Rob Handelman of Natixis Global Asset Management on standing out and forgetting about your age

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Rob Handelman is the VP of Tax and Wealth at Natixis Global Asset Management, a global investment management firm that provides investment and portfolio construction solutions to institutional investors and high net worth clients. Rob is a seasoned Finance leader whose background spans Tax Advisory and Investment Management. He is a Chartered Accountant (CA,CPA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Chartered Investment Manager (CIM), and a Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU). When not advising clients, Rob is a passionate volunteer in the Jewish community and frequent traveler with his wife.

Looking Back Five/ Ten Years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?

I started my career in public accounting right out of business school. Honestly, I didn’t really have a vision for where I wanted to be. The accounting firms provide a great training ground that opened a lot of doors.  For those that stick it out at the firms, there is a very regimented ladder in the way one progresses in that field.  I recall at EY my colleagues and I would often receive phone calls from recruiters pushing similar jobs and that made me realize that the market saw my experience as somewhat of a commodity.

As a result, I started to think about how to differentiate myself in the market to attract the types of jobs I wanted. When you are early on in your career, a great way to stand out is by building your technical knowledge, so I started to complete certifications in investment management. I also put a lot of effort into building my social media profile, specifically on LinkedIn.  It made a difference, as all of the jobs that I’ve held since leaving accounting have been ones that have found me through social media.  I now spend my time helping investors be more thoughtful about how they construct investment portfolios; this was not something I ever set out to do at the start.

What made you want to get into Finance? Have you always been a numbers guy?

One of the first jobs that I had was actually in sales and I really enjoyed it. When it comes to Finance, I love the finite nature of the discipline. People commonly ask me if I am a numbers person, I can’t relate to that question. Numbers might be the language of business but what I’m most interested in is the story behind the numbers. To be in Finance, you need to be comfortable with numbers but it’s not about being a math geek.

What are the big and important trends in your industry today?

The reality is that today, consumers are not willing to just pay for things without first understanding the value that they are getting for their dollar. For many years, investors would pay fees to wealth advisers and fund companies without have a sense of what they were really paying for.  Due to the rise of consumer awareness in the asset management space, we have seen a rotation out of actively managed investment products into more passive low cost options like ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds), but that isn’t the whole story.

I’ve always said that price only becomes of central importance in the absence of value and therefore, our industry is now required to do a much better job of defining the value we provide. Firms that are providing value added services like tax and financial planning above and beyond a simple return are the ones who appear to be the ones gathering assets.  I think there will be more hollowing out of low alpha, high fee investment products and more polarization in terms of the financial services that people buy. The days of “closet indexers” is over.

Tell me about a mistake you made and what you learned from it

When I was at Edward Jones, I was presented with the opportunity to interview for a job as the CEO of a family office for prominent Canadian family. At the time, I was 27 and ended up psyching myself out during the interview process because I was so concerned with how old I was. I knew that I had the technical skills to do the job, but in the interview process I spent too much time asking about the age of the people I would be working with, and how old the family members were. I got candid feedback at the end of the process that I didn’t have the confidence that was needed to be the CEO. Since then, I’ve come to learn that there is nothing I can do to change my age, but what I can do is change the amount of knowledge and skills that I have, which ultimately helps me serve my clients better. Being confident about the value you bring to the table irrespective of how old you are is important.

Given how much you’ve accomplished at such a young age, what is your perspective on work-life balance?

Truthfully, I see work as a means that allows me and my family to live the lives we want to.  My true passions in life are not work related: I care deeply about helping the less fortunate in my community, traveling with my wife, spending time with those who matter most.  My job enables me to do all of that. That being said, work for me would not be as meaningful if it weren’t for what happens outside of it. When I was in business school, I recall the excitement around professions that would pay the most, but many of those paths wouldn’t have allowed me to live the life that I have now. Don’t get me wrong, to be successful you need to work hard and put in the hours when there is work that needs to be done, to me its all about delivering results not facetime.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?

In Finance, it’s commonly thought that your success is a product of how technically capable or smart you are. I however, see that as being table stakes to be taken seriously. The real way to get ahead is to be a honest person and by helping others.  If people don’t trust you or believe that you will follow through on what you say, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. That is true when it comes to both clients and colleagues. If you are someone who others can trust and rely on, you will build real relationships that will benefit your career. Your reputation is everything. Technical skill will get you the initial call, but it is the trust that you build afterwards that which matters more.

Aubrey Chapnick