One For All: Greenwood Gearhart’s evolution as a multifamily office reflects a region that’s growing up

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 2,844 views 

From left, Brock Gearhart, Greenwood Gearhart president and CEO; Lisa Brown, chief operating officer; and Johann Komander, managing director.

Mary Ann Greenwood founded a pioneering woman-owned business in Fayetteville in 1982 when she started M.A. Greenwood & Associates, a registered investment adviser (RIA). As a woman in a male-dominated industry, especially in a rural market, Greenwood was ahead of her time.

Nearly 40 years later, the region’s oldest locally owned independent wealth management firm — now known as Greenwood Gearhart Inc. — is one of the state’s largest independent investment advisory firms, with roughly $700 million in client-managed assets and 650 clients in 33 states.

In a recent interview, president and CEO Brock Gearhart said the firm’s services exhibit a more modernized vision of what a financial adviser can be versus the type of adviser the previous generation had.

“We’re not your grandpa’s advisers,” he joked.

Through a team-based, holistic approach, Greenwood Gearhart advises ultra-wealthy families in various areas, including investments, philanthropy, real estate and estate planning from locations in Fayetteville and a new office that opened earlier this year in Rogers’ Pinnacle Hills area.

“Northwest Arkansas is on the map more as a region,” Gearhart said. “More people are moving here who have seen services provided in other markets that have a higher level of sophistication. So the demand for what they need is related to the wealth they have accumulated, but what they have seen in other markets is more and more sophisticated.”

In many ways, Greenwood Gearhart’s evolution mirrors the region’s, which no one would refer to as a rural market — it’s growing up.

Gearhart believes the firm is positioned to call itself what’s known in the industry as a multifamily office, a model that handles most traditional family office functions in terms of a suite of services.

While there is no universally accepted definition, Gearhart said a multifamily office could generally be described as an entity that supports the complex financial needs of a specific family and acts as their “chief adviser.” In addition, they typically provide personalized services, technical expertise, creative business leadership and day-to-day management of financial affairs.

He said Greenwood Gearhart has hired the people to actually deliver all the services inside the firm without outsourcing. A lot of RIAs outsource services and try to coordinate them, which makes it challenging to deliver a consistent value proposition for clients.

Gearhart said the firm has also created a repository of online content and activities including videos and presentations that advisers can use in their work with families.

“We believe we are the only true multifamily office in the region,” Gearhart said. “Our culture of every client is a client of the firm and not an individual adviser is something that has existed since 1982 and is a big competitive advantage of ours. Mary Ann structured the firm that way. She deserves a lot of the credit, and I think that’s why we are at a pretty good jumping-off point.

“The platform we’re building is off what Mary Ann put in place. That would not have happened if she didn’t structure the firm the way she did. So we owe a great deal of gratitude to her, and I do personally.”

Greenwood retired in 2015, the culmination of a years-long succession plan to transfer the firm’s ownership to Gearhart. A Fayetteville native, Gearhart previously worked in New York City’s financial services sector before returning home in 2008 to work for Greenwood, whom he’d known for years. He became a partner about a year later and president and CEO in 2013.

The firm never formally announced an ownership change and Greenwood’s retirement. Gearhart said that was by design.

“We call it the ‘country doctor approach,’” he said. “Mary Ann has built up tremendous trust over decades with some of our clients, and we didn’t lose a single client through that transition. It was very deliberate.

“We were public about it with our client base, and they knew what was going on. But [we] chose not to be overt about it externally. We felt that was the right thing for our clients. If they wanted to draw on Mary Ann for guidance, they could still do that. It didn’t feel disruptive, and I think that was most important to us.”

Mary Ann Greenwood

Greenwood still lives in Fayetteville with her husband, University of Arkansas Dean Emeritus Reed Greenwood. In a recent interview, she said Gearhart shared her company culture and investment philosophy, making him an ideal fit as a potential successor.

