Jennifer Ackart says she’s noticed a pattern over her twenty-five-years at Raymond James. “We’ve had people come and go during that time, but the people that seem to wind up leaving are the ones that want to just do a job,” says Ackart, the senior vice president, chief accounting officer for Raymond James Financial, and chief financial officer for Raymond James & Associates. “They want to show up at eight and leave at five without any true connection to the team or firm. They really don’t tend to fit in very well here.”
Ackart doesn’t mean it as a jab or judgement; these qualities are just indicative of the team she’s managed to surround herself with over the years. “The people on my team absolutely own it,” Ackart says. “Everyone on my team is willing to help cover for their colleagues. I can’t tell you how many times I walk through our office and hear people asking, ‘How can I help?’”
As Raymond James has continued to expand into new countries and territories, Ackart has accumulated a heaping of responsibilities that might make other C-suite executives shudder. “I’m not the kind of person that likes to do the same thing over and over,” Ackart admits. “Even at home, I’m not content to just sit and watch television; I don’t have the temperament for that.” It’s the exact kind of temperament that has made her an institution at Raymond James.
Be Willing to Be Outmatched
In striving to run her organization as team-oriented as possible, Ackart says there was a reality that she had to embrace, one that’s often difficult for less-experienced managers and executives to come to terms with. “You have to be comfortable hiring someone who knows something that you don’t, someone who is smarter than you,” Ackart says. “The first time you do it, it’s intimidating, but it’s something I encourage all young leaders to embrace.”
Through the in-house Raymond Cares program, nearly four thousand Raymond James employees are able to contribute in excess of one hundred thousand hours a year to a variety of organizations and causes. Jennifer Ackart says she’s seen the impact these opportunities have had on strengthening her team. They have participated in a variety of volunteer experiences: a hospice boardwalk, beach cleanup, serving meals at the Ronald McDonald House, planting gardens in underserved preschools, delivering Meals on Wheels, setting up food pantries, and creating birthday bags for children in the foster care system—which had a special meaning for Ackart, whose own children have taken in foster children.
The larger a team gets, Ackart says, the less likely the one leading the team is going to be able to competently handle each and every facet of a project. It just doesn’t make sense, and besides, Ackart adds, some of the best growth opportunities come with encountering expertise that is not one’s own.
“That sort of diversity in expertise makes the whole group stronger,” Ackart says. “I’m not looking for people who all think the same way; I want a variety of skills and thoughts.”
Ackart says she’s managed to assemble a team that relies on each other and is capable of picking up slack whenever necessary. The SVP says building a quality team has meant working to provide a space where every opinion is valued, and no one is made to feel as if they are somehow above asking questions. “It’s vitally important that the team feel like they can share information in a safe environment,” Ackart says. “Everyone has to be able to contribute, or it just doesn’t work. After all, as a leader your success is a reflection of the strength of your team.”
That approach is a contributor to Raymond James’s impressive history of longevity including retiring CFO Jeff Julien’s thirty-two years at the helm. Ackart says CEO Tom James, son of the founder, still comes in at the same time every morning.
“There’s a culture of loyalty here that I think is unmatched,” Ackart says. Those who find their way to Raymond James have a habit of staying on.
Over the past thirty years, Ackart has raised four children, all just recently out of the house for good. Parenthood has provided an incubation lab of sorts for developing the SVP’s own approach to leadership. “I’ve set really high expectations, and some people have told me that it’s unfair,” Ackart says. “But it’s the same at work: You need to own whatever you’re doing. If you don’t understand, ask before it becomes a problem.” Ackart says she’s able to handle almost any situation as long as it doesn’t violate her number one rule: “Don’t surprise me.”
As Ackart begins a new chapter her own life that doesn’t involve the shepherding and oversight of her own children, she says she’s looking forward to serving on the cabinet of the United Way and figuring out the best use of Ackart’s seemingly endless can-do initiative. “I have to be active in something that matters to me,” Ackart says. “If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it.”
Ernst & Young LLP: Tackling complex problems requires keeping an open mind. When we work together, we can see challenges from different perspectives more clearly, opening up opportunities to find better solutions. Collaborative teams fuel innovation, strengthen relationships, and help us build a better working world.