues, our capital and our book value have all quadrupled since 1979 and our family of associates has more than doubled.”
The economy picked up in the 1980s, providing a tailwind that propelled us profitably into the 1990s. With the rise of tech stocks, over-the-counter trading ballooned from less than 15 million shares in ‘79 to more than 150 million shares in ‘87. The precipitous crash in October 1987 was a blow to the industry but a proud day for Baird as we stood by our telephones. Trading departments of many Wall Street firms simply wouldn’t answer incoming calls. We made a deliberate effort to engage the public and help as best we could.
The rather loud hiccup of October 1987 notwithstanding, the 1980s were a time of increasing confidence at Baird and the economy overall.
Engaging the Public
In the 1980s, we produced a public television show on investment topics, “Business of Wisconsin,” hosted by one of our rising stars, Peter Banzhaf. Banzhaf, a journalist-turned-stockbroker who joined the firm in the 1960s, grew to become our public face. Peter died unexpectedly in 1989.
"Better Results from Better Research" was our tagline in the '80s. Judy Scott, one of our star research analysts, believed Baird did and does research better than anyone: "I really feel that we can know the companies in our area much better than somebody in New York..."
Better Results from Better Research
“Better Results from Better Research” was our advertising tagline in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. The claim was backed up by stellar work from our research teams.
“Equity Twenty,” the brainchild of our research director, Crandall Hays, premiered in 1978. Hays followed medium-sized companies with a 20%+ return on equity with significant growth potential. He developed a filter to find such companies. As a result, we were able to pick winners flying below the radar of national firms. Our “Equity Twenty” index consistently outperformed the Dow. In 1988, Hays deployed his analytics to create the Baird 20/20, a professionally managed portfolio.
Baird had a long history of following heavy machinery, brewing and paper companies, nurturing relationships with local firms, though our research expertise extended well beyond Wisconsin. In the 1980s, we expanded our relationships to include the largest entities in those sectors, firms like Caterpillar, Deere and International Harvester, leveraging that knowledge at national conferences and seminars to connect corporations and institutional investors.
In 1987, we managed one of the best IPOs of the last thirty years. Fastenal, a firm based out of Winona, Minnesota, manufactured metal fasteners. Analyst Judy Scott’s judgment was validated many times over for picking Fastenal. The stock has risen over 300-fold. Scott also followed the temporary staffing industry, which would benefit from a growing service economy. In 1986, she recommended Manpower Inc., which just one year later was acquired by Blue Arrow of London – realizing a 200% return from the time of the recommendation.
Scott and our other analysts not only have a feel for company financials and market potential, but more importantly, the character of senior management. “I really feel that we can know the companies in our area much better than somebody in New York who often, frankly, doesn’t even understand the Midwestern mentality,” Scott told the March 28, 1994, Milwaukee Sentinel.
Our sixth President, Fred Kasten, provided calm leadership through the tumult of October 19, 1987 – a dark day for the market, but a time when Baird’s culture shined brightly.
In 1987, Baird Answers the Call
On October 19, 1987, the stock market suffered its worst single-day drop in history. Panicked investors raced to contact their brokers to sell. Many brokerages could not handle the resultant trading volume and stopped answering their telephones.
But Baird answered the phone and took sell orders. That day, our people handled tremendous volume. At day’s end, our exhausted traders smoked celebratory cigars.
It was a troubled time for investors but a proud hour for our firm. Not only did we answer the phone, but we also set up a free hotline over the coming days as a public service to provide information and calm nerves. Our actions flowed from our philosophy of serving clients first and looking out for the long-term regardless of short-term volatility.
The New York Times later reported abuses across the investment industry in the 1980s. Baird was one of just three firms that tallied zero reported violations. Kasten praised the culture of integrity that he believed the story validated.
Fred communicated with associates frequently in that time of stress. On October 23, Fred wrote: “These are the times that test us all in many ways. I’m happy and proud to report we are standing tall and strong as individuals and as a team. Despite record volume, volatility, pressure and 18-hour days, our team has demonstrated professionalism, patience and a ready willingness to help out in any way possible. I thank everyone for this extra effort and thoughtfulness.”
He also noted that we had more than enough equity capital to carry us through the crash, twice as much as the industry average. “Our clients knew we had plenty of capital to execute their trades and that we could withstand losses and still protect them. Happily, despite record-shattering market losses, our conservative philosophies limited the amount of damage.”
As of 2015, October 1987 remains the only month we have registered with a loss since 1980.
In this 1991 advertisement, we proudly summarized the equity capital raised by our firm during that year.