“That [shared philosophy] made it possible, but Brock also had the same interests in building the firm,” she said. “You have to have someone willing to seek clients and talk with them. Running an investment management firm is more than just doing the investment analysis. It’s a combination of developing the client and looking at the economic environment, the security analysis, and the portfolio management that fits each client’s particular needs. Brock had an affinity for that that made it a really neat fit.

“The more we talked, the more we knew that was what we wanted to do. So when Brock decided to come back from New York, it was kismet that put us together, I think. It was like minds that had a goal, and they coincided. Our clients have always been clients to the firm and not individual clients. It gives the client the best possible service, I think. And I think Brock agrees with that.”

As an effective leader would, Gearhart credits employees for fostering the firm’s culture.

“We’ve got an outstanding team,” he said.

Greenwood Gearhart has 13 employees, a consistent number even as the company’s financial size has grown nearly four times since 2008.

Two critical leadership team members are Lisa Brown, the chief operating officer, and Johann Komander, the managing director of investment management. Like Gearhart, they are examples of native Arkansans who previously worked in larger markets before returning to the state to work at Greenwood Gearhart.

A Greenwood native, Komander went to college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and moved to Fayetteville in 2018. Before that, he spent nearly a decade working on Wall Street for Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.

“I would put my experience [at Greenwood Gearhart] on the same level of the people and culture I worked with while in New York,” he said, “with the added benefit of being in a market that is more community-oriented. In my mind, we have created the caliber of experience for people moving here from other markets or certain types of high net-worth individuals in the region are going to expect over time. I’m very proud of that, and it’s a big reason why I decided to join this firm.”

A Fort Smith native and UA graduate, Brown spent several years working for Houston Financial, an office of Northwestern Mutual based in Oklahoma City. Greenwood Gearhart hired her five years ago, and she’s been promoted twice.

“We have the expertise with our team, but we also have the depth of relationships with our clients that surpasses anything I’ve experienced,” Brown said. “It’s a real luxury.”

Greenwood is one of the state’s most nationally connected business leaders, and economic development has been a significant interest of hers for years. She is a past chairwoman of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and earned three degrees from the UA, including a Ph.D. in economics and finance. In addition, she remains involved with various cultural activities in Northwest Arkansas, including Symphony of Northwest Arkansas, Walton Arts Center and TheatreSquared.

She said retaining the state’s best and brightest — reversing the “brain drain” — is essential to Arkansas’ long-term health. Northwest Arkansas’ investments in quality-of-life amenities play a significant role in that endeavor.

“We have a place to live that is quite desirable, and that is part of the story of [Greenwood Gearhart’s] success,” she said. “Not only is it a great place to live, but you can get professional services that are as good or superior to what you can get elsewhere.”

Katie Eaves, who has practiced law since 2014, joined Greenwood Gearhart in April as the firm’s first general counsel.

Katie Eaves

“Greenwood Gearhart has broadly expanded our wealth management services by bringing in a myriad of subject matter experts in fields varying from investment management to estate planning,” Gearhart said. “Katie Eaves is an incredibly talented attorney, and we are very fortunate to have brought her on board to enhance the services we can provide our clientele.”

A Fayetteville native, Eaves most recently worked in the Rogers office of Friday, Eldredge & Clark. She joined the firm in 2017 as an associate in the trust and estate planning practice group and was elected partner earlier this year. She focused her practice in estate planning, trust and estate administration, probate matters, estate and gift taxation and formation, and planning for exempt organizations.

Eaves received a master’s degree in taxation from the University of Florida, a law degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law and an undergraduate degree from the University of Arkansas. She is a past president of the Benton County Bar Association.

“I’ve had the privilege of working alongside many of the people at Greenwood Gearhart while in private practice,” Eaves said. “I am excited with this new opportunity to join their team and provide additional services that complement their overall comprehensive wealth management services.”

Gearhart said one of Eaves’ initial responsibilities at the firm is exploring forming a trust company.

“That’s in the early stages,” he said. “It’s something that’s needed in our market and something that Katie is uniquely qualified to do.”