Letter from the CEO
This June 30 will mark the 25th anniversary of the launch of Brown Advisory as a private and independent investment and strategic advisory firm. There are many thoughts that come immediately to our minds, but the overwhelming and dominant feeling is one of extraordinary gratitude for the support and interest of so many people.
We start with our clients—we have been privileged to serve a wonderful group of individuals, families, endowments, foundations, charitable organizations, financial intermediaries, and public and private pensions. In many cases, we are now working with the third generation of our individual and family clients, as well as multiple successors to the investors and fiduciaries overseeing our institutional clients who originally made the decision to engage Brown Advisory. Our clients bring experiences and expertise that have greatly enriched our development as investment, strategic advisory and client service professionals and, without a doubt, our ability to serve all of our clients. We are sincerely grateful.
We also salute our colleagues over the past 25 years! They have put forth an enormous effort on behalf of our clients. They are amazing individuals and valuable members of the Brown Advisory team. During this period, Brown Advisory has grown from 65 colleagues based solely in Baltimore to 848 colleagues who live and work in a number of cities around the world. Since 1998, we have added 12 offices in the U.S.—Washington, D.C.; Chapel Hill and Charlotte, North Carolina; Norfolk, Richmond and Charlottesville, Virginia; Wilmington, Delaware; New York City; Boston; Austin; San Francisco; and this past year, Nashville, Tennessee. In 2007, with a specific mission of working with colleagues who would bring a global outlook, we opened our office in London. The team there is now 80-colleagues strong and includes investment and business development colleagues as well as “around-the-clock” technology, operational and client service support. To London, we have added Brown Advisory offices in Frankfurt, Singapore and, just recently, Tokyo.
In prior annual reports, we have reflected on the importance of having offices in different locations. We are able to attract colleagues with diverse perspectives. We are able to stay in close touch with clients and respond more quickly and effectively to their questions. We are able to learn about and contribute to the communities where our clients live and work. We are able to offer flexibility and improve our colleagues’ work-life balance by allowing them to be closer to family members. Importantly, however, there is a common thread that links all Brown Advisory colleagues regardless of where they call home—they demonstrate a deep commitment first to our clients but also to each other. They spend a significant amount of time mentoring and training younger colleagues. They reach out to colleagues who might be going through challenges in their personal lives. They look out for each other. All of these elements of Brown Advisory’s “DNA” have resulted in a shared vision that is behind the flywheel we wrote about just a year ago: We believe deeply in working as a team. Together, we best serve our clients.
Brown Advisory President and CEO
We began writing these reports in 2011, and each year, we have picked a theme that seemed to dominate our thinking at the time. Often, our focus began as an inquiry to answer or address an important question or challenge. The process has been helpful and, in some cases, cathartic. We have reflected on our purpose; the connections and network among our clients, colleagues and shareholders; our responsibility to each other and as a corporate citizen; and our commitment to continued reinvestment in our business. This year, our annual report is dedicated to our commitment to being an independent firm—what it has meant over the last 25 years, what it means today and what we think it will mean for the future.
We have written about our independent ownership structure in the past and its significance. Nothing has changed in our belief that this structure—with approximately 70 percent of Brown Advisory shares being owned by our colleagues, every single one of them owning equity, and with an essential group of outside shareholders owning the remaining shares—is the best structure to allow us always to put our clients first. Our independence is the backbone of everything we do. However, the latitude and depth of its impact are greater than we appreciated 25 years ago. It has played a much more substantive and nuanced role than we could have ever imagined.
This focus has led to the creation and growth of some very important investment strategies, including but not limited to: Small-Cap Fundamental Value, Large-Cap Sustainable Growth and Global Leaders. We have used this same methodology to develop offerings in the private investment space. It is incredible to me that we are now investing the 11th vintage of our Private Equity Partners (PEP) program, our diversified private equity annual “sleeve” vehicle, and our private investments team now comprises venture, credit and real estate vehicles as well as a fourth NextGen Venture Partners fund. We are also enthusiastic about investment opportunities sourced and researched by members of our Investment Solutions Group (ISG) and other members of our balanced portfolio management team who have particular expertise in a segment of the financial markets.
Every aspect of our thinking is derived from a focus on our clients.
We ask ourselves: What decisions should we make today so that we have the resources, strategies and capabilities in place to serve our clients well five and 10 years from now?
