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Q&A with Balentine CEO Adrian Cronje

On June 1, 2018, Chief Investment Officer Adrian Cronje was named chief executive officer of Balentine. To mark the occasion, he shared his thoughts with us on a range of issues, including what he’s most excited about in this new role, advice for would-be entrepreneurs, and what’s next for Balentine.

What are your key areas of focus as chief executive officer?

My partners have laid out a clear vision for our firm. We aspire to be the dominant firm providing comprehensive wealth management strategies for business owners in transition and entrepreneurs in the southeast and to be the employer of choice in our market. We also serve institutions and are excited about becoming known as a preeminent manager of global asset allocation (GAA) strategies, given our long and successful track record. As CEO, I want to build on our history and provide the structure and focus to fulfill this vision.

You remain Balentine’s chief investment officer (CIO). How will your experience as CIO inform you in this new role?

If there’s one thing the investment business will teach you it’s humility and that you’re not going to get every decision right. However, my experience has taught me that a data-driven and process-oriented approach, combined with a focus on what you can control, tends to lead to better outcomes over time. Our Investment Strategy Team uses quantitative models to drive unemotional investment decisions, and that supports the repeatability of our long track record. This type of emphasis will be key to the next phase of our firm’s growth.

I have also learned the importance of a team-based and transparent approach built on high levels of trust when navigating a high-pressure environment. Just as we have developed a talented and cohesive investment team, the management team of President Brittain Prigge and Chief Financial Officer David Damiani will help me make better decisions as CEO. Bob Reiser, the architect of our process and my investment mentor, remains on our investment team more than twenty years later; like him, I will always play a very active role on the investment team.

What gets you the most excited about this role?

First, I’m excited for the opportunity to enshrine the Balentine legacy. I’m humbled that only three people have filled this role in the 30 years since Balentine & Company’s founding. Though I unfortunately never met Bob Balentine, I’ve come to appreciate how great a presence he will always have at our firm. Bob’s reputation for integrity and character was second to none, and he always did the right thing regardless of whether anyone was looking. Those traits form the backbone of the intentional culture that exists at Balentine today.

Second, I’ve worked with Chairman Robert Balentine for nearly 15 years, and he has a servant-style leadership that I will continue to emulate. There have been so many instances in which Robert has made decisions while “standing at the back of the line.” In an industry that is often regarded as cut throat, Robert’s generosity and ability to take delight in the successes of other people is refreshing and inspiring. He recognizes that if you can help other people achieve their goals and ambitions you’re more likely to be successful yourself. I’m glad I can count on him, as chairman, to help guide me and hold me accountable in this new role. I plan to rely on all his advice and experience.

Third, I think we have an opportunity to not only disrupt our industry, but also shape the way in which comprehensive wealth management is delivered for business owners in transition. Bob Balentine used to say, “If you listen to your clients, they’ll tell you how to run your business.” I’m excited to continue to hear from our clients and learn what they think we should do to get even better.

Robert has said that as part of Balentine’s continued growth, it was a natural progression to have you and Brittain Prigge, the leaders of our two pillars—investments and wealth management, respectively—step into these new roles. How will you and Brittain work together to achieve Balentine’s vision?

Brittain has become an icon for women both in our firm and across the industry, which makes me incredibly proud given the startling lack of diversity within financial services. We work together very well; I truly believe that we are stronger as a team than the sum of the individual parts because our skill sets complement each other so well. Whereas I am biased towards a process-oriented approach, Brittain has an innate ability to connect with both clients and employees. I’ve also come to appreciate her intuition, which she has cultivated over 26 years in this industry. As CEO, I will lean heavily on Brittain as president to oversee the enhancement of our high-touch client experience and internal talent development strategy.

What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing registered investment advisors (RIAs) such as Balentine in the years ahead?

