2013 Metropolitan College Commencement Address by Douglas Chamberlain
Douglas Chamberlain (MET’74, GSM’76)
President and Chief Executive Officer of Appleton Partners
Founder, Appleton and Cambridge Appleton Trust
You made it! Congratulations! I know it’s been a long row to hoe. I’m Doug Chamberlain—40 years ago, I was exactly where you are today. I’m excited for you, and know that your best days are ahead. My wife reminded me today that no one complains about a short speech, so I’ll be sure to heed her wise advice.
When I look back over space and time, I’m reminded of my colleagues and professors who influenced and inspired me. I’m very grateful to BU for giving me the foundation and framework to build a fruitful career, and to hopefully leave a path to help others aspire to meet their own goals and ambitions.
Someone once said, “A college can be compared to a bright light or beacon set upon a hill that radiates knowledge which transcends into wisdom through the years.” I found that to be true, but it’s not automatic—one must continually reach for that beacon of knowledge. It’s not something that’s just bestowed upon us.
And obviously, none of us know how long we’ll be on the planet, but what we can and must do, is take control of our personal and professional vision by charting out our own course to follow. And with what you’ve learned from the faculty of MET and BU, you’ll be well armed to navigate the waters ahead.
As with all of you, MET gave me the knowledge and framework to succeed, and from that point forward, I made certain that I would reach out for that beacon of light every day.
During my career, I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in many industries and varied professional arenas. However, my early interest and focus was in finance and investments; I found I had proficiency for math and a knack for finding value in the markets. After graduation, I decided to continue my education at BU’s School of Management, where I earned my MBA. I was greatly influenced and inspired by the late Dean Henry Morgan, and my finance professor and dear friend Jack Aber, who recently retired from BU. Some of you may remember Jack Aber as the professor who influenced another BU student years ago—that student recently made the largest single gift to BU in its history as their expression of appreciation for Jack’s teaching and influence upon his career.
After graduation, I worked for several large banks and investment companies where I learned the ropes and a great deal more about the investment markets and, business in general. While there, I recognized that the marketplace environment was changing rapidly, and investor needs and requirements were changing as well. However, many major institutions weren’t addressing this clear societal shift. The standard of most large investment institutions in the ‘70s and ‘80s remained “product and commission based,” and they were either reluctant or numb to the important evolving changes in consumer demands and expectations.
What they didn’t recognize, or chose not to embrace, was that the investment industry was evolving from product to service based—in other words, people desired a relationship service, not a multiplicity of private label products. They were tired of hearing from Wall Street firms, “This is good for you, buy it, you’ll like it—now eat it!” Rather what they were looking for was a trusted professional partner, their own finance or investment consigliere, so to speak.
It was clear to us—the markets were shifting to relationship management. So in 1986, along with three of my colleagues, we founded Appleton Partners, a wealth management organization created specifically to address the needs of both the individual and institutional investor. Our mission was simple: focus exclusively on the specific needs and requirements of the changing marketplace by building centers of excellence.
We recognized that no one investment organization can excel at everything. However, by building areas of specific expertise, we could create centers of excellence that could add excess return, and thus provide meaningful value advantage for the investor.
In reflection, perhaps we were a bit naive, but we felt if we focused exclusively on what our clients wanted and placed our personal financial interest secondary, that the rest would take care of itself. Naive or not, that’s what the marketplace wanted and our business plan was very much on target. Our company grew from a small Boston-based organization to an entity with clients in 47 states and seven countries.
Over the years, we developed a unique team-based management style which became key to the success of our firm. It’s an approach to collaborative management we call, “the friction of friendly minds.” This practice, which maybe you’ll have the opportunity to employ as well, embraces the process power of collective thought in the workplace and beyond. It has application throughout all of industry, government, and for that matter, academia.
In a free and open environment of empowerment, it works like this: you have an idea, you share it with a colleague, they listen and see merit, and very likely will be able to offer something to enhance your idea or suggestion. A third person may act similarly, and before you know it, you may well have the nucleus of something quite unique and powerful. Because it’s a collective open effort, everyone reaps the benefit of success, which otherwise, unlikely wouldn’t be accomplished individually. This becomes a true teamwork collaborative. I encourage you to practice it, collectively apply it, and I believe you and your colleagues will experience the great power it can generate.
By way of example, we applied the “friction of friendly minds” practice to help convince the OCC in Washington (Office of the Controller of the Currency) to grant license for the country’s first-ever joint venture of a bank and a 40 Act Investment Company to create a national trust bank capable of operating in all 50 states.
We also employed the same principals to help company turnarounds. While I was Chair of Franciscan Hospital for Children just down road in Brighton, our Board came to together to exercise this practice during a particularly stressful time in healthcare. By applying these same creative teamwork principals, we were able to greatly strengthen and improve the hospital’s fiscal operations. In doing so, Franciscan was named the number one turnaround hospital in the country by the American Hospital Association.
Believe me, I know as you do—it’s not easy working full-time, managing your job, and providing for your families while you strive to complete a challenging college degree program. But it’s that same dedication and tenacity you’ve already shown that will benefit you greatly in the years to come. No matter what your profession or what you aspire to be, you’ll have an important advantage. You’ve already been able to successfully manage and balance your career with your education. That’s by no means an incidental thing!
You’ve worked very hard to reach this day, and you have a wonderfully bright future ahead. So please never lose sight of your vision or ambitions, and you’re sure to do well. I can say this because I’ve been there. I was where you are today those many years ago. And by personally having experienced it, just like making that successful return on investment, I would confidently place a very big personal bet on all of you!
Congratulations to you, and all the best!