Q&A with Brad Winges, CEO

M. Bradley Winges joined Hilltop Securities Inc. as president and chief executive officer on Feb. 20, 2019. Brad joins the Hilltop family of companies from Piper Jaffray where he worked for nearly 30 years and served on the firm’s leadership team. He and his family recently relocated to Dallas, Texas, from Minnesota.

Q: Could you tell us about your background and your family?
A: I was born and raised in the twin cities area, in Edina, Minnesota. My oldest daughter, Madeleine, is 21 and a senior at USC. My son, Thomas, is 18, and a senior in high school, and my daughter, Eleanor, is a sophomore in high school. I met my wife, Jacki, while we were in college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and we just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. We’re all excited about our move to Dallas. I’m a big hockey fan and love to snow mobile.

Q: What drew you to the financial services industry?
A: I grew up in the business. My father started selling municipal bonds in 1953 and ran his own investment banking and brokerage firm. That’s what drew me to the industry. It was something I was always around and enjoyed.

Q: What was your first job in the industry and if you had to name one key takeaway from that experience, what would it be?
A: I was a trader on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade before I started my career at Piper Jaffray 28 years ago as a municipal bond salesman. At Piper, I eventually took over fixed income sales, trading, underwriting, firm-wide risk management, balance sheet investing, and specialty banking. Trading on the exchanges taught me that things don’t come quickly. In that environment you could make a lot of money, but if you weren’t very methodical about it, you could lose a lot of money, too. It’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom, and it is an important distinction that people don’t always recognize. Having the ability to reflect on what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong is an important skill set and it takes time.

Q: What mottos or core beliefs have been critical to your professional success?
A: Having the ability to show vulnerability to peers and staff is very important. It shows you’re human. Also being willing to admit when you’re wrong and being able to change your mind and change course quickly. In the trading world we say ‘you don’t marry a bad trade.’ A true leader knows when to accept that they made a bad decision and change course. It’s also critical to listen. If you’re not listening to the business’ front line, you’re not going to be able to steer the firm quickly enough to adapt to market changes. Our firm has to stay nimble and that’s not a common attribute for the typical investment bank.

Q: What advice would you give to someone just starting their career in this industry?
A: Keep an open mind. I hear from young people who come into the industry from college and they say they want to be an investment banker, or a trader, or a salesperson, but that is very naïve when you’re not in that role yet. That’s like going into a football stadium for the first time and walking up to the ticket counter and saying you want to sit in section C-9, row 8, seat 5. You don’t know what the view will be from that seat. You don’t know what you’ll like. I tell young people, first just get into the stadium—get into the business—and then be willing to change seats. Don’t assume that your first seat is going to be the right one for you.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style and why has it worked for you over your career?
A: I lead from the front. I expect everybody to trust that I will be by their side. As long as they’re doing what’s in the client’s best interest and what the firm believes is the right approach, I will defend them every time and give them the tools to win. I don’t like leading from the back and just pontificating.

Q: What attracted you to pursue this opportunity at HilltopSecurities?
A: It’s an unbelievable opportunity. We have a vast array of products and services across the firm and we just need to do a better job of understanding that and offering them to our clients. We’re a young company in terms of our brand and our name, but we’re an old company in terms of our experience. It’s essential that we let people know who we are, how long we’ve been around and the knowledge and wisdom that we have.

Q: What are your goals and vision for HilltopSecurities?
A: My goal for HilltopSecurities is to be the number one middle market investment bank in the United States. Our expertise right now is around clearing, public finance, capital markets and the housing and mortgage business, which are all areas we can continue to expand. And while our retail wealth management advisory network is relatively small compared to some of our peers, it presents a tremendous opportunity to grow and to differentiate itself around our knowledge in the municipal arena.

Q: What do you see as your biggest challenge right now?
A: Getting to know everyone in the firm and understanding how we got to where we are today. I see the output, but I need to understand how we’ve created it and how I can help. I truly am here to help the leadership and management across the firm be better at their jobs. That means leading with them and being their coach. If we always operate under the premise of doing what’s in our clients’ best interests, the revenue will follow. People will pay us very fairly for offering that trusted advice and execution. That takes time. The tweaks we make in the coming 12 to 18 months will probably be relatively minor, but long-term they can have pretty dramatic positive variance in our outcomes.

Q: What do you consider HilltopSecurities’ biggest strengths?
A: There is no other investment bank that can say they know the municipal arena better than anybody. We can say that. My goal is that when a public finance client, an individual investor, or an institutional client is having a conversation about something in the municipal space, they know they have to talk to HilltopSecurities, because we know the space better than anyone from top to bottom.

Q: What is something you’d like potential clients to know about HilltopSecurities, that they might not realize today?
A: Just understanding how much we do. We need to make sure everyone throughout the firm understands everything we do and then we approach our clients and explain how much we have to offer. That is very empowering and very impactful. When people understand the power of Hilltop and the breadth of expertise we have, they’re going to be as excited about our future as I am.

Q: What is the best way to build a successful company culture in an organization such as HilltopSecurities?
A: People have to enjoy what they do and be proud to work here. We often spend more time with our work colleagues than we do with our family, so you have to have fun. Diversity and inclusion also are extremely important to me, not just gender and ethnic diversity, but age diversity as well. The business world and society are becoming more diverse and inclusive and we have to be a leader in that. One of my goals is to create a “Hilltop University” program to help educate our staff and college students about why working at Hilltop is something they should feel proud of. The younger generation typically changes careers every three to four years. I want to break that trend. I want to make sure we’re hiring young people and that they want to spend 10, 20, 30 years here.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in the year ahead?
A: I’m excited to get to know everybody and getting the word out about what HilltopSecurities has to offer. I am so excited about Mo the buffalo, I can hardly contain myself. I want people to know that Mo doesn’t like to follow the herd, Mo leads the herd. I want to see Mo on every street corner, from Hwy. 1 in California to Wall Street. We have an unbelievable opportunity to get our brand out there with Mo, which is such a powerful symbol of momentum. When you think of momentum, you should think of Hilltop. We have a great team and should be proud of what we’ve accomplished and where we’re going.