Nota bene: Josh Brown is failing
|Felix Salmon||Apr 13, 2018|
This is the photo that Josh Brown, the CEO of Ritholtz Wealth Management, used atop a recent post carrying the headline “Discipline Equals Freedom”:
The post was a review of a book entitled “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win,” and, yes, that guy in the photo — his name is Jocko Willink — is one of the authors of the book.
Josh Brown, it turns out, loved Jocko’s book. “If you’re trying to be the best team member or leader you can be,” he wrote, “this is the book for you.”
Did Josh think for a minute about how gendered that post was? I don’t know. But a couple of days ago, Josh admitted that, in terms of his own ability to be the best leader he can be, he is failing. Out of 12 client-facing financial advisors at his firm, just one is a woman. That’s 8%, which is substantially lower than the dismal industry average of 16%.
Josh wants his blog’s readers to help him out — to introduce him to women in the industry whom he might be able to hire, thereby improving his ratio. “I am personally overseeing this initiative,” he says, “and I will not give up until I fix this issue.”
He also admits that “all of the advisors who work here have come to us, as readers of the blogs and fans of our work.”
But he doesn’t really connect the dots.
The “us,” here, is the two men who represent Ritholtz Wealth Management in public: Josh Brown, the CEO with a million Twitter followers, and the guy whose name is on the door, Barry Ritholtz.
Barry is the host of “Masters in Business,” a radio show and podcast published by Bloomberg; his first 14 guests on that show were men, and so far, of his 175 episodes, just 20, by my count, have featured women. Which is about 11%. I find it personally quite hard to enjoy the show, just because Barry isn’t good at really listening to what his guests are saying; instead he barrels in with preconceptions.
I suspect that neither Josh nor Barry really understands just how aggressively, bro-ishly male they come across in terms of their online personas. Josh is a guy’s guy who loves to tweet about cars and sports; his Twitter header is a still from the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage video. Barry is a bruiser who loves to make bets and get into fights and have strong opinions; that’s fine, and it’s certainly helped him as a blogger and in terms of his media profile.
Still, the fact is that if you’re a female financial advisor who likes to spend more time listening than talking, and who approaches the markets with a sensibly high degree of humility, then you’re unlikely to consider Ritholtz Wealth Management a natural fit for your talents. You’re not sure that you will get on personally with Josh and Barry, and you’re not sure that you’re the kind of person who really provides the kind of service that people are looking for, if they turn to Ritholtz Wealth Management as a result of encountering Josh and Barry online.
To take just one example: One of the first times I met Barry, he was extolling his own abilities at technical analysis, or the art of looking at stock charts and extrapolating where the stock would go next. He ended up getting into a bet with Justin Wolfers: I would find a stock chart and cut it off a month before the present day, and they’d both predict where the stock was today. Justin would just take the last price, Barry would do his technical analysis. It doesn’t really matter who won (although Justin did, in fact, win); the point is that Barry was incredibly invested in being able to predict the future in a way that could create excess financial returns.
That attitude isn’t rare among financial advisors, but it’s definitely gendered. Do you provide value by putting your clients into stocks which are going to outperform? Or do you provide value by listening closely to what they’re saying — and, just as importantly, what they’re not saying? And if you want to join Barry’s company, which kind of advisor are you more likely to be?
Ritholtz Wealth Management, insofar as it is a successful business, is successful in large part because of Josh and Barry’s online following. But the converse is also true: Ritholtz Wealth Management, insofar as it is a failing business, is failing in large part because of Josh and Barry’s online following.
One of the problems facing every blogger is how incredibly difficult it is in practice to understand that your commenters are not representative of your readers, and that your readers are not representative of the public at large. In theory, we all know this. But when you always have one eye on your Twitter mentions, it’s very hard to think of those people as being skewed in some important way. Josh and Barry spend a lot of time online interacting with finance bros — much more time than they will ever spend on interviewing female financial advisors as potential hires. And that doesn’t just affect their behavior and their attitude; it also has a profound effect on the willingness of women to even consider working for them in the first place.
So yes, Josh is failing in terms of having a reasonable number of women working at his company. And part of that failure, as he admits, is being far too passive when it comes to recruitment: he waits for candidates to come to him.
But Josh’s failure isn’t just about not doing enough; it’s also about doing too much. It’s about projecting a certain kind of Long Island masculinity across his blog, his Twitter account, and his TV appearances, and it’s about that image being reinforced by everything Barry does, too.
If you want candidates to come to you, then, yes, it makes sense to try to stand out from the online crowd. But once you realize that you’re only attracting a certain type of person, once you realize that you’re not attracting any women as candidates, then perhaps it becomes time to start questioning your whole media empire, from radio to TV and from blogs to Twitter. At some point, far from helping your company, it might be causing it to fail.