Expanding National Footprint
In the early 1990s, our longtime Milwaukee competitor Blunt Ellis & Loewi was fully absorbed into Kemper Securities, losing their independence as a regional firm. This reinforced our pride in Baird’s relative independence as a Northwestern Mutual subsidiary. We still maintained control over our culture.
President Kasten’s culture focus was paying dividends by attracting top talent from other firms – talent that found changing values and culture in the firms where they worked. It was at this time that Fred looked down the street and hired a strong addition for our Private Client Group, Bryce Edwards. Bryce, a longtime broker and manager, found himself disenchanted with the eroding culture at his firm. “It was uncomfortable enough for me to leave, take a pay cut and join my archenemy,” recalled Edwards. Baird benefited greatly under his guidance in changing the private client landscape. Bryce orchestrated a shift from a private client commission-based mentality to a fee-based approach. While our client-centric culture remained constant, our influence was growing, with 55 offices in nine states by 1993.
With new talent came a host of concurrent issues. Arguably the best of these was the renewed appreciation of existing Baird associates for the incredible value of Baird’s culture. A second was the healthy competition within our own associates to perform. Increased energy resulted in raising the bar for everyone and adding more and more clients being well-served. Complementing the growth in numbers and productivity of Financial Advisors, Baird was also expanding its realm of services. In 1991, we formed Baird Capital Partners, our private equity division. Public Finance was another rapidly expanding area.
As the playing field of our industry tilted with mergers and acquisitions, the competition intensified. President Kasten, ever the competitor, was actively searching for talent that would take us to the next level, especially in investment banking.
One of the key reasons that we opened the Naples, Florida, office in 1987 was to serve our own Midwestern clients who had migrated there before us. This phenomenon continued and we sought more professionals to take care of investor needs. In 1991, we made a bolder move to solidify our presence in Florida by acquiring Williams Securities, a firm of 35 people based in Tampa. Beyond the retail brokerage implications, this acquisition was important because it gave us access to investment banking opportunities throughout the Sunshine State.
Fred and Suzie Kasten, Chris Rither (Executive Assistant) and Paul Purcell, Baird's next President.
Three From Kidder, Peabody
Paul Purcell worked for Kidder, Peabody & Co. for 22 years. He liked that it was privately held and employee-owned; he liked its client-driven culture. But following General Electric’s 1986 takeover, that culture soured.
By 1992, Purcell, running Kidder’s Midwest investment banking, had decided that he could not reverse the culture shift. He would leave, but not alone. Steve Booth and colleague Paul Carbone also planned to leave with Purcell.
While these three were mulling their options, President Kasten was looking to add talent and capacity that would take our firm to the next level. A personal relationship provided the fateful connection that led Purcell and colleagues to Baird.
Conversations between Kasten and Purcell throughout 1993 have become corporate folklore. Purcell came up from Chicago for roughly a dozen lunches and dinners. The two men courted each other and developed a mutual trust. “All of our conversations were about values,” says Purcell. “Every meeting we talked about culture,” recalls Kasten.
Purcell had been skeptical about joining Baird. “I spent the last 20-plus years competing with Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and you want me to talk to Robert W. Nobody?” he recalls saying. But Purcell was attracted by the prospect of building a private equity business, and he came away impressed with Kasten. Kasten was similarly impressed with Purcell’s devotion to our people-first, client-centric culture, and he knew Purcell had the drive to move the firm forward.
Purcell came on to run our corporate finance operation in the spring of 1994. Booth, Carbone and seven other investment bankers followed Purcell to Baird. In 1997, after three profitable years, Purcell became our chief operating officer. In 1998, he became our President, and in 2000, CEO.
Paul Purcell, Fred Kasten and Bryce Edwards, head of Private Client Group in the mid-1990s.
Our industry was ever evolving and, to keep pace, we had to expand capabilities. In 1994, President Kasten found a powerful ally in Paul Purcell. Paul and his colleagues had grown disaffected with Kidder, Peabody & Co. after its 1986 acquisition by General Electric.
Purcell and his fellows provided Baird with an infusion of entrepreneurial spirit and industry experience that dramatically changed our course. He raised the bar, but warned that change would be painful and not everyone would make it. “If you unleash capitalism at Baird, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” Purcell says he told Kasten.
Purcell’s first mission was to expand investment banking operations. In 1995 alone, we could claim over $5 billion in investment banking activity, over half of that coming from mergers and acquisitions. Under his leadership, the scale of our investment banking activity continued to increase.
Expansion and growth were our watchwords during the bull markets of the 1990s. Between 1994 and 2001, our branch offices ballooned from 57 to 85. The home office also expanded, and growth was coupled with enhanced technology in the workplace.
In 1999, we acquired London-based investment firm Granville, which established our beachhead in European capital markets. Then in 2000, we made two key additions that enhanced our capacities and strengthened our portfolio of business units. Mary Ellen Stanek brought her senior team of fixed-income asset managers from Firstar to Baird, where it was renamed Baird Advisors. We also acquired J.C. Bradford’s fixed-income group in Nashville, Tennessee In the same timeframe, we created a new business unit: Baird Capital Partners, our private equity division.
With the 1999 acquisition of London-based Granville, Baird was ever closer to realizing one of its goals: being the best middle-market firm in the world.
Granville Shows Global Ambition
Paul Purcell wanted Baird to be the best middle-market firm in the world. The 1999 acquisition of Granville in London moved us ever closer.
In the 1990s, our M&A clients increasingly sought access to European markets. We had some private wealth management people in London but no investment banking operation in Europe. The booming markets of the late 1990s provided the capital, and we targeted a good firm with great potential based in London. We knew Granville from working on opposite sides during previous M&A transactions. Our capabilities and needs seemed to complement each other.
Negotiations concluded in 1999, but the merger was not without surprises. “Granville took us a long, long time to get right,” says Terry Maxwell, our Chief Financial Officer, who was instrumental in the acquisition. “In our enthusiasm to get into London, we missed identifying where our core competencies did not align with products and services Granville provided. We discovered that we did not know as much as we thought about several of Granville’s business lines or as much as we needed about the English regulatory framework. We knew their M&A work, but we did not have expertise in administering British pension plans, nor did we realize subtle but key distinctions between the institutional equities industry in the United States and the United Kingdom.”
It took about five years, but the wisdom of establishing this European beachhead was clear. There was business in European M&A markets, but to participate, we had to have a presence across the pond. With Granville, we were on our way to being a global firm.
Paul Purcell was the driving influence for Baird becoming the best middle-market investment firm in the world and the best place to work for our associates, as recognized by FORTUNE magazine.
Change Agent: Paul E. Purcell
Purcell = Energy. Paul Purcell is performance-driven and demands excellence from his associates. He’s a great believer in teamwork and his trademark “No Asshole Rule” reminds us never to put our own interests ahead of our team or clients. The appreciation for his handwritten notes celebrating an associate’s special occasion is as important to him as billion-dollar M&A victories.
Purcell worked 22 years at Kidder after graduating from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in 1971. He joined Baird in 1994, became COO in 1997, President in 1998, CEO in 2000 and Chairman in 2006. An effective persuader, Purcell led negotiations to acquire Granville in 1999 and to buy us back from Northwestern Mutual in 2004.
Fred Kasten praises Purcell, recalling when Purcell recommended against a deal that could make us money but prove detrimental in the long term. “Literally, tears came to my eyes,” Kasten recalls. “He was asking me if it was all right if we say ‘no.’”
Terry Maxwell, Chief Financial Officer, sees him as the critical factor in our success. “If Paul Purcell had not joined the firm in 1994,” Maxwell says, “Baird would not be an independent firm today.”
Above all, Purcell will be remembered for continuing the Baird emphasis on our culture. “I think the world revolves around trust, respect and pride. And if you can build that respect and have people really believe that they’re going to be treated fairly and be respected for the job that they did, you build trust,” Purcell says. “If you do that over time, you’re going to build a lot of pride in your organization ... It’s a virtuous circle.”
Continuing the philanthropic leadership of past Baird executives, Paul Purcell has demonstrated a commitment to giving back to the community, particularly in the area of education.
His involvement has benefited educational efforts in Milwaukee, Chicago and beyond, ranging from the elementary to graduate levels. Purcell serves on the board of trustees of Alverno College in Milwaukee and has served on advisory councils at both his alma maters, the University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Purcell also serves on the board of directors of Cristo Rey Network, a Catholic organization dedicated to preparing high school students for college, and as board co-chair of Teach for America - Milwaukee, part of a national effort to educate impoverished youth who may otherwise fall through society’s cracks. He also serves on the board of Junior Achievement of Chicago, an organization that increases the financial literacy of hundreds of thousands of young people. Previously, he served on the board of directors of Schools That Can Milwaukee Inc., a nonprofit that aims to bootstrap local schools to success. Baird’s Leslie Dixon, Chief Human Capital Officer, now serves on this board.
His extensive resume of community involvement also includes board service for Discovery World, Milwaukee’s hands-on technology museum, and the United Performing Arts Fund, which underwrites the performing arts in Milwaukee. Purcell also served on the board of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, whose mission is to improve the region, and on which Baird’s Mary Ellen Stanek, Director of Baird Advisors, now serves.
Purcell has earned recognition for his efforts to benefit the community. Milwaukee’s Three Harbors Council of the Boy Scouts of America awarded Purcell its Distinguished Citizen’s Award in 2012, the same year the Milwaukee Public Library awarded him its annual Benjamin Franklin Award and the Harvard Business School Club of Wisconsin named him the Wisconsin Business Leader of the Year.
