This conversation with Katie D’Angelo, head of Wealth and Investment Management Partnership for Allspring, and John Kenney centers on John’s position as head of Strategic Initiatives for the firm, his second job as a firefighter, and how the two roles relate to each other.


 
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Katie D’Angelo: I’m Katie D’Angelo, head of our Wealth and Investment Management Partnership for Allspring, and you’re listening to On the Trading Desk®.

Joining me today is John Kenney, head of Strategic Initiatives, and we’re going to learn about his role here at Allspring, as well as about another role he takes on when away from the office as a firefighter. Welcome to the program, John.

John Kenney: Thanks, Katie. Glad to be here.

Katie: So, John, you joined the firm quite recently. What brought you to Allspring?

John: A couple things, Katie. So first off, Allspring, for me, is really about the opportunity to do something great. The concept of resetting and creating a new company within the context of something that’s already at scale is certainly really compelling. And for me, the entrepreneurial component is super exciting.

I think all great companies have a few things in common. Number one, a true client value proposition; number two, a unique and inspiring culture; and number three, great leadership. And all of those things come to mind when I think about Allspring.

When I think about our client value proposition, I certainly think about our broad-based investment capability and that rather unique mix of assets that spans the curve in terms of risk and reward from cash all the way out to EM (emerging market) equities, for example. And I think ultimately that serves us to position us for solving for such a broad set of client needs on a global basis.

I think Kelly Vives and her team in marketing have done an incredible job describing this with the “Allview” trademark. And I think that Allview perspective that we bring is a tangible client value proposition that’s going to help drive us forward in serving client needs.

I think from a culture perspective, the opportunity to work with an entrepreneurial mindset and ultimately what I would call a shared mission within the context of the mature industry is really exciting. I’ve never seen anything like it. I think most people have never seen anything like it.

And then, lastly, all great companies have great leadership. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Joe Sullivan. His industry background and experience speak for itself. He certainly cares enormously for the people that work for and with him. And he sees our world, I think, in a very unique way with a 360° view that ultimately leads to great insight and perspective around the industry and ultimately leads him to be able to empower people to make decisions and take action.

So leadership, for me, ultimately, Katie, is about trust, and I believe it will lead us and Allspring to great accomplishments. So pretty easy for me to be “all in” on this.

Katie: So thanks so much for sharing why you joined the firm, John, and I completely agree. And I’m all in, too. Can you tell us what your new role here involves?

John: Sure, so there’s really three things for me right now. Number one is head of Strategic Initiatives. I’m in charge, globally, of product. We’ve got a great team in product. We have capabilities across different vehicles and asset classes around the globe, and ensuring that we commercialize those capabilities in a manner that’s competitive and in a manner in which clients want to consume those capabilities is critically important. So number one is product.

Number two, a project that I know is near and dear to your heart, which is Remi, which is our SMA (separately managed accounts) capability where we can bring SMAs to clients that are customizable based on their particular needs and taking our intellectual capital as far as investment management and overlaying their custom needs is going to be really important, including tax optimization. So Remi is something that certainly we’re very excited about as a broader organization, and I’m super excited to have the opportunity to help grow.

And then add the third piece really is a little bit of an all-other bucket around other commercial opportunities for the organization. So really three things: head up product globally, leading the growth of Remi, and then kind of an all-other bucket, depending upon what Joe and the broader organization needs me to do.

Katie: That’s a huge remit, John. And it’s super exciting and right in the middle of exactly where we want to be and how we’re going to grow the firm. And so I think we’re all thrilled that you’re here.

I understand, though, that in addition to working here at Allspring, you’re also a firefighter. What can you tell us about how that came about?

John: Thanks for asking. I wanted to be a firefighter since I was a little boy, and I don’t think that is different from a lot of people. You go to the firehouse and see Mom or Dad show up with one of their kids, boy or girl, saying gosh, they’re so interested in firetrucks and firefighters and things like that. So I’ve wanted to do it since I was a little boy. My great-grandfather was a fire captain in Jersey City and it’s essentially been on my bucket list of things to do forever.

So in my recent time away from our industry, I decided to go for it, and it’s been one of the absolute best decisions of my life. So I’m a firefighter and certified emergency medical responder in the city of Wayzata, Minnesota. We’re a paid on-call department with about 250 or 300 calls a year. So it’s a small-town department. We’re surrounded by some rather giant towns. We’re only about 15 miles from downtown Minneapolis, and we cover four pretty unique square miles. We’ve got a very unique mix of commercial, residential, lake, condo developments, assisted living, and those kinds of things. So we have an awful lot of interesting things to deal with. Each of our calls are different. Every day is different and we deal with everything from structure fires to water rescue, ice rescue, motor vehicle accidents, plenty of false alarms, and secondary medical calls, etc. So it’s super fun. It’s a great team. I’m honored to be a part of it and it’s great to be able to give back in a tangible way.

Katie: That is so, so cool, John. I’m sure you may have thought about this a bit: Are there any intersections between firefighting and your current role?

