Hefren-Tillotson management structure formalized

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Three years after Kimberly Tillotson Fleming took the helm as chairwoman of one of the largest wealth management firms in the Pittsburgh region following the death of her father, she has set a new vision for the family-owned company with a new management structure.

As the third generation leader of the Hefren-Tillotson financial planning firm, Ms. Fleming has appointed her brother Craig Tillotson as vice chairman and formed a top management team called the Office of the President, which consists of Mr. Tillotson and two other company leaders, John Meegan and Donald Belt.

Ms. Fleming, 55, will remain chairwoman and CEO.

"I just really felt it's important not only for people in the company but also people out in the community to see the level of responsibility that Craig, John and Don have, and just how important they are to the company," she said. "This is also to make people feel comfortable that as a private company, if something happened to me, they know who they would go to and how things are likely to operate."

With about $9 billion in client assets under management, Hefren-Tillotson is among the largest independent investment advisory firms in Western Pennsylvania.

A few other wealth management firms in Pittsburgh actually manage more assets -- such as Shadyside-based Greycourt & Co., which manages $10 billion in assets for the super-rich. But, as Greycourt CEO Gregory Curtis points out, they are very different kinds of firms.

"I don't know what their average client account size is, but it's probably in the high six to low seven figures," Mr. Curtis said. "Greycourt's average client account is $160 million. Hefren-Tillotson has over 5,000 clients, mostly regional. We have fewer than 70 clients, but they are all over the world."

Hefren-Tillotson has no account minimum for clients to open and maintain an account.

The company works with some clients on a commission basis. Others allow the firm to manage their assets in return for a fee based on the size of their accounts. All clients receive a comprehensive evaluation of their total financial picture including wills, insurance, a net worth calculation and help with creating a household budget through a system the firm calls Master Plan.

The firm was founded in 1948 by Ms. Fleming's grandfather Arthur Hefren, who died in June 1983, and her father Willard "Bill" Tillotson Jr., who died in October 2010. The company has grown to about 185 employees with six locations, including the Downtown headquarters, and branch offices in Butler, Greensburg, South Hills and Wexford.

Ms. Fleming attained control when her father passed away because she had steadily accumulated shares of the company over the years since earning the position of president in 1996. She is a graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in economics and holds several professional designations.

Ms. Fleming and Mr. Tillotson -- her older brother -- are third generation leaders of the company that is owned by family members and employees who own shares. Ms. Fleming's son, Grant, 25, has worked at the company for almost three years in the financial planning department. Another son, Todd, 21, is a junior at Allegheny College.

All members of the newly formed Office of the President will retain their present responsibilities.

Craig Tillotson manages the company's financial advisers and their ongoing education and development; Mr. Meegan, as chief operating officer, oversees the daily operations of the firm and monitors risk management; Mr. Belt, the chief investment officer, oversees the firms investment advisory services and develops strategies for managing client assets.

Ms. Fleming said she understands the various aspects of the investment management business, but these days she sees her role as that of an orchestra conductor. She wants to lay the groundwork for others in the firm to have the same ability and be able to step into her role if need be.

"One thing that's really important to me as we announce this management change is that I am totally engaged," she said. "My dad was 82 years old, and I've often said I plan on working until I can't work anymore because I love our business and I'm so committed to it. But I'm committed to our people and our clients, too.

"An important part of forming this whole Office of the President and thinking about the future is that we are a private company, and we want to stay a private company," Ms. Fleming said. "That's really important."

And it has stayed that way by choice, she said. "We've been approached many times over the years to see if we have an interest in being part of a bigger organization and frankly we looked at that and said no.

"We don't think it would be better for our clients or better for our employees because we know what that would mean," referring to possible job cuts.

"We don't think it would be better for the community that we serve because we are so active in the community. It might be better for shareholders, but we all love this business and we want to see it continue to operate the way we do things."

Tim Grant: tgrant@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1591.

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