Our independence has clearly been important when we have an idea or strategy in front of us that we want to pursue. But, it is even more critical when, as is often the case, there seem to be more unknowns in the world than certainty. We know that we need time to carry out thoughtful research, to ask tough questions, to reach out to contacts in our network for their sense of things, and just to think and reflect. Over the last 25 years, we faced seemingly once-in-a-lifetime events such as the terrorist attacks in 2001 and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the financial system collapse in 2008–2009, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. There is no end to the consequences of any one of these events or the more recognizable, “run-of-the-mill” sources of volatility in the economy and financial markets. Our independence affords us what to some is a luxury but to us is a necessity—the ability to focus only on our clients’ best interests and to help navigate a very complex world on their behalf.
We are also aware that many of the complexities that we face emanate from serious and often polarizing challenges. Our commitment to our clients is to respond to their questions, to help them understand how their assets are invested and to provide data as context for how their portfolios align with their beliefs and objectives—we know we have a responsibility to help those who choose to make an impact with their financial and investment resources. Our commitment to our clients and our colleagues is to understand how these issues affect them, to be a leader in the effort to tackle the challenges that we face, and to build a diverse, equitable and inclusive Brown Advisory team. We understand that we are uniquely positioned to make a material and positive difference for both our clients and colleagues.
Our independence has also been essential to how we approach our financials. Every aspect of our thinking is derived from a focus on our clients. We ask ourselves: What decisions should we make today so that we have the resources, strategies and capabilities in place to serve our clients well five and 10 years from now? Our discussions of financial metrics almost always concern annual and longer-term goals—rather than quarterly ones. As an example, the profit margins that we set in consultation with our independent board of directors are determined solely by how much of a bottom line we need to fund our current and future operations—and not by targets set by Wall Street analysts. This is helpful in good years—such as 2021 where the combination of significant new business, high client retention and a strong equity market allowed us to invest in technology and infrastructure instead of pushing more to the bottom line. It is also critical in years where the markets are a significant headwind such as 2022; we purposefully allowed our margins to erode so that we could focus our compensation philosophy on attracting and retaining colleagues, and to increasing, rather than cutting, our strategic investments.
Perhaps one of the most significant components of our independence is our board of directors and governance structure. First, as investors, we believe strongly in the role of an independent board of directors. Independent thinkers—confident in the significance of their role, knowledgeable in the applicable laws and regulations, and representative of diverse backgrounds and interests—are essential to an effective corporate governance structure. Thus, from day one, we knew it was important for Brown Advisory to be governed by an independent board of directors with well-functioning, independent audit, finance, governance and compensation committees. In addition, it is critical that the board be led by an independent director who chairs executive sessions and ensures that there is an open, frank and productive dialogue between the independent board members and the leadership of the firm. All of these are as important to allowing our firm and colleagues to focus on our North Star—our clients—as any other foundational building block.
We have been fortunate over the years to have an impressive group of individuals serving on our board. Over time, the board has added new members and had the opportunity to thank those who have served well in the past. Healthy turnover is another sign of effective corporate governance. It is hard to believe that in the last 25 years, 30 individuals have served on our board. We are grateful to each of them. We have learned a great deal and have benefited from their experience, expertise and contacts around the world. They have come from a variety of backgrounds and represent very different perspectives, but they do carry some common traits—they have all been shareholders and thus aligned with the success of our clients. Most have been clients themselves, and therefore understand our strengths and where we need to improve. They are all good and generous people who are very open to sharing their thoughts and challenging our team. We wouldn’t be the firm we are today without their combined wisdom and guidance.
This anniversary will be a special one for us, and we will encourage our colleagues to take a moment to reflect on what each of them thinks has been critical to our evolution as a firm and their development as individuals. Then, we will return to our commitment to the future—our sincere and enthusiastic focus on clients and colleagues. Certainly, there is ample evidence that we have significant challenges ahead of us.
The rest of this report is dedicated to reflecting on the themes above and how our commitment to independence supports our clients, colleagues, communities and culture. The criticality of our independence is revealed in many ways.
We believe that as Brown Advisory team members, and with a continued commitment to being a private and independent firm, we will be able to navigate—and raise—the future.
Thank you for your support and interest. We are so grateful.