Despite mainly operating out of Chicago, Purcell also took the time in 2014 to co-chair Milwaukee’s United Way community campaign. The campaign surpassed its goal, raising over $54 million, with proceeds benefiting local charities.
“How you handle the really hard things is what determines greatness,” says Leslie Dixon, Chief Human Resources Officer.
The stresses of the dot-com bubble burst and the post-9/11 recession set the stage for strategic layoffs. Purcell saw the layoffs as necessary for the firm’s long-term survival. He believed our industry would not continue supporting low-end producers. Our Private Wealth Management division could excel if we would reposition ourselves to serve exclusively high-net-worth individuals.
What needed to be done was clear but the implementation, while upholding humaneness and dignity, was difficult. It meant cutting some 200 Financial Advisors, some 200 other associates, and closing or merging some 20 offices.
“It was a very odd time,” recalls Leslie Dixon, our Chief Human Resources Officer. “In the morning you’d be hiring top-end Financial Advisors who wanted to find a firm with the culture they’d lost. In the afternoon, you were laying off a support person and trying to communicate through that to help our employees understand the ‘why.’ It was a very surreal time.”
Purcell instituted a minimum production standard for our Financial Advisors and gave them 18 months to clear this hurdle. Starting with 400 who qualified, 200 succeeded and 200 were laid off. Purcell says, “And of the 200 advisors who left, two-thirds left the industry. So we know we were right.” We emerged from the other side of the strategic adjustment leaner and better able to service the upper echelon in our Private Wealth Management division.
How we conducted the layoffs was a testament to the firm’s culture and values, according to Dixon. Management asked what a great, people-centric firm would do in culling 400 of its people, then acted deliberately, generously and humanely. “When you’re a people organization,” she says, “how you handle that matters... How you handle the really hard things is what determines greatness.”
Baird Capital entered the Asia market in 2003.
In the early 2000s our private equity business leaders knew that to be proactive in helping their portfolio companies grow, they needed to execute strategically on a global basis. The former head of private equity, Paul Carbone, consulted with his team: “In 2002, we saw a trend that required us to be proactive about Asia. Many of our portfolio companies didn’t know where Beijing is on a map, yet they were going to be impacted by Beijing.”
In 2003, Baird entered China with an operating team in Shanghai to support our U.S. and U.K. portfolio companies. As we developed our capabilities in China, we realized we could capitalize on the fastest-growing consumer and industrial markets in the world. We added our growth-equity investment team in 2008 with the formation of Baird Capital Partners Asia. Gordon Pan, current Managing Partner of Baird Capital, states, "We continue to capitalize on this market and create an ever expanding global reach."
Acclimating to this new culture took time. While only 8,000 miles separate the U.S. and China, the two are worlds apart from a cultural perspective. As for the two cultures, Gordon shared that the General Manager in Shanghai, Martyn Ngo, "does an amazing job of reinforcing the Baird culture in China and he works hard to ensure his team is connected to Baird culturally and through best practices."
In 2011, Baird associates shot a music video, a “Thriller” spoof, and raised $9,000 for United Way. Everyone “checked their egos at the door” and danced for a great cause.
Awesome Place to Work
What do a gender-neutral bathroom and employee ownership have in common? Each is cited in our 2015 bid to remain on the list of FORTUNE's 100 Best Companies to Work For® – our 12th year in a row.
Since 2004, we’ve made the prestigious list every year, increasing name recognition and resulting in a landslide of new associate applications. When Baird’s name appears with the likes of Google and Genentech, we feel in good company. It’s amped up our reputation externally and internally, and certainly doesn’t hurt business prospects.
Getting on the list is a credit to Paul Purcell. He was flying back to O’Hare and reading an issue of FORTUNE featuring the list. He knew Baird was a great company and ought to seek recognition for it. He called Chief Human Resources Officer Leslie Dixon and said, “I want us to get on this list. Let’s do it!”
“People ask me now, following the FORTUNE recognition for so many years, how did you get there?” Dixon recalls. “I’d laugh and love to say that we had this great, strategic, intentional plan, but that wasn’t the case at all. As I look back, the answer is we did a lot of things really well without an original goal of being on some list. Of course, it’s a great list to be on, but more importantly, we need to deserve to be on it and constantly strive to improve.”
Firm leaders attribute the recognition to our enduring culture. Every year, the re-application process provides a means for us to articulate that culture. The process also requires scrutiny to ensure we are staying great and provides motivation for improvement. The process involves random surveys of our associates to verify our claims.
