Nashville Business Journal Profile of Art Haws. Click on this link for a short video that accompanied the article.
Art Haws and colleague Cam Goodwin launched their wealth management firm the month before the financial crisis reached its peak. The former Merrill Lynch alums have since grown their firm, HawsGoodwin Financial, to nearly $225 million in assets under management, making it one of the bigger independent shops in Nashville. Outside the office, Haws is a music aficionado and Vanderbilt University basketball fan. Ask him about his college band. They apparently were a pretty big deal on the Kentucky college circuit.
What does the firm have in store for the year ahead? The year before last we started a group benefits division. We do a fair amount of corporate 401(k) work. We found the same decision maker who makes the 401(k) decisions tends to make the rest of the benefits. So we felt that was a good complement. That continues to grow. This past year, we introduced a new product offering designed for what we call emerging investors — typically young professionals that understand the importance of savings and investing. They’ll be good clients for our wealth management division and we’re starting the relationships with them earlier. And we’re continuing to grow our traditional wealth management, which is the largest part of the firm.
What attracted you to the finance industry? My dad and I used to talk about it. My dad got interested in investing when I was 12 years old. He was a big sports fan, so he always talked to me about sports and statistics. He was a baseball junkie. And then he got interested in investment. So we would talk about that.
What are your sports teams? When my youngest was born, I knew I needed to have some things for my other two kids to do while she was growing up. So I got season tickets to Vanderbilt basketball. [I’ve been] an avid fan of theirs for the past 12 years. Everything Commodores — basketball and football, too. Growing up in Western Kentucky, it’s required to be a St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan, which I am. Until I moved to Tennessee, I didn’t realize the rest of the SEC cared about football. I thought everybody loved basketball like they do up in Kentucky.
What are some of your hobbies outside of the office? I’m a frustrated golfer. But I enjoy playing. I’m an avid music lover. I play guitar, except when I moved to Nashville I quickly learned I was a guitar owner. You better be careful telling people in this town you’re a guitar player. But I played in a band in college. I used to be a pretty avid runner prior to tearing my ACL. I’ve done the Nashville marathon and half-marathons a gazillion times. I tore my ACL two years ago and that’s limited my running.
What was your band in college? What did you play? The Flying Leathernecks. We were in the fraternity that John Wayne was in. We were sitting in the house one day, and one of the cable channels came on advertising that movie, “The Flying Leathernecks,” with John Wayne. And I said, “That’s our name.” And sure enough, it stuck. But we played a little bit of everything. … That was in the late ’80s, so we played R.E.M., some Rolling Stones and U2. A lot of crowd pleasers.
Do you get to play much guitar anymore? I do occasionally. But I got my son interested in it, not necessarily intentionally. I taught him everything I knew in about a month, and then he really took off. He’s currently touring with a band right now, so I like to follow and listen to him play. I like to hear live music around town. That’s one of the things I love about this area is there are so many great performers and places to go.
What are some of your favorite places to go catch a concert? Some of the big concerts that come through are fun. But certainly smaller places like 3rd and Lindsley, even the Station Inn, are great. We paid $10 one night to see Jack Pearson there. He used to play with the Allman Brothers. He walks out and starts playing, and the guy accompanying him is Tommy Emmanuel, who has been voted the best classical guitarist. And here I paid $10 to get in, which was almost a joke. The new [Ascend] Amphitheater is great, too.
What led you to start this firm? Cam [Goodwin] and I work together prior to Merrill Lynch. And he came over there in 2004. We always built our business around the client and not around products. We weren’t very good product sales people, either one of us. But we liked the investment piece and the client side. So we just built a business that was focused on that. We structured our compensation so we were on the same side of the table as our clients. I think both of us had that entrepreneurial spirit that we wanted to run our own place. Merrill was a great place to work. I enjoy the business of the business. I like the client piece of it. I like helping people solve problems. But I also like running the business itself and thinking about things strategically. I get a lot of enjoyment out of that.
Was there a moment when this idea crystalized? We didn’t just decide one day it would be neat to have our own firm. We spent a lot of time. and did a lot of research. We spent over a year just talking about going independent. We met with other firms and tried to understand what it would look like, how we would do that. We modeled everything based on bringing all of our clients over, bringing half of our clients over, strong market conditions and weak market conditions. We were trying to make a smart decision. Leaving a firm like Merrill is a leap of faith because you don’t tell your clients until you tell the firm. I don’t think we modeled a 40 to 50 percent drop in the stock market, which is pretty much what happened.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received over the years? I sat down with a CPA that I highly respect, when I was thinking about starting this company. And his message was really about building a company around doing the right thing. He encouraged me to do that. He said, it may take longer at first.
What was your first job growing up? I worked in my family’s sporting goods store. And I did that for a long time. I probably started when I was in middle school. I probably learned more then about working with people as I have in anything. That was in Kentucky. My second job was when I learned about life. I worked in the collections area of one of the banks in Paducah. So we had to call people who had installment loans on things like cars, VCRs at the times, televisions and mobile homes. As I told my dad at the time, I learned you couldn’t live on love with that job. That was tough.
What’s your impression on the growth happening in Nashville? I’ve always really enjoyed Nashville. Coming from a relatively small town, Nashville and St. Louis were closer to where I grew than Louisville. This area has always attracted me. It’s always been a regionally strong financial center. Quality of life here, you can’t beat it. I, like everyone, wants to see smart growth and understands the challenges of more and more people coming in. You hope we can maintain that balance.
What do you know now about starting your own company that you wish you knew before? I wish we had done it earlier. I think a lot of people say that. I think I’ve learned how important it is to hire right. We strongly work under the good to great model here. You hire the right people instead of for positions.
How would describe your leadership style? My management philosophy is to hire good people and let them do their jobs. It’s fun to see people grow in their skills and in their positions. I get a lot of personal satisfactions out of that. Hire good folks, hold them accountable, but let them do their jobs and resist the temptation to micro-manage. I also like to hire people with different skill sets. One thing about my business partnership with Cam that I think has worked so well, we approach problems and challenges and projects from two totally different directions — as far as our thoughts processes. We’re not afraid to challenge each others ideas and thoughts, in a healthy way. You really learn the benefits of getting multiple opinions and insights into making a decision.
What would you like the company to look like five years out? From a metrics standpoint, I’d like to see in the next five years to definitely get to half-a-billion in assets under management. Five to seven years, I’d like to be at $1 billion. We’re currently just under $225 million. As we grow, I’d look to share the ownership of this company with employees so they look at this as not just a job and they have ownership. Right now, Cam and I are the owners.
What makes you laugh? Dry, quick humor makes me laugh.