If you build it, they will come back: On the road with AGF

On the road with AGF

Weathering the ups and downs of the mutual fund market is a fact of life for most investment firms. But at AGF Management Ltd. (TSX:AGF.B) the forecast as of 2004 was looking gloomy. Sales had been falling for three years and a record string of net redemptions meant clients were each month pulling hundreds of millions of dollars out of investment subsidiary AGF Funds Inc. Total managed assets were down to $23.3 billion in July 2004, a 22% decrease from 2001, when AGF was considered Canada's best-selling fund company.

To help AGF get back in the game, president and CEO Blake Goldring in May 2004 hired former CFL football star and financial industry veteran Randy Ambrosie. As AGF's new EVP of sales, his solution was ingeniously simple: “More than anything, an awful lot of listening, paying attention to the important messages and then doing something about it. Because you can have all the great strategy in the world, but execution is what drives success.”

For several years an advisor himself, Ambrosie crisscrossed the country, meeting with hundreds of clients to figure out how the company could win back their business. They told him a lack of face-to-face contact was the primary problem — the company's sales team had fallen off advisors' radar.

“We weren't showing up often enough to be able to build a relationship,” says Ambrosie. “In many cases they said they didn't know us anymore.”

At that point, AGF's understaffed sales force consisted of about two dozen people, so Ambrosie began the hiring process to rebuild, including adding a new SVP position to oversee the national advisor sales team. To help foster a more competitive yet disciplined mindset for the company, he championed two new cultural paradigms: “predictable excellence” — whereby clients should expect the very best in service in any encounter with AGF staff; and “earn the right” to do business — to treat each encounter as a new opportunity to earn a client's loyalty and trust.

In addition, Ambrosie revamped the company's marketing efforts, which primarily meant getting more portfolio managers out on the road. AGF also introduced in late 2005 its Elements portfolio, a “fund of funds” product advisors had been asking for because of growing popularity with investors.

By the end of 2006, the relationship building and revamped product suite had made a difference on the bottom line — AGF's gross mutual fund sales totalled over $700 million for January 2007, a new company record. Total assets under management had also risen dramatically from the 2004 low to about $51 billion. At the recent Canadian Investment Awards, AGF was honoured several times, including fund company of the year.

Ambrosie — now president of AGF Funds — describes the turnaround as a “many-person fix.” He says his role was simply focusing the team. “I'm able to see through a lot of the noise and define strategy in a way that people can embrace. And that to me is the trick.”