It’s not just the coveted FORTUNE list where we consistently score a top spot as a progressive workplace (12 consecutive years). Pensions & Investments has ranked Baird Asset Management first among managers of our size in its Best Places to Work in Money Management for three years running. We also qualified as a Best Place to Work for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in 2015.
The quality of our performance has also been lauded by the press and industry organizations. We have earned top rankings for “overall research and analyst service quality” “overall sales quality” and “access to small-/mid-cap companies’ management” for more than a decade in Greenwich Associates’ annual survey of professional money managers. Barron’s has ranked us among their top 40 wealth managers for eight years running. The Bond Buyer has awarded our Public Finance division six “Deal of the Year” honors over the past decade. And, for their excellent stock picks and earnings estimates, our talented research teams have consistently earned us a bevy of prestigious StarMine Analyst Awards for 14 years running.
Our commitment to philanthropy gets noticed. In 2013, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter honored us with the Wisconsin Organizational Philanthropy Award. That same year, the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee, Inc. granted us its Inspire by Example award for our signature Baird Gives Back Week, during which over 1,000 associates volunteered over 3,000 hours on behalf of 100 nonprofit organizations worldwide.
The story of stock ownership at Baird is a remarkable tale of spreading the wealth, illustrating our core values. Buying ourselves back from Northwestern Mutual in 2004 was a defining moment in that saga.
Owning Our Destiny
When our Milwaukee neighbor, Northwestern Mutual (NM), acquired a majority interest in Baird in 1982, both parties benefited. NM maintained an 80% stake in Baird until the late 1990s. Paul Purcell began conversations with NM leadership about the eventual need to obtain more ownership for attracting and rewarding associates. In 1998, Purcell’s persuasion raised Baird’s ownership stake to 36% and to 44% in 2001.
In 2004, NM actually went into the private wealth management business, which we viewed as competition incompatible with our continued partnership. April 21, 2004, marked the return to independent ownership, with Baird’s own stake rising to 93% and NM retaining 7%. “It was a very intense negotiation with Northwestern Mutual,” Purcell recalls. “We paid them a very big price. They helped us finance it, which was fabulous, but it was intense negotiation because they were skeptical as to why we wanted to buy the firm back. There were some people over there who thought we were going to do it just to sell it.”
Being a privately held, associate owned firm, we control our destiny. Since our repurchase, our associate ownership model has become even more inclusive. And our policy is that when associates retire, they sell their stock back to the firm, keeping ownership in our Baird family.
Pat Lawton, Director of Fixed Income Capital Markets, remarked on the impact of owning a part of Baird: “The pride, the strategy, the execution – everybody feeling so proud because they now own it, you now own it. Your mentality, how you go about business and how you operate. When it’s yours, you treat things different.”
Baird has emerged stronger from each national and international economic downturn.
Prospering Through the Downturn
Real estate markets tanked in 2007, dragging down banks and investment firms dealing in mortgage-backed securities. The entire global financial system neared collapse. Investment firms, banks and big businesses started to topple in 2008. Wall Street jettisoned talent. The federal government responded with bailouts, troubled asset protection and stimulus funds to stabilize the crippled financial industry and jump-start the wounded economy. Ordinary Americans were out of work and facing dire prospects.
The causes of this so-called Great Recession echoed those that triggered the financial turmoil prior to the Great Depression: abuses by those in the investment industry motivated by short-term profit at the expense of long-term benefit. The firewall between investment and commercial banks established by Glass-Steagall in 1934 had been torn down by Congress in 1999, allowing financial contagion to spread unchecked.
Meanwhile, Baird hunkered down and prospered. We stayed true to our values of integrity, client focus and looking out for the long term. Our leverage of capital remained reasonable. Our portfolio strategy of five revenue-generating business units provided resilience. One or more of our business units will be there to buoy any struggling area. In this case, our Fixed Income group carried the day and more than offset weaknesses elsewhere. Strategic realignment prior to the Great Recession had placed us in a sound position to weather the storm.
“My mantra in the downturn was ‘Don’t break the trust,’” Purcell recalls, referring to trust among leadership, associates and clients. We were able to attract top talent from other firms that were cutting indiscriminately under financial duress. It proved to be the best recruiting opportunity in recent history. We emerged from the Great Recession stronger than before.
Sustaining culture is the responsibility of every associate. Our mission statement and cultural values are periodically reviewed by our Executive Committee. More than words on a plaque, they are a living experience we commit to for our clients and each other.
Conscious About Culture
Baird’s culture is indeed a tangible asset, beginning with our founder, who made sure that his successor was infected with the same spirit and so on for each successor. By putting into action the characteristics of that culture, Baird grew and prospered. And as we grew, it became ever more challenging to imbue every associate with the same attributes.
