Michael J. Nathanson
CEO & Chairman
October 30, 2018
Excellence through independence has always been at the core of The Colony Group’s mission. One of the oldest independent wealth management firms to come out of the Boston area, The Colony Group was founded in 1986 and built first and foremost on the vision of being loyal to customers, providing truly comprehensive services through a fee-only model.
This model proved successful: The firm won the Best-in-Business IMPACT Award™ in 2010, and by its 25th anniversary the following year, The Colony Group had amassed approximately $1.3 billion in assets under management (AUM). But the team wanted to do more.
To capitalize on their 25 years of success, the team at The Colony Group then developed a powerful five-prong business strategy: elevating people, innovating services, optimizing platforms, activating organic growth, and accelerating inorganic growth. In the past seven years, the firm’s AUM grew to over $8 billion, and the business expanded into 10 offices across the United States with over 140 employees.
“We had a vision to go to the next level and to become a true enterprise—something that transcended our people and something that would be there to serve clients for generations to come,” says firm CEO Michael Nathanson.
Accelerating inorganic growth has been one of The Colony Group’s largest focus areas in recent years, with seven strategic transactions completed and plans for more in the future.
“We’re proud that every one of our mergers has been really successful,” says Jennifer Geoghegan, chief strategy officer. “We believe it’s because we have real structure around the process. We have people who dedicate a good portion of their time to mergers, by making sure there’s a good fit, thoughtful integration, and that we’re really engaging both the employees and the clients before, through, and after the merger.”
Nathanson says The Colony Group’s strategy hinges on merging with partners on equal terms rather than on imposing the firm’s culture or approach on acquired firms. “We call it our ‘better than before’ strategy,” he says. “Our test for every merger is: Does this merger make us better than before, and does it make our merger partner better than before?”
Ron Rubin and Max Haspel are two management team members who recently merged with The Colony Group. “In the eight-plus months here, the merger has worked out according to plan,” says Haspel, principal, managing director, and senior wealth advisor. “We’ve learned a lot from the talented people here along the way.”
“I think a lot of it is really ingrained in the firm’s culture and the openness that we all have around wanting to learn,” adds Rubin, who now serves as president, vice chairman, and chief culture officer. “Being open to lifelong learning—that’s the way The Colony Group leads within mergers, and it’s the way we try to live in our organization.”
Nathanson believes the “better than before” strategy has become one of the growing firm’s greatest assets. “It gives us the ability to get better and deeper talent, resources, technology, and access,” he says.
Along with adding new offices and employees, the firm has been able to significantly expand its service offerings, emphasizing support that goes beyond the financial.
“The people that have joined us have brought various areas of expertise to The Colony Group,” says Stephen Stelljes, president of client services. “It has made it possible to offer services to different types of clients—athletes, corporate executives, attorneys, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists—and it has made us a better firm.”
Like many wealth management firms, The Colony Group also provides tax, family office, business management, and institutional solutions. However, the firm is now working to branch into life-enrichment solutions, including personal health advisory services, career transition and coaching services, and personal concierge services.
“Our clients trust us and share so much of their lives with us that it’s just natural for us to transition and expand into other services that help them enjoy their wealth and their lives,” says Geoghegan.
Listening to and educating clients on issues related to financial wellness has been the focus of one of The Colony Group’s most successful programs: the Her Wealth® initiative. “Women are controlling more wealth—personally and for their families,” says Nina Mitchell, co-founder of Her Wealth® and co-president of Colony Sports and Entertainment. “We’re providing resources and having that conversation with them so that they are comfortable, supported, and empowered when it comes to making decisions about their money and wealth.”
The firm supports the Her Wealth® initiative through weekly articles, radio programming, and even a scholarship they provide to a woman pursuing a CFP® certification, CPA, or financial degree. These efforts have been incredibly well received, notes Mitchell. “We’re putting our clients together as a community and they’re engaging,” she says. “It’s been remarkable.”
The Colony Group has also invested in cutting-edge technology—with aspirations to benefit the broader industry alongside its own clients. “We are a collaborative organization,” says Nathanson. “For us, collaboration means internally and externally—and even with people some might view as competitors.”
Last year, Nathanson co-founded ScratchWorks, the first fintech accelerator of its kind in the wealth management industry. “It’s a collaboration of five larger advisory firms that wanted to come together, learn from each other, and make a difference in the industry,” he says.
Last year, ScratchWorks solicited applications from fintech companies seeking seed money for early-stage investment, and the three finalists were invited to showcase their companies during Barron’s Top Independent Advisors Summit in March. Plans for a second tournament are underway. “We wanted to promote innovation in a space where we think there needs to be more innovation, and we’re very excited about those investments,” Nathanson says.
For him, being a leader in groundbreaking, technological innovation will help keep The Colony Group successful in the long run. “We’re an organization that understands the need to evolve,” Nathanson says. “We’re all capable of being even better, of evolving beyond just the ordinary and being extraordinary. Technology is the way the whole world is evolving right now, and so we must also adapt through technology.”
At the core of everything The Colony Group does is the company’s unique culture.
“Our vision is to be a company that has everything that even the largest wirehouses can offer, while operating in a client-centric, fee-only manner where it isn’t all about money,” says Nathanson. “Instead, it’s about finding meaning and joy in the work we do for clients and among the people with whom we do that work.” The Colony Group advances this vision through a culture of conscious leadership and community engagement.
“We’re all a team, we’re all superstars—there’s no one putting others down to get ahead,” Rubin says. Instead, The Colony Group encourages team members to find and focus on what they do best, what feels important to them, and what makes them happy. “How great is it to come into work and have everyone just doing what they do best and having it be effortless for them?” says Rubin.
Beyond activating employees’ professional potential, the firm gives its people space to grow and find meaning outside of the firm.
“It’s good business to be tied into your community,” says Nathanson. “But people more and more are looking to have holistic lives and not make it all about work. So we know that we have to engage people in a way that promotes community involvement.”
The Colony Group’s leaders encourage employees to take advantage of paid volunteer hours, and the company also created Colony Cares—a charitable fund that allows the firm to raise money for various charities and local community projects. In addition, many managing team members, including Nathanson, hold leadership positions within nonprofits that serve causes that matter personally to them.
Nathanson says keeping employees excited about their lives and their work sets The Colony Group apart from other leading firms, and the team is confident that its path is the right one.
“We don’t have to be like everybody else,” he says. “We can set a new trail and do extraordinary things for our clients, for ourselves, and for the industry. That’s what this IMPACT award is recognizing.”