2018 Mid-Year Report: Q&A with Balentine President Brittain Prigge
Head of Relationship Management Brittain Prigge became president of Balentine on June 1, 2018. To celebrate this achievement, we sat down with her to learn more about what she’ll be focused on in this new role, lessons learned from 26 years in the financial services industry, and what fuels her passion for giving back.
What attracted you to the financial services industry, specifically wealth management?
I graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in political science, but I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I returned to my hometown of Huntsville, AL, and stopped by the office of my godmother’s husband, a man named Steuart Evans, whom I deeply respected. He had a successful career as a stock broker, and I still remember the bright red phone on his desk that he used strictly for trading. I asked if he’d be willing to teach me about his job. Listening to him, I was fascinated by the global nature of the markets and how so many variables—from a tsunami in Taiwan to a hurricane in Texas—affect them. I knew then that I wanted to continue learning as much as I could about how they worked.
Steuart helped me get my first job in this industry, working with retail clients at Merrill Lynch in Atlanta. I learned a lot in my two years there, but when it came time to think about next steps, I knew that I didn’t want to be a broker. I shared with them my interest in working with high-net-worth individuals, so they put me in touch with Bob Balentine, a long-time employee who, along with his son, Robert, had recently left to found Balentine & Company. I interviewed with them and the rest, as they say, is history.
You’ve spent the majority of your career at Balentine. What are some of your earliest memories from your Balentine & Company days?
I have so many memories from that time, but a few really stand out. One was my first trading error—when I learned how much it was (around $5,000) I slid down the wall and started crying. While it certainly wasn’t pleasant at the time, I can look back now and appreciate the learning experience.
Another memory involves Bob Balentine, who was no-nonsense but always had a twinkle in his eye. One morning, in my rush to get into the office (I was 24 and occasionally arrived late and disheveled), I’d ripped my pantyhose and cut my leg while getting out of the car. Shortly after I arrived Bob came shuffling by my desk. He took one look at me and asked, “What in the hell has happened to you?” I responded that I’d cut my leg and without even slowing down he said, “Don’t bleed on my carpet.”
My third memory is a great example of how my career at Balentine & Company progressed. Robert placed the bond notebook on my desk one day and asked, “Do you want to be the bond trader?” I wasn’t exactly sure what a bond was, but I said “absolutely” without hesitation. That’s how I became the bond trader, which was a great learning experience because I got to spend a lot of time with Robert and Bob.
Since Balentine & Company’s founding in 1987, there have been four presidents: Robert Balentine, Clay Rolader, Jeff Adams, and now, you. What does it mean for you to be Balentine’s first female president?
Everything. This is my dream job; it’s the culmination of my entire career. This role combines what I think I’m uniquely qualified to do and what I love to do. The timing of it couldn’t be more perfect. Robert recognized that this role was necessary at this time in Balentine’s growth, and I give him a ton of credit for that and for giving Adrian and me this chance.
What are your key areas of focus as president?
First and foremost, truly supporting Adrian with his strategic vision. Although we have worked together for nearly 14 years, Adrian and I spent the last nine months understanding how we can best work together in order to grow the firm. We have both seen that our compatibility and respect for each other’s capabilities is hugely important to both our individual success, as well as the success of the firm.
Aside from that, my two areas of focus are enhancing client service and developing our human capital strategy. Our dedication to using technology to improve the efficiency and delivery of service is going to benefit all clients. As we grow, I’m committed to ensuring that our relationship management team is able to keep our client-to-advisor ratio low while providing the customized, high-level service upon which we pride ourselves. Just as we continually improve and develop our investment process, I will continue to look at what we offer clients, how we provide services, and what clients are asking for in order to ensure that we have the best possible structure in place. In terms of human capital, we continue to focus on improving the employee experience. I always say that if you have engaged employees you will have happy clients.
What gets you the most excited about this new role?
What gets me the most fired up is realizing that what I love to do and what I think I’m really good at—listening to our clients and employees, developing ideas, and understanding how I can connect the dots to make them a reality—is what I now get to do on a daily basis. Being out in the community as Balentine’s president, understanding the need to connect people to one another and to Balentine is also something that I love to do.
You’ve held a number of roles at Balentine over the years. What did you learn from those roles that have prepared you for becoming president?
I learned to be flexible, to raise my hand, and to protect people. I learned that if you give, ultimately you will get—though it might take patience. I learned the value of a collaborative environment and how important the tone from the top is. I learned how important it is to have not just a mentor but also a sponsor—someone who cares enough about you to make you better.
I won’t say that there were only positives from “growing up” in a company, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. I probably had the reputation of the young kid for a long time, whereas if I’d gone somewhere else with my CFA designation at 32 I may have been seen differently. There were periods of difficulty and frustration, but every single time I gave more than I got, it worked out better for me.
You’ve been in this business for 26 years, all but two of which were spent working directly with Robert Balentine. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from him?
Kindness. From day one with Robert I’ve seen his generosity of spirit, his willingness to wait in the back of the line, his willingness to put himself out there for somebody else, and his absolute dedication to doing the right thing. The moral fiber of Robert and Bob was something I witnessed every single day at Balentine & Company, and I don’t know that that happens in other places.
Robert never stops striving to be better. He taught me about excellence and the importance of demanding the very best from yourself even when you’re worn out. He tried to teach me balance, but I don’t think that lesson stuck. However, another really important thing that Robert projects and has helped me with is making sure that my family is part of this journey. He taught me that I am better with the support of my husband, Scott, and, now, of my two boys, Ellis and Will. Robert allowed me to be what I needed to be at home and here at work without putting any ceilings on me, which I think is very rare as a female in this business.
You’re actively involved in community service, including your appointment last summer as a board member of Covenant House of Georgia. What it is that fuels your passion for giving back?
Through no fault of their own, there are so many children who are born into very challenging circumstances. This drives me to make a difference one kid at a time, whether it’s at the Boys and Girls Club, Families First, LEAD, or Covenant House. That theme of finding the best in these children and showing them that hope exists is very important to me.
What advice would you give to a young woman looking to break into this industry?
Go for it. Humility never hurts. Being female is important. You don’t have to try to be male and you don’t have to go play golf—be yourself. While I don’t believe that work/life balance exists, I do think that work/life presence is possible. This is a fantastic industry for women, especially for working mothers, if you can get to a certain level. You might (literally) end up on the phone with a client in right field like I have at my sons’ baseball games, but you can do it. You can’t have it all, but you can have a lot.
I strongly believe that internships in relationship management are important, particularly for young women. I think that we have a responsibility as a firm to show young women that this is a viable industry and that even though it’s male dominant, you can have an incredibly successful career. However, I do think that in order to really make it work you have to be in a culture where flexibility is embraced. Don’t feel guilty about going to the Christmas pageant; you might not be the room mom, but you don’t miss the pageant.
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