Fred Kasten recognized and embraced the challenge of spreading the Baird culture to every associate. He emphasized qualitative customer service goals instead of quantitative targets. To give our associates common tools for success in the workplace, we established Baird University in 1993. Baird University’s mission was to teach both “skill sets” and “mindsets” and did so through classes, symposiums, on-the-job training and mentoring, and found itself on the list of top training organizations in the country by the American Society of Training & Development (ASTD).
Now part of Human Resources, our Talent Development department continues at a breakneck pace in a host of programs for all of our business units and support groups.
As we attracted new associates, a fear arose that hiring “new blood” would dilute the secret sauce of our culture. In 2010, our Executive Committee met and, believing that culture at Baird is a tangible asset, determined to create the Department of Culture & Integration. They then asked a 17-year veteran of Baird, Beth Kavelaris, to help create a strategy that would protect and promote our culture throughout the organization. “One person alone cannot create or maintain a culture,” said Beth in initial interviews. “It is the job of every associate, every day, to live out the principles and values passed on to us from an incredible legacy of our past leaders.” Throughout the firm, we incentivized teamwork with compensation models unlike those of our competitors. We recognized our top producers for benefiting their clients rather than solely netting the most revenue. We exercised painstaking deliberation in hiring practices to ensure the best fit for both new associates and our firm.
Steve Booth became our President in 2014 after leading our Industrial and Global Mergers & Acquisitions teams.
Future Shepherd: Steve Booth
Like Purcell and Kasten before him, Steve Booth is a devotee of Baird’s client-focused, “No-Asshole” culture. Steve enjoys navigating complexity and believes in the power of teams. Booth is the shepherd to take us to the next level.
Born in Milwaukee in 1960, Booth grew up in Chicago and went into banking in Texas after graduating from Southern Methodist University (SMU) in 1982. In 1989, Steve earned his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, the birthplace of Mr. Baird. He interviewed with Paul Purcell at Kidder, Peabody in Chicago. Fascinated by both Purcell and investment banking, Booth joined Kidder. But like Paul, he grew uncomfortable with Kidder’s changing “mercenary culture.”
In 1993 a senior executive with Baird connected Steve with Fred Kasten. Steve connected Kasten to Purcell and, in February of 1994, Baird added a Chicago Investment Banking division whose nucleus was the three Kidder ex-pats: Paul Purcell, Paul Carbone and Steve Booth. When Kasten asked for one of the three to establish a presence in Milwaukee, Booth returned to the city his father had loved.
Developing private equity opportunities appeals to Booth, who led Baird’s Industrial and Global M&A teams. In 2004, Booth took charge of our investment banking operations. Banking revenues tripled under Steve’s leadership. In 2013, Booth was named COO and, in 2014, President. He will assume the mantle of CEO in 2016.
With our global expansion, some have questioned where there is more room to grow. Booth answers this question by focusing on leveraging adjacencies. “As the firm grows, gets bigger, that outer envelope keeps expanding, the frontier of adjacencies keeps growing. It’s getting bigger and bigger, it’s growing exponentially in fact. That’s what I’m going to have the privilege of leading.”
In 2014, Baird acquired McAdams Wright Ragen, Inc. (MWR), a Seattle-based firm with 85 Financial Advisors in seven offices throughout the Pacific Northwest. MWR's and Baird's cultures were hand-in-glove.
Leveraging Adjacencies Globally
In 2014, we celebrated over $1 billion in revenues and more than $100 billion in client assets, milestones we proudly attribute to the trust between our clients and talented associates. Our culture is a tangible asset and the root cause for our success.
Still headquartered in Milwaukee, we have gone global with more than 100 offices on three continents. We are the best middle market investment firm in the world.
In January 2014, Steve Booth became our President, part of a deliberate transition by Past Chairman Paul Purcell. In October, Booth communicated an agenda of “leveraging adjacencies” to discover growth opportunities hidden in plain sight as we continue our global expansion. “Our clients are growing and expect us to expand our capabilities,” says Booth, on track to become CEO in 2016.
In July 2014, we acquired McAdams Wright Ragen Inc. (MWR), a Seattle-based firm with 85 Financial Advisors in seven offices throughout the Pacific Northwest. MWR mirrored our independent culture and touted $10 billion in client assets. Strategically, this gave us access to the Pacific Northwest, complementing the rise of our Charlotte, North Carolina office, the hub of our influence in the Southeast. As importantly, they were a hand-in-glove fit as a cultural complement to Baird. Integrity, trust, respect, care, family connectedness and treating clients as number one were MWR’s mantras. In the interviews preceding the decision to merge, Baird and MWR would ask each other, “What is your culture like?” When given answers, inevitably one side would look at the other and ask, “Wait, are you talking about us, or you?” Both sides won big!
