An interview with Jodi Perry

Jodi Perry Jodi Perry is celebrating 28 years with Raymond James, which is a pretty long time for someone who was initially just looking for a way to pay for college. Eager to put herself through school to ease the burden on her father – her mother died when Perry was 20 – she landed an entry-level operations role with the firm in 1994 to gain professional experience and take advantage of the tuition reimbursement program while finishing her business degree at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.

As Perry says, she came for the job and stayed for the career.

In 2018 – after roles in operations, asset management, sales and recruiting – Perry was named president of the firm’s growing Independent Contractor Division (ICD), which combined with the Financial Institutions Division (FID) forms Raymond James Financial Services (RJFS). The subsidiary with which all independent advisors are affiliated, RJFS represents more than 3,500 of the 8,400-plus advisors who affiliate with the firm.

In 2003, she became the first female recruiter, a role that paved the way to becoming the first woman to lead an advisor division at the firm. Perry was the second woman on the firm’s Executive Committee, joining Bella Loykhter Allaire, the executive vice president of Technology and Operations.

You’ve had a variety of roles at Raymond James – in asset management, operations, sales, recruiting. How did you know when it was time to take the next step?

When I think about all the moves I’ve made in my career, it really wasn’t that I made a specific decision to do something. I didn’t say, “I want to go from operations to sales.” At some points other people said, ‘Hey, I think you would like it over here.’ I did work to vary my experiences, which I believe does increase your value. But I had no idea at the time that I was setting myself up for a career. I was willing to step outside of my comfort zone. I was curious. I would watch people in a certain job and say, ‘I think I can do that.’

You were the first woman in a recruiting role with the firm – what challenges did you overcome?

That was a big move, something no woman at the firm had done before. I thought, “Maybe there’s a reason there’s never been a female recruiter.” So, I had to get out of my own way a bit. And what I quickly found out is that recruiting isn’t about sales, it’s about relationships. Men connected with each other in ways I didn’t because they often shared interests I didn’t have. I didn’t play golf, for example, though I contemplated learning. But I figured out how to connect with advisors in different ways or on different levels. I was getting a lot of personal information from advisors because they were comfortable talking to me. I would hear why they were really nervous about making the transition or about going from being an employee to an independent running their own business. They would tell me they were uneasy about health insurance because their wife had breast cancer. I would get the really personal stories. And it became an integral part of my relationships with advisors to help them make those important decisions for themselves, their families and the people on their teams who were potentially coming with them to their new firm.

Your professional experiences were varied, but each involved a leadership opportunity. How did each of those leadership roles help prepare you for the role you’re in now as president of the Independent Contractor Division?

Each time I got into a new position I thought, “This is just about me.” And each time I would find myself in a leadership position. I love leadership. I think you should lead people and manage situations. When it comes to leadership, I always think about people as individuals. Each person on my team, I know what makes them tick. Whatever they are really good at or really enjoy doing, I want them to do more of that. It’s not about focusing on the things we don’t do well. Women, especially – we tend to look at our shortcomings and diminish what we do extraordinarily well. There’s a reason none of us is really good at everything. When I’m helping someone else understand that, I’m helping myself, too. I’ve always had this knack for building strong teams. I am acutely aware of my shortcomings and I can see where someone else can fill in that gap. I don’t hire a bunch of people like me – I get enough of me, I don’t need to replicate that. I really think about the people and how each one contributes to the team.

Financial services remains male-dominated – what myths about women and finance do we still need to bust?

One of the biggest misperceptions about our profession is that you really have to love numbers. That you have to be able to calculate standard deviation and know every stock, every bond and every mutual fund out there. That’s such a misperception. It’s much more about relationships than the actual asset management. This is a relationship business. And it’s not that men don’t thrive, but for women there’s often a natural connection to other people.

How can we increase the number of women advisors and executives in financial services?

It’s important for us to look at how we can rebrand financial services for women. If you look at television shows about doctors or lawyers, they position those as dynamic, interesting careers. And our industry is never portrayed that way. Where are the good examples and what’s building that excitement, especially for women? I consider myself lucky because I ended up working at Raymond James while I was going to college, or I would have picked a completely different career.

I think science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs are starting to do a good job. They are getting to girls in middle school, which is great, because if we waiting until college to get to people, that might be too late. That’s something our industry could replicate through educational programs as well. I’m excited because I do see more interns are young women. There are so many types of careers available to women in the financial services industry – marketing, technology – anything you can do at any other company exists in the financial services industry.

I also see a lot more women coming into the family business. In my world, all advisors are independent advisors. It’s not uncommon for children to come into it through their family, and the women who are coming in are incredibly successful. They’ve been observing their parents since childhood, so they can grow into these roles and understand how much of being an advisor is about taking care of people. This is one of the few industries where you can help make someone’s dreams come true – whether it’s helping someone put their kids through college, helping them to take dream vacations, retire early, etc. There just aren’t many careers that have the potential to create that kind of impact for others.

Raymond James is seeing tremendous growth in its independent channel. What trends do you see contributing to that?

One of the great things about Raymond James is the multiple channels for advisors to affiliate with the firm. There are always going to be people who are extremely happy being supported in an employee channel, but we’re also seeing a number of quality advisors coming to the independent channel. When I first started recruiting to the independent channel, it was largely advisors with smaller practices, people who wanted to live in smaller towns and not travel or move to a major metropolitan area. What’s really shifted in recent years is this entrepreneurial spirit – people are interested in having more flexibility and control, a brand that’s about them. And that extends from the smaller areas to the major metropolitan areas. It’s wonderful to see the quality of advisors who are choosing the independent channel. And where it used to be primarily solo practitioners who were choosing independence – someone setting up a one-person shop with one branch professional – we are now seeing many ensemble practices come to the independent channel, as well. There’s safety in numbers, and financial responsibility can shift from 100% to 50% when someone comes with you.

How is the pandemic changing how we work and what lasting effects do you see?

The pandemic, while it’s had so many negative aspects to it, has had some positives. Our industry is relatively slow to change, so I love the fact it put us in position to embrace change and think differently about the way we work. Women are always looking for that balance – we want to be in two places at one time, all the time. We want to be the best we can at work and the best we can outside of work. I love that this is affording us more flexibility without guilt. That’s hard for us to come by. So I’m excited for the future and figuring out what this new mobility looks like for our entire industry.

This piece was featured in Aspire Magazine, a biannual publication from the Women Financial Advisors Network. View the latest.

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