think you were a CPA or something if
you wore a tie around here.”
When Orange County, Calif., planner
Junette McCarthy began a recent project to redecorate her conference room,
she thought seriously about the visual
impressions the space made on prospective and existing clients.
Years earlier, McCarthy — a partner
and owner in Ferree & McCarthy in
Santa Ana, Calif., which has $100 million in assets under management — had
chosen a mahogany-and-cream wall
scheme for the rest of the office, explicitly because she thought it would appeal
to clients, particularly elderly ones.
McCarthy hired a decorator for the conference room renovation who affirmed
DIALING BACK THE DECOR
In some regions, such as Seattle, it’s
hard to go wrong with jeans and fleece
jackets — so Barbara Potter makes a
point of steering away from appearing
too rich. She’s specifically scaled down
her office decor.
Potter serves as an executive vice
president and a managing director for
Laird Norton Tyee Trust, which has $4
billion in assets under management.
About 10 years ago, she removed several
Oriental rugs after hearing clients complain about splashy offices at other service providers. Those clients wondered
aloud if their fee-paying supported luxurious furnishings in their lawyers’ offices,
Potter recalls. She got the message and
pulled the rugs.
Her office attire is mostly suits, but
He describes Guide Rock’s work-
place as “fairly swanky in downtown
Omaha, with excellent views and a well-
manicured lawn. And the car he drives
apparently makes an impact too. When
one prospective client asked Hunt what
kind of car he drove, the 2000 Volvo
was the right answer — Hunt says the
man reacted positively, referred to the
vehicle as “a pretty conservative car”
and signed up as a client.
In the sprawling suburbs north of Dallas, proximity and not flash helped
determined the offices for Earl Jefferson’s LegacyTexas Wealth Advisors,
which opened its doors six years ago
and has $160 million in assets under
One planner removed several Oriental rugs after clients complained
about the splashy offices maintained by other service providers.
her instincts, particularly the expensive-looking design scheme and decor.
With her own attire, as well as that
of her employees, McCarthy also seeks
to maintain a formal, understated, but
definitively well-heeled look. “We are
fairly conservative. We don’t wear jeans;
instead we wear either business suits or
slacks and a nice silk blouse,” she says.
Even occasional casual days can have
unintended consequences. A few times,
in between cleaning service visits, she
wore jeans to the office so she could do
some dusting and vacuuming. On two
of those occasions, one of her best and
wealthiest clients happened “to pop in,”
On his next visit, that client brought
McCarthy a feather duster as a gift.
“It was just embarrassing,” she says.
Although the client did it in jest, McCarthy swore off denim and dusting in the
she schedules casual dress days and
even allows for the occasional “jeans Friday.” Her justification: “This is Seattle.
It’s a pretty relaxed environment.”
DRESS CODE MAKEOVER
Andrew Hunt of Guide Rock Capital
Management in Omaha, Neb., tested a
sharper dress code — and liked what he
saw. When he launched the firm three
years ago, Hunt and his staff sported
“fairly casual attire,” he says, which in
Omaha means polo shirts and trousers. But earlier this year, Hunt and his
employees decided to try out a suit-and-tie dictum. The results were a surprise.
“I got multiple comments from prospective and existing clients,” says Hunt,
whose firm has $12 million in assets
under management. “They really liked
it. They would be explicit, like, ‘Hey, you
look sharp today.’” Hunt has kept the
revised dress code in place.
“I don’t need to be on the 43rd floor of
a high-rise building,” says Jefferson, who
chose a plain-vanilla brick building in
Plano on a nondescript suburban stretch
of a main road. He chose the suite, Jefferson says, primarily because it gave him a
five-mile commute from home.
But Jefferson says he uses other
cues to establish “subtle points of
credibility” with prospects beyond his
education and professional credits. He
drives a Lexus, and says he chooses garments that are “clean and professional,”
and reasonably fashionable — although
there’s a limit to that.
“If you go too far, it sends the wrong
message,” he says. “I like to wear something that, when I see it in pictures 10 or
20 years from now, I won’t cringe.” FP
Miriam Rozen, a Financial Planning
contributing writer, is a staff reporter
at Texas Lawyer in Dallas.