On January 1, 2016, Steve Booth succeeded Paul Purcell as CEO, concluding a thoughtful, multiyear transition that started in 2013.
During the transition, Paul highlighted some of the firm’s greatest accomplishments over the past 20 years and thanked associates for allowing him to hold “the best job in the industry.” Steve took the time to thank Paul for being a true mentor, friend and partner, saying:
“I’m honored to have both the opportunity and the responsibility to follow in Paul’s footsteps. I’m aware that Paul is a tough act to follow, just as Fred was for Paul. But, I’m also very confident in our collective ability to take Baird even further given the tremendous strength and commitment of the Baird Team.”
Paul and Steve’s strong partnership goes back more than 25 years. They share a strong belief in the importance of Baird’s culture and values, like putting clients first and always striving to get better, individually and as a firm. A common theme across the transition was their dedication to and passion for upholding and advancing Baird’s culture and commitment to being a great place to work for associates.
Paul commented on Steve’s character, saying:
“Steve has deepened his relationships with all areas of the firm. He has expanded his connections in the industry and community, and he is deeply committed to growing the business in the right way – to best serve clients and create opportunities for associates. He is thoughtful and strategic, and I know he will be a great leader and listener.”
In 2016, we celebrated our 13th consecutive year on FORTUNE’S 100 Best Companies to Work For® list. However, we know we have not arrived. We continue to grow, seek out the best for our clients and each other. It is a never-ending journey!
The Continuous Journey
Our firm has been marked by the values of integrity, honesty, and client-focus – the values imbued in us by our founder. Baird people have further demonstrated inherited values by giving back to their communities, serving as industry leaders and helping their teammates meet their goals. We recognized that ‘people’ represented our treasured physical asset and, if you make a values-based culture a tangible asset, the result can be magical and sustainable.
History proves that Baird’s story is exceptional. Hundreds of other brokerage houses from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s have either been gobbled up or driven off the playing field. Because of the values and expertise of several generations of leaders, our independent firm has not only survived – we’ve thrived. What has always differentiated Baird is that we remember the human touch: We actually care. “Caring” means sharing our success broadly with our associates. Caring is our secret sauce. Caring means allowing 63% of all associates to be part owners in the firm.
The same words written by Clarence Bickel in 1960 on the retirement of Mr. Baird could be said today: “During all these changing times, this corporation, through the sound judgment and objective leadership of Mr. Baird, never swerved from its fundamental philosophy: to justify the confidence of both industry and investors by the honesty and good faith of those associated with it.”
In 1919, we were a few dozen men in a single Milwaukee bond office. Now we are over 3,300 associates on three continents. Those men in 1919 could not have imagined the impressive scale at which we operate today, but we don’t have to imagine what defined their character. They were Baird people like us.
Ever-changing needs in the market place demand that we continue to expand and enhance our expertise and offerings for individual, municipal and institutional clients.
In 2018, Baird continued not only its record of outstanding client performance but Baird’s own revenue and profit growth as well.
The acquisition of Strategas, an award-winning macro-research company, headquartered in New York, complements Baird’s own award-winning equity research. Strategas provides comprehensive macro-sector insights in the areas of investment strategy, economics and government policy and joined as a wholly owned but independent Baird company in early 2018. Strategas has long shared the same cultural values as Baird, a critical element in our vetting of great companies to complement our services. President & CEO Steve Booth said, “The work to bring our organizations together has further underscored what we already knew – that our mutual focus on the client, quality people, a strong culture and employee ownership, combined with our complementary offerings, make this a great fit for our firm and our clients.” We look forward to an excellent partnership for many years to come.
Later in 2018, Baird signed a definitive agreement to acquire Louisville-based Hilliard Lyons, one of our closest peer firms in the wealth management business, and Hilliard Lyons Trust Company. Another natural cultural fit, Hilliard Lyons will bring a rich 164-year tradition of investment service as well as complementary investment banking, municipal finance and asset management expertise to Baird. "On every level, Baird is a great fit for our clients and for the Hilliard Lyons team," said Jim Allen, Chairman and CEO of Hilliard Lyons. "We are especially pleased to return to our roots and rejoin an employee-owned firm. Baird's culture, values and business model align seamlessly with ours, and its reputation as a best place to work is unsurpassed in the industry."
2018 also marked Baird’s 15th consecutive year among the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® – a recognition that is particularly gratifying as we seek new and better ways to help our clients because it reaffirms our commitment to maintaining an environment of trust, camaraderie, teamwork and gratitude for our associates.
Baird passed along gains from “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” in 2018 to our associates and communities.
