MacDougall, MacDougall & MacTier Inc.
Celebrating 165 Years of Wealth Management Services
It is exceptionally rare to unearth a successful corporate enterprise that has been in business since before the birth of our nation, but such is the case for MacDougall, MacDougall and MacTier Inc., an employee-owned wealth management firm, commonly known as 3Macs.
The company has operated completely independent from dealers and free of incentives since 1849, some 18 years before Canadian Confederation, when three British colonies became four provinces of the new dominion with Sir. John A. MacDonald installed as the nation’s founding prime minister. In fact, 3Macs is the oldest investment firm still in operation anywhere in Canada. The Canadian Business Journal spoke with the man at the helm, President and CEO Randy Ambrosie.
A ‘People First’ Mantra
Ambrosie joined 3Macs in October of 2012. He started in the investment industry serving as a financial advisor while still playing football in the CFL. It was a nine-year professional sports career that saw him suit up for the Calgary Stampeders, Toronto Argonauts and finally the Edmonton Eskimos where he was a member of the 1993 Grey Cup champions before hanging up the cleats in favour of a full-time suit and tie. His financial services journey began at Nesbitt Burns (Nesbitt Thomson at the time) followed by a lengthy stint at Midland Walwyn, which became Merrill Lynch, which in turn became CIBC Wood Gundy. Further to that, he was also North American Sales Director for HSBC Securities in Canada and HSBC Brokerage in the U.S. and was president of AGF Funds for three years.
Throughout it’s entire 165-year history, 3Macs has always held itself to impeccably high standards and corporate ideals, something Ambrosie quickly noticed when he came into the fold. Making the decision to join the team was an easy one for him to make.
“For me it was all about the people,” Ambrosie begins. “It really is quite a remarkable organization with a magnificent culture. It’s as client-centric an organization as I’ve ever seen. I’m not saying this to be boastful or disrespect our competitors, but I think this is a remarkably special group of people. They’ve come together because they’ve embraced something different as a better way. They don’t want to sell somebody a product or put them in a box. They want to do what is right for each individual.”
The principles under which 3Macs has operated under for the entire lifespan of the company is another aspect that drew Ambrosie to the company.
“I would argue 3Macs has done better than any other organization I’ve seen in terms of avoiding conflicts of interest with their clients. We don’t manufacture any products of our own here,” he emphasizes. “Everything that goes into a client’s account is selected for each individual based on their needs. We don’t provide any incentive that would reward one product over another.”
Those standards are deeply rooted in the culture of the firm as it’s clear they don’t want to create any opportunity for anything other than what’s best for the client. The company consists of nearly 200 skilled employees across its five locations including the head office in Montreal, Toronto, London, Kingston and Quebec City.
Clients from all walks of life constantly come through the doors at 3Macs, and all are welcome, but given the fact it is an industry dealing with financial planning and wealth management it’s only natural that this type of professional service would naturally draw out those who tend to be someone more affluent.
“It is a diverse cross-section,” Ambrosie replies. “We are proud of our history that has been very inclusive, but we are inclined to doing business with more affluent Canadian families because our services and products and philosophy is very appreciated by families, who perhaps through experience, are looking for something more discerning.”
For the employees at 3Macs it is all about finding a personal connection with each client that is going to effectively tend to their specific requirements that will most effectively deliver the most efficient results.
As of now there are no special events planned to mark the momentous occasion of 3Macs being in business for 165 years, but Ambrosie says there are many advantages of being an employee-owned entity, including a noticeable enthusiasm for being at work each and every day.
“We come to work everyday where a bit of a celebration takes place where we feel like David to the industry’s Goliath and there’s a sense of pride that goes with coming to work here,” he relates. “We all know that David won and we think we’re going to win too.”
The unique business promoted by 3Macs is something Ambrosie believes every Canadian who’s concerned about financial wealth management should seriously consider.
There’s also fun and friendliness factors that meld into the successful equation.
“We think Canadians deserve the kind of philosophy that we have protected here,” Ambrosie proudly states. “In the end, your financial life is a big determinant of the quality of your overall life and we think you deserve an unbiased, objective relationship.”
