All asset management firms deal with market uncertainty, but due to its global footprint, Cohen & Steers is dealing with more than its domestic peers. As a leading specialist asset manager focused on real assets and alternative income solutions with offices in London and Hong Kong, as well as Tokyo and its New York headquarters, Cohen & Steers has had to contend with a variety of issues, including Brexit and the protests in Hong Kong.
Frank Poli, executive vice president and general counsel, is the founding sponsor and leader of the firm’s enterprise risk management (ERM) committee and has been actively involved in planning Cohen & Steers’ response to these events. “Brexit is a big deal,” Poli says. “What are the implications, and to what extent will we need to adjust our operational model to be able to continue to distribute our products in the EU?”
To ensure their ongoing access to the EU market, Cohen & Steers has been working with clients and legal advisors to prepare for either a “soft” or “hard” Brexit. And in Hong Kong, the company has reassessed and confirmed the capabilities of its business continuity planning and disaster recovery programs and is also preparing for the possibility that employees may need to temporarily relocate to other regions as a safety precaution.
Poli says the outcome of the Brexit referendum caught many people by surprise; he believes that all firms should have a robust ERM program to prospectively identify and monitor potential risks and help management, boards, and audit committees fulfill their responsibilities to stockholders and clients. Once a risk has been identified, he says, the next thing to do is gather your subject-matter experts in order to develop and initiate a plan. “These types of circumstances need definition, or they can be paralyzing, so determining the potential scope of impact and deciding who is leading the effort, what needs to be done, and when deliverables are due will help make your process more effective and efficient,” he says.
The final piece of the puzzle is understanding the views of your clients and workforce and the impact political unrest has on them. “At the end of the day, these types of events are about people,” Poli says. “If you conclude that you must run your operations in a particular place, it’s critical to determine what roles, responsibilities, and talent is required to meet your business goals, and then everything can evolve from there.”
Dealing with the uncertainty around Brexit meant reconfirming Cohen & Steers’ broad commitment to Europe and implementing a plan to ensure they would be able to continue to serve clients and sell products in the region. In Hong Kong, the company continues to closely monitor the situation. “You really need to understand what’s on people’s minds and stay close to them,” Poli says. “Frequent, thoughtful, and candid discussions are taking place [at Cohen & Steers] about both of these matters right now.”
With so much at stake around the globe, Poli strives to promote work-life balance for his team. “I recognize that the work we do is inherently demanding,” he says. “I make it abundantly clear that important family matters or personal obligations come first.” He also meets personally with each member of his department and makes a point of mentoring younger lawyers. Through technology and collaboration, the group is able to support one another regardless of their location, allowing each other to take time off when necessary. “It’s important to understand, while there’s always going to be a hot issue of the day, you have to live to fight another day,” Poli says.
“We have a lot of fun, and I think it’s really important to just get around a table where people can swap stories, talk about personal lives, and simply relax.”
The culture at Cohen & Steers plays a big part in taking the stress out of work. For example, Poli’s department enjoys a quarterly potluck where team members bring in foods from all around the world. “We have a lot of fun, and I think it’s really important to just get around a table where people can swap stories, talk about personal lives, and simply relax,” Poli says. A culture committee plans company-wide social and professional development events, and Poli is part of a volunteer committee that recently organized a park cleanup and a food drive.
Cohen & Steers also participates in a program with a local high school to give youth exposure to professional career paths; Poli’s department has hosted students for the last three years. “It’s been a joy to see their development through the year, and their presence in our department spills over to other employees and creates a warm and nurturing atmosphere,” he says.
Poli says the real test of a company’s culture is how its employees work together in the trenches, and at those high-stakes moments, he sees the pay-off of Cohen & Steers’ culture of diversity and inclusion. “Encouraging diversity of thought and hearing different perspectives is not only individually empowering, but it leads to better outcomes for the department and for our firm and, quite frankly, our clients and investors,” he says.
“When we’re dealing with a complex issue, which we do all the time, there’s nothing better than getting all stakeholders in a room to discuss and collaborate on how to proceed. And when it’s resolved, it’s very rewarding to know that our success is really a direct result of inclusion and diversity.”