Every full- and part-time associate received a one-time cash benefit, with Managing Directors and Directors each able to grant a $1,500 donation to a charity of their choice. These charitable gifts added nearly $1.2 million to Baird’s annual giving of $3 million, helping to benefit more than 650 nonprofits.
The gratitude of the recipients was more than heartwarming. Patrick Vandergurgh, President of Milwaukee Rescue Mission wrote, “Thank you for giving real hope to our homeless neighbors.” Our associates appreciate the charitable involvement as well: “I love that you are giving us even more (than our original match program) to donate! It is a wonderful gift!”
Baird celebrated our centennial anniversary with joy, togetherness and fun. Inviting all of our Associates from every location, and their guests to Milwaukee, over 7000 happy extended Baird family flooded the city during the week of June 10th 2019.
Business meetings for the most part on hold, our Executive Committee and team hosted a two day gala, with networking lounges for daytime groups and a four hour evening blow out celebration with music, food, nostalgia, a live history tour, taste testing of regional wines, beers and spirits from different Baird locations, as well as entertainment, a pack a knapsack for charity Baird Gives Back activity, a ‘Time Was’ lounge for retirees who had also been invited, and dozens of interactive touch points to Baird’s culture.
Day two included an afternoon of food and drink before a packed Annual Meeting honoring Paul Purcell as our Brenton H. Rupple Citizenship award-a timely surprise.
As we closed out the celebratory events of 2019 and 100 years of business, heartache hit home. Baird lost one of its tremendous leaders in the passing of our sixth President, Fred Kasten. Only a few months on the heels of that tragedy came the loss of our beloved seventh President, Paul Purcell.
An Enduring Legacy of Commitment to Doing Things the Right Way
Paul was so protective of Baird’s culture that he famously implemented the “No Asshole Policy” a directive for who we hired and how we acted towards our clients and fellow associates. Both leaders leave behind an enduring legacy of commitment to doing things the right way at Baird for the integrity of our clients, for our Baird family, and to our greater communities. Both leaders led by example, expecting all to ‘do what is right for the client’ and ‘showing integrity in everything we do’. Both Fred and Paul exemplified the importance of community engagement and were deeply involved in numerous charities and external organizations. Following the 2020 Annual Meeting, Steve Booth announced that the Paul Purcell “Kids Win!” Annual Baird Education Grant was established to honor his legacy as a champion of education for all. By the end of the year, it had already raised over $2.5 million from Baird associates, Baird Advisors, and the Baird Foundation.
“In a year filled with extraordinary challenges, I truly appreciate all you do to distinguish Baird. While our world has changed dramatically in 2020 and the holidays may be markedly different, we have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving season.” Baird President, Steve Booth, shared these words of inspiration and encouragement as the Baird family looked back on an excessively eventful year.
It was a year of enormous challenges encompassing health, social and political unrest.In March 2020, spurred by the now global COVID 19 pandemic, Baird, along with thousands of other businesses around the world closed their office doors and moved almost all of our 4600 associates to a “Work from Home” business model. This was an incredibly complex task that was accomplished virtually overnight. We stayed put as a largely distributed work force for the remainder of the year and, with the herculean help of our leadership, our IT department, our camaraderie and our willingness to learn new technology, we stayed connected — and we not only accomplished our goals but surpassed them.
Baird launched a Safety@Baird website brimming with safety news and aids. Steve Booth and other leaders shared homespun videos with updates and encouragement -- connecting us all emotionally, if not physically. Offices held Zoom “happy hours,” we held our first ever all virtual Annual Meeting and made our culture live in our homes. In the process, we broadened our reach by inviting our extended families to join us during such unique times. A second crisis emerged over Memorial Day weekend that impacted the hearts and minds of Americans in the death of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, MN. Issues of race, diversity, inclusivity, and equity were at the forefront of US economic, social, and institutional discussions. In response, Baird set up a Special Task Force to help implement and enhance Baird’s commitment to all associates in a more deep, and meaningful manner to achieve ever closer alignment with the “Baird Way” principles.
“But (looking back) as a firm, we’ve actually been able to navigate these challenges in a really unbelievable way. At the top of this I want to join my fellow Executive Committee members and thank all of you once again for your help in successfully navigating for all of our clients and for each other.”
These sentiments shared by Steve Booth at the virtual Fall 2020 All Associate Meeting, reiterated our mission of over 100 years. There were many silver linings to be gleaned from such an extraordinarily challenging year. This year has shown us what truly matters. We are thankful to have our health, for time spent with loved ones, and to work for an organization that truly cares about those we serve, as well as focusing on a culture of inclusivity for every associate in the Baird family.
It is heartening to know that this team-Baird’ can handle – and even prosper – under the most daunting of challenges.