“We do town hall meetings with our staff regularly and it’s amazing to me how much alignment there is and how proud people are of what we do and they know we are different. Being a firm that has survived 165 years is not trivial and the reason we’ve been able to survive and prosper is that we do this really well.”
3Macs is not unlike a great sports franchise in that there is such a tremendous pride in belonging to it. It’s an analogy Ambrosie can directly relate to when articulating his feelings about the warm atmosphere that emanates from within the company.
“I felt that particularly in Edmonton,” Ambrosie says, harkening back to his CFL days. “You stood in that hallway before the dressing room and all that Grey Cup paraphernalia and you felt like you belonged to something special. I think that’s exactly how we feel here.”
The employee ownership model has been in effect from the very start when the original 3 Macs, MacDougall, MacDougall and MacTier, opened the doors 165 years ago. In addition to that, the word ‘independent’ is often used to describe the inter-corporate philosophy and personality at 3Macs. It’s engrained in the consciousness of all its employees as has no doubt been an integral aspect of elevating the company to tremendous heights.
“It’s an advantage and ultimately a responsibility,” Ambrosie remarks. “It’s an advantage because we get to protect our clients from any incursions by a controlling entity that might want us to shape the way we deliver services to our clients and bias the way we deliver products to our clients. It transitions into a responsibility to ultimately being positioned to do what is right.”
Customization of individual needs is crucial to success and it’s something Ambrosie and his staff always have at the forefront of their collective minds. Every family is different, with a unique set of circumstances.
It’s often said that many Canadians don’t do enough to prepare themselves for their retirement years and Ambrosie feels no differently.
“The landscape is changing so quickly it’s almost impossible to expect that everyone is keeping up to that pace of change,” he notes. “Life expectancy continues to rise; advancements in technology and medicine continue at a break-neck speed and let’s remember that in 1900 the then head of the U.S. Patents Office recommended to
Congress that they close the patent office because they said everything that was ever going to be invented had already been invented and they wouldn’t need a patent office any more.”
“We endeavour to create a very broad relationship with our clients to talk to them about the issues of life and money – not just money. Money is the part we can do with our eyes closed; it’s the intersection of life and money and helping to address all the complexities to help them stay ahead of the curve.”
Regarding expansion, Ambrosie says they would certainly be open to that idea if and when the timing calls for it.
“We will be opportunistic and have set our sights on a national platform,” he confirms. “But a firm like ours, with a very deep and rich history, means there is a lot of patience here. What is important to the employee-owners and our board of directors is that when we attract talent and expand we do it with people that share our values and would embrace our culture.”
In a business era when large conglomerates continue to absorb their smaller competitors in many different sectors, 3Macs has maintained an unwavering desire to maintain its independence, despite alluring offers to become part of a major entity.
“The thing about 3Macs is that we have resisted the obvious temptation to be gobbled up by larger organizations and I would say that this current board and the current employee-owners have a view that what we do is special and that there is a place for us in the industry and one that is very valuable to our clients. I think that has been at the heart of saying ‘no’ to opportunities. We don’t want to lose all that rich history.”
It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to protect the wonderful culture and values established over the past 165 years at 3Macs if a buyout were to ever be rendered, and so the temptation is not nearly as great as some on the outside may imagine it would be. Ambrosie says it’s a desire to avoid having to be part of a cookie-cutter chain with pre-existing product shelves and compensation philosophies where there may or may not be rewards for advantaging one product over another.
“The view here is that’s not what our clients hire us for,” Ambrosie states. “Our clients want us doing what we do because when they look at their portfolios. We want people to know that whatever is represented in their statement is exactly what is best-suited for each individual and their family.”
Goals and Commitments
Upon his arrival, Ambrosie inherited a magnificent group of dedicated and talented executive management personnel including the company’s chief operating officer, Judy Cochrane, a long-term 3Macs employee.
“I was proud to promote Judy to that role shortly after I arrived and I did it because I saw in her an amazing commitment to the business and a dedication to the firm”
Beyond that is a very strong core group including general counsel and chief compliance officer Noah Billick, who, unlike Cochrane, is relatively new to the company.