John: Yeah, so that’s a great question. I actually keep a list of notes in my phone on some of the things that I’ve learned that are somehow applicable to my other work, right?

So the first thing that comes to mind is actually having a process-oriented approach to problem-solving. In the fire service, everything is process-oriented and if you think about product development and product solutions, it’s a very process-oriented way.

So maybe if I can walk you through this for a second, it’s actually really interesting if you overlay that onto how, in our industry or other industries, you solve for new opportunities or certain challenges. So at a fire scene, the senior-most responding officer is responsible for the initial scene size-up, and they essentially identify the problem, they articulate the problem in a clear and concise manner, and then obviously let everybody there know what the issue is. So they identify the problem. The next step is clearly stating the objective, so what are we going to accomplish here? The third step is stating the strategy. The fourth step is actually articulating what tactics are going to be used, all within the context of a set of actually very simple available tools and resources. And then lastly, the incident commander delegates responsibility to sector leaders and then establishes periodic benchmarks for measuring success and having people check back in.

So it’s amazing how much that sounds like a product development process, right? You identify and clearly state the problem or the client need. You identify the objective. You define the strategy, how you’ll achieve the objective, i.e., what tactics are you using within the resources, in our case, investment capabilities you have. And then you empower people who are responsible for each component of what needs to be done in actually delivering it. So the process is very similar. It is also very similar to me how a fire department embraces creative problem-solving techniques to leverage simple straightforward tools to solve a problem.

Lastly, for me, I see really unique parallels in the leadership skills at the top of the organization. One of Joe Sullivan’s favorite phrases is “we shouldn’t overreact or under-respond.” And I can’t imagine a scenario where the fire department overreacts. If you think about any time that you’ve seen the fire department on the scene in your town, you can’t imagine seeing that fire department in the panic mode. It just doesn’t happen, and that’s driven by having great leadership at the top of the organization with great experience, having a process orientation toward problem-solving, and certainly an ability to take a step back and see the bigger picture.

So I think having a steady hand comes with great experience, and I see this every day in my interactions with Joe Sullivan, and I’m super excited to be here and see where we go as an organization. And it’s kind of fun and amazing to see those unique parallels between what I do here at Allspring and then my moonlighting gig as a firefighter.

Katie: I love what you said about creative problem-solving. The problems, obviously, that you’re facing as a firefighter are certainly different, but the parallels that you just laid out are so true and something, I think, we all need to embrace in our work.

So not exactly a work-related podcast question next, but since we’re on the topic and I think I’ve shared with you that I’ve been a burn victim and think a lot about fire safety, so while we’re here, we’re on the topic and we have you, are there any fire safety recommendations that you can share with us, John?

John: Thanks for the question, Katie. I’m sorry you went through that, and I’m glad that you’re OK.

Community education is actually a super important role for the fire service here in the United States. It goes without saying a couple things.

Number one, please have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Make sure they’re appropriately placed. Change the batteries. When you change the time on your clock in the spring and the fall, that’s a great time to make sure that you check your batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. A really simple thing and certainly will, if need be, save your life.

Have fire extinguishers. Very simple, but the vast majority of fires in structures in the United States start in the kitchen. So have a kitchen-appropriate fire extinguisher. Have it handy under the sink or wherever else you can put it and make sure you know how to use it. It’s really simple. There’s a pin in it. You pull the pin, you aim, you squeeze, and you sweep. So make sure you have a fire extinguisher. That’s super important.

Make sure you have a family plan. If you do have an incident in the house, make sure that, number one, everybody has two ways to get out. So make sure that you know how to get out of the house. Realize that if you have a fire, you’re not going to have a lot of time, particularly in newer construction. You have less time than you think. So make sure you have a plan for getting out and have a place to meet as a family. So pick a spot, whether it’s a neighbor’s mailbox, etc., where everybody can meet and make sure that everybody is out and safe. Practice it once or twice a year.

And, lastly, and this one’s super important, it’s one that people don’t necessarily think of. Fire safety and controlling a fire is often around controlling the flow path. The best way to control the flow path and keep yourself safe is to sleep with your bedroom doors closed. So make sure your bedroom doors are closed when you go to bed at night. Make sure the kids’ bedroom doors are closed, and that’ll certainly help keep you safe, as well.

Katie: I can’t say how much of this is such a different topic than what we would normally discuss on a podcast for Allspring, but such an important topic and something that we probably should visit more often and more frequently, even in our work lives as we think about it. So, John, thank you so much for being with us today and sharing your insights about your role here at Allspring and your firefighting role for the city of Wayzata, Minnesota. I hopefully said that OK! And we just appreciate your time today.

John: Thrilled to be here. Super excited about Allspring, Katie, and thanks for having me on today.

Katie: That wraps up this episode of On the Trading Desk. If you’d like to read more market insights and investment perspectives from Allspring Global Investments, you can find them at our firm’s website, allspringglobal.com.

To stay connected to On the Trading Desk and listen to past and future episodes of the program, you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or whatever podcast subscription service you use. I’m Katie D’Angelo and thanks for listening.

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