BusinessNC.com is starting a periodic series on business newsmakers operating behind the scenes in influential ways.
Former Charlotte business executive Dan Arnold is a little-known but vital figure in North Carolina, even if he lives in San Diego and works for a company that ditched the Tar Heel state for South Carolina.
This week, Arnold was named CEO of LPL Financial, succeeding Mark Casady on Jan. 3. I met Casady at the company’s celebration of its new Fort Mill headquarters last week, and was struck by his warmth and serenity as another reporter and I peppered him with no-holds-barred questions. He showed none of the brusque, hurried style of many big-company CEOs that I’ve collared for impromptu interviews.
Minutes earlier, Casady joined South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in extolling the company’s elaborate new headquarters site, which hosts about 1,400 people and may eventually employ 3,000. The company previously operated out of three southwest Charlotte sites, but left North Carolina this year for the Palmetto State after receiving an incentives package topping $60 million, according to the Charlotte Business Journal. The LPL campus is 6 miles from the state line and, for most observers, will be viewed as a Charlotte business.
Meanwhile, in the back of the room, Arnold kept a low profile.
Now that serenity makes a lot more sense: Casady, 56, is quitting in what industry publication Investment News called a surprise. Arnold, who is president, is 51.
Clearly, the grand opening was Casady’s swan song as the Boston-based leader for the last 15 years.
With a market value of $3.3 billion, LPL is one of the most important financial companies that most people have never heard of. Its main role is as a back office for financial advisers who do not work the big groups such as Merrill Lynch or Wells Fargo Advisors. (LPL stands for Linsco and Private Ledger, which merged in 1989.) Many established stockbrokers can make more money aligned with LPL than with bigger-known peers, which has helped LPL grow rapidly over the last decade.
A lot of that growth coincides with the 2007 acquisition of Charlotte-based Uvest, a company started as a discount broker by John Robison, an innovative Charlotte banker and headhunter, and his son Steve. In 1994, Uvest hired Arnold, a 30-year-old Georgia Tech electrical engineering grad who had worked at BellSouth and MCI, after Steve Robison left to start his own company. Uvest was losing money at the time, according to a Business North Carolina story in 1999.
Over the next 13 years, Arnold accelerated Uvest’s growth as it moved into more lucrative lines, including offering brokerage services to banks. After the 2007 sale, he later moved to San Diego and was named LPL’s president in 2015. Uvest employed 200 people when it was acquired by LPL; Arnold will now oversee 3,200.
Still, LPL has had a roller-coaster ride not unlike many financial firms. It paid $70 million in fines and restitution in 2014 and 2015 related to compliance problems, while senior management jobs have turned over repeatedly under Casady, Investment News reported. None of the 10 analysts tracking LPL rate it a “buy,” according to Yahoo! Finance.
The company’s stock has been volatile, declining 35% Feb. 11 on disappointing earnings. The company initially sold for about $30 in 2011, topped $50 in 2014, and closed Dec. 6 at about $37. Hedge funds and private-equity groups, which often push CEOs to sell rather than build companies, own more than 40% of LPL’s shares. (Arnold holds shares valued at more than $7 million, triple the holdings of Casady.)
It’s no wonder, then, that rumors of a possible sale to a larger industry rival, such as Charles Schwab, circulate around LPL. Casady said the company doesn’t discuss potential buyouts. But a CEO change at times portend bigger shifts ahead.
Whoever owns LPL will be gaining a stunning campus at the intersection of I-77 and S.C. 160, across the interstate from the Baxter mixed-use development in Fort Mill. The Close family, textile magnates and key potentates of York County for decades, had waited for the right project before signing an agreement with LPL. It operates smaller offices in Boston and San Diego, but much of its growth will be in Fort Mill, where labor costs are 50% lower than in California, Casady said. Childress Klein Properties worked with the Close family business, Clear Springs Development, in creating the Kingsley campus, which will include a hotel, apartments and small-town-like shopping district, all under construction. SunTrust Banks Inc. owns the new LPL building.
Casady praised Arnold as the company’s main advocate for expansion in the Charlotte metro area: He insists LPL looked hard in Charlotte, but nothing matched Kingsley’s attractiveness. Asked why he and Arnold worked on separate coasts, Casady noted they talked with each other several times a day and that the setup had served the company well.
Whether LPL stays independent or sells out — and most companies don’t make commitments to sensational new campuses without hoping to retain independence — Arnold brings a lot to the table. “After a not-very-long period of time, he knew a lot more about the brokerage business than I did,” Robison told BNC in 1999.
Now, Dan Arnold has a chance to show the world that John Robison was right.