“He’s making a gigantic contribution to our success and while he doesn’t have all of Judy’s history here, he’s brought new energy, new ideas and thoughtfulness that comes with other experiences,” Ambrosie asserts.
3Macs prides itself on maintaining the many goals, commitments and ambitions of the early years engrained in the corporate philosophy of today, but regarding the future, is there a need to add on to the overall mission statement as a way of keeping up with the times or is business the same whether it’s now or 30 years ago?
“It’s completely the same… except it’s completely different,” Ambrosie responds. In other words, while the core values remain, the method of delivery is constantly changing.
“As technology solutions continue to improve more clients need solutions to be delivered to them on devices that are enabling a higher quality of life.”
In an effort to match and exceed the expectations of their clients, 3Macs has taken on a number of new projects to enhance their working relationship.
“We don’t manufacture any products,” Ambrosie remarks. “Many of today’s investment firms have embraced an integrated model. That approach makes them both manufacturer and distributor of their own products. 3Macs doesn’t manufacture anything. Every product and every portfolio is built for each client using the best products and investments available.”
The people at 3Macs are guided by the staunch belief that every client deserves portfolio advice, planning solutions and service completely tailored to his or her unique needs and circumstances, which requires a constant proactive agenda in this ever-evolving digital world.
“This past year we’ve rebuilt our website and one of the questions working with the web development team is that we had to be sure that it worked on all the modern technology, representing itself well on a tablet, smartphone or laptop,” Ambrosie details. “All of these things are important because that’s what our clients are using today.”
Additionally, 3Macs has also taken distinct notice that the world of social media continues to evolve, seemingly at the speed of light. Transitioning and advancing technologies is a key aspect of staying at the front of the curve when it comes to the overall business model.
“One of the fastest growing segments of social media users are 60 to 70-year-old Canadians. We have to play in that social media space.”
Staff at 3Macs are often are tweeting and blogging because they understand the inherent need to create and maintain that added communication stream in order to connect with many of their clients in the fastest, most direct way possible.
“The best thing we can do for our clients is ensuring they are staying informed about all financial matters concerning them,” Ambrosie continues. “We rely on a strong inter-personal connection with our clientele and it has served us well.”
Honouring the Tradition
Ambrosie also notes that the firm has the rich, storied history enabling a strong recognition of humility enabling an ability to understand that 3Macs has survived difficult times over the past 165 years by virtue of relentless focus on their clients.
“We talk about being as good at this, if not better than our predecessors,” he injects. “To remember how our founders felt. If they felt these highly personal, non-conflicted relationships were the way to create a firm and has a solid 165-year base then you better pay attention to it because they’ve done something right given that very few firms survive that length of time.”
To this very day there are still members of the MacDougall family working at 3Macs so the lineage has continued on for the entire duration of the company’s existence, providing an added sense of family to the business culture.
To give you an idea of both the warmth of spirit and commitment to following through on a promise, Ambrosie also once found himself in a very humorous situation while moving his daughter into a new apartment; he was tasked with buying her a good mattress – without going over budget. After a lengthy bargaining session with a manager at one store nearby, Ambrosie finally worked out a deal that was within budget – but would not include delivery. Not a problem. Four blocks from his daughter’s new pad, he flung the mattress on his head and weaved his way down the city sidewalks with his wife and daughter watching him all the way, laughing hysterically.
“By doing things in a way that reflect well on being conscientious and thoughtful while having some fun and a sense of humour I think helps us to do our jobs better,” Ambrosie replies. “We’re not just the stewards of people’s money, we’re the stewards of the next generation of our own families, and are we teaching them good lessons.”
It’s that type of tenacious commitment to staying within a budget, and following a disciplined financial plan, that is just one of many reasons why Ambrosie and 3Macs are so trusted and well-equipped in handling the financial affairs of so many people. There’s a need for clients to be sure in knowing that their hard-earned money is being treated seriously and that there’s no waste on excessiveness.
As the calendar moves on, Ambrosie would like to see 3Macs providing even more services to their existing and future clients with an expanded footprint in Canada. Paying respectful homage to past success has served the current team at 3Macs very well as it heads into the future.