I am mindful of the maxim that the biggest threat is the one no one sees coming! However, as a management team we are focused on three key areas:

  • Talent. We’re a service business, and our ability to continue to retain and attract the best minds will be key to our success. That is why we have explicitly defined talent development as part of our vision statement. I am so proud of all the people I work with every day and the contributions they make to our clients’ success. Preserving Balentine’s unique and intentional culture will be our biggest weapon in the war for talent.
  • Technology. The rate at which technological advances are happening within the financial services sector is remarkable. It provides us with an opportunity to build upon the client experience and manage our firm efficiently, but it also poses potential challenges. Staying ahead of that curve is going to be key. As a fiduciary, Balentine is charged with executing on the highest standard of care for our clients. In today’s information-overloaded world, we believe that extends beyond just investments and wealth management to the security and protection of our clients’ information.
  • Regulation. As a SEC-regulated registered investment advisor, staying abreast of regulations and being compliant will be critical. I have the utmost confidence in my partner and Chief Compliance Officer Erica Farber and the team she’s built to address these matters.

This year, Balentine reached more than $3.2 billion in assets under advisement (AUA). How do you plan to manage the firm’s continued growth?
It is vital that we preserve both our unique culture and retain and enhance our high-touch client experience. Brittain is going to be absolutely critical in this regard.

Additionally, we’ve been deliberate in creating a forum of emerging leaders across the various functional areas, primarily consisting of our newly promoted directors. This group is charged with communicating between partners and staff and implementing initiatives so that management can remain focused on executing the vision for the firm.

As a founding partner of Balentine, what advice would you give to someone looking to start a business?

  1. Be sure you’re in business with the right people. I count myself fortunate to work alongside my fellow partners. In addition to founding partners Robert, Brittain, David, and Erica, Rob Ragsdale, the head of Balentine’s Raleigh office, is growing the brand within that geographic footprint with great success, and Senior Relationship Manager Bradley Martin was admitted as our newest partner this year. I look forward to his leadership in the Atlanta office.
  2. Be intentional about your culture. It is the only durable competitive advantage you have in a services industry and is absolutely key to hiring and retaining the best people.
  3. Be open and engage with your clients. They will tell you how to run your business.
  4. Find a way to learn from best practices in other industries and how it applies to your business. I have been a member of Vistage 151, a peer CEO group, since 2010 and spend one day each month putting this piece of advice into practice. I am very grateful for the counsel I’ve received from my fellow Vistage members over the years. Robert has been a Vistage member for 25 years, and a majority of our partners are members, as well. Vistage allows me to step back and get out of my business in order to work on my business. After all, every business runs exactly as it is designed.
  5. Be sure that you have enough capital to execute on your vision. So many business ideas fail simply because they are undercapitalized and run out of time to prove themselves. We have always operated Balentine from a position of financial strength and will continue to do so.
  6. Be grateful for your support network, for without them you can do nothing. Last year our staff identified a sense of “family” as a key characteristic of Balentine’s culture. I am extremely grateful for the steadfast support of my parents and wife, Eve, and the understanding of my patient children. They always provide a safe harbor.

Balentine’s commitment to community service starts at the top, and you’re no exception. Which causes are most important to you?

My trusteeship of Agnes Scott College over the last three years is extremely important to me, especially since Eve is an alumna. I have never been involved with a more committed, collaborative, not-profit board with such an exciting and meaningful challenge. Agnes Scott College is one of Atlanta’s best-kept secrets, but the rest of the country is starting to notice. I’m proud to have played a very small part in the institutional transformation and innovation that has occurred there.

Additionally, A+ Squash is a non-profit organization that a group of like-minded colleagues and I founded four years ago, and it continues to thrive under a new generation of leadership. We were very intentional about succession planning there, just as we have been at Balentine. We have helped improve the odds of children in our public schools finding a way to go to college through the game of squash racquets, which is my favorite hobby.

Finally, over the last year and a half I have become more involved with the Rotary Club of Atlanta. I count myself fortunate to be in that special club of business and community leaders who have made such a difference to our city over the decades.

What’s next for Balentine?

The beat goes on! With the implementation of the succession plan complete, we can look to the next 30 years with confidence that Balentine’s special culture will be preserved and our client experience will be enriched.

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