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CEO talks workplace culture

| Sunday, November 2, 2014

Chairman and CEO of Baird Financial Group Paul Purcell spoke Friday morning about strong corporate culture and global competitiveness for the fourth installment of the Boardroom Insights Lecture Series.

Purcell, a Notre Dame alumnus with an MBA from the University of Chicago, held executive management positions at Kidder, Peabody & Co. prior to moving to Baird in 1994. He said Baird’s strong emphasis on work culture ultimately convinced him to work there.

“The reason why I [moved] there was because the company was culturally strong,” he said. “It was all about the client and all about integrity.”

Baird has proven itself a successful mid-market financial firm which Purcell says aims to provide a positive working environment for its employees.

“Our mission is to provide the best financial service and to be the best place to work,” he said. “We think it is extremely important … that all of our associates are very engaged and proud of where they work.”

Purcell said Baird’s growth in recent years is in large part due to strong employee engagement.

“There’s a direct link between engagement and profitability in the corporate world,” he said. “Engaged associates are more productive. Pride increases and voluntary turnover goes down dramatically.”

In addition to promoting a strong workplace culture, Purcell said Baird’s strength is a result of the company’s private ownership.

“From 1998 to 2004, we bought back all but 6 percent of outside shares,” he said. “The other 94 percent is now owned by 2,000 associates.”

Since employees at Baird own company shares, Purcell said there is a much greater incentive to work productively.

“People behave differently if they’re shareholders,” he said. “It makes everybody responsible and accountable, and when you do that, it empowers people.”

Purcell said privately-owned companies such as Baird also have the ability to be selective in hiring talent and working with clients.

“We can be very careful about who we hire and who we don’t hire,” he said. “We’re not going to hire any … associates, and we’re not going to do business with clients who don’t view the world similarly.”

In providing an engaging work environment for its associates, Purcell said Baird significantly decreased voluntary turnover.

“We adamantly believe that turnover is not good for the firm, not good for pride and engagement and not good for clients,” he said. “If an [associate] leaves, there is a void that must be filled.”

Baird’s strong policy of retaining existing talent meant the company avoided major layoffs during the 2008 financial crisis, Purcell said.

“We got our senior leadership to agree that we would do whatever we needed to do [to retain associates], including 0 bonuses, for as long as it took,” he said.

While most firms were laying off “thousands every day,” Purcell said Baird saw an opportunity for long-term growth, and the company grew from 2,400 to nearly 3,100 associates between 2008 and 2014.

“One of the reasons why we’re doing so well is because we hired so much talent,” he said.

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