George R. Aylward said he inspires confidence in Virtus Investment Partners by producing a quality product and fostering an environment in which all employees directly influence the success of the company.
Aylward was raised on Long Island. He moved to Connecticut to attend the University of Connecticut, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in accounting. Aylward later earned a master's in business administration from the University of Massachusetts.
As a certified public accountant, Aylward worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers before moving to The Phoenix Cos. and heading its asset management business, which was spun off as a new company in late 2008, in Hartford. Since going public in January 2009, Virtus' stock has grown nine-fold and the company was recently profiled in Forbes magazine as "The Little Mutual Fund Company That Could."
Aylward, 48, is president and CEO of Virtus. He lives in Westfield, Mass., with his German shepherd.
Q: How and why did you get into this line of business?
A: I had started as an auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and I had a whole host of clients in the financial services: insurance, banking and asset management. I became very interested in the asset management space. So, even though I did a lot of work with insurance companies as clients, I always did the investment portfolio or the real estate portfolio.
Q: Was there anything that drew you to accounting?
A: I actually like the theory of accounting more than the actual mechanical accounting in terms of [Generally Accepted Accounting Principles] and SEC [U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission] rules and regulations. A lot of auditing and accounting is really making an argument to support a certain type of treatment.
Q: How would you describe Virtus Investment Partners in casual conversation?
A: We manage the individual and institutional assets of a variety of clients and we do it through a multi-manager boutique model. We have a mutual fund family that's $22 billion, and that is really accessed by people with 401(k) plans, by people who have Merrill Lynch or Morgan Stanley as a financial adviser.
Q: You were at the The Phoenix Cos. until Virtus was spun off into its own company in 2008. What did that involve and what was your role?
A: Virtus was previously Phoenix Investment Partners PXP, which was a wholly owned subsidiary of Phoenix from 2001 to the end of 2008. I ran the asset management business up until the time of the spin. Phoenix had made a decision to split the two companies. The same shareholders owned both companies after the spin. [For every 20 shares of Phoenix that a shareholder owned, he or she was given 1 share of Virtus.]
Q: The stock opened at $9 per share in January 2009 and is now more than nine times that value; what drove that growth?
A: When you spin a company at the end, beginning, middle of the Great Recession, it's what they call undiscovered value. Our view, is people didn't know who we were or what we were capable of. Since then, we've had non-stop sales growth that's been at the top of the industry. When people got burned in the meltdown, they were looking for something a little new and a little different.
Q: Asset management is quantifiable, but what else is involved in managing the company and its employees?
A: The one thing that's important to understand about asset management is the only asset we have are people. It's not like a manufacturer who has factories or products or patents. Having the right caliber of talent on portfolio management, having the right talent in sales, and really every individual in the company makes a contribution.
Q: Do you have any examples of challenges the company has overcome?
A: When we were spun out it was the end of the world. And we really did not have much capital. It was pretty bare bones….We were supported because our largest shareholder is Bank of Montreal [which provided some capital]. We didn't have a lot of resources, a lot of people. Everyone worked a lot of overtime for those first few years getting things going and just maintaining the growth as we've gone forward. We still had to cut some people at the very beginning because all of it hadn't been taken care of pre-spin, and that's always horrible to make reductions.
Q: How do you inspire confidence in people when they're working overtime and the future is uncertain?
A: The mood in January '09 was actually very positive because people were very excited about the spin.The only thing we had was our people and everyone had a direct responsibility in our success. That excites people. We went from being part of a larger organization, which is a little more bureaucratic, to a small, entrepreneurial, very close-knit, very quick-acting environment. People embrace that.
Q: What is it like to work at Virtus?
A: Every person understands they contribute to the success of the firm. We believe in total transparency and honesty with employees. One of the things I think we've learned is, employees like to know what is going on whether it's good or bad. I think we have a really good level of honest, open communication. So, in years when we didn't do well, and they didn't get paid a lot, they understood that. And we've had some good years, and people have been compensated.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun