It has been less than three weeks since money manager Ken Fisher, founder of Fisher Investments, Camas’ largest private employer, was called out in national media for making comments deemed inappropriate and sexist by his peers at an Oct. 8 investors conference in San Francisco.
The fallout has been swift, with media outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, the Oregonian and Forbes reporting nearly every day since that clients are distancing themselves from Fisher Investments. Over the past two weeks, the firm has lost close to $3 billion from clients such as the Michigan Department of Treasury’s Bureau of Investments, the Los Angeles fire and police pension board and the New Hampshire Retirement System.
Today, Fisher penned an open letter to the Camas community apologizing for his comments – and assuring residents that Fisher Investments is in no danger.
“I know that this situation – one for which I and I alone am entirely responsible – caused stress, negativity, fear and no end of hassle for our employees, their families and this town,” Fisher stated in his letter sent to the Post-Record this afternoon. “For my whole career, I’ve worked to build a great reality for our clients and our associates, while trying to be a good corporate citizen in the communities where we live. Clearly, on this occasion, I failed them and you – and I deeply apologize. But I will never repeat this kind of error in any way in either my business or my personal life. I promise you that.”
Fisher said the firm, which employs 3,500 workers throughout the world, including 1,750 employees at the company’s 200-acre commercial campus in Camas, is in strong financial shape despite the recent, very public losses.
“The withdrawal of several billion dollars, however, does not reflect a firm, in our instance, that has any sustainability problem. We continue growing as a firm,” Fisher stated in his letter. “The 91 percent portion of the firm that is growing more than makes up for the declines cited in media. In fact, we have more assets under management today than we did before the headlines began. We have no long-term debt and a strong financial position by any standard. That is the simple truth.”
Company launches diversity and inclusion task force
Fisher CEO Damian Ornani has been communicating with employees about Fisher’s comments via email throughout the past three weeks.
In an email sent Oct. 11, Ornani told employees the events connected to Fisher’s comments had made him reflect on the firm’s commitment to diversity.
“It is true that finance remains a majority male industry and that is the case here as well,” Ornani told employees today. “We have hired and promoted in line or better than industry averages, but that isn’t good enough. We need to be a leader in this as we are in so many other areas, changing the landscape and bettering.”
Ornani said he is immediately launching a task force to “examine all aspects of the state of (diversity and inclusion) at Fisher.”
Jill Hitchcock, a senior executive vice president in charge of the company’s U.S. private client group; Carrianne Coffey, a senior executive vice president with the firm’s international private client group; and Lane Jarvis, senior vice president with the company’s global human capital division, will head the task force.
Ornani shared some diversity statistics with Fisher employees, including the fact that 30 percent of the firm’s managers and 23 percent of the company’s managers at a vice president or higher position are female. Likewise, the company’s chief human capital officer is a woman, Ornani said.
Those numbers are much higher than the industry’s average, he added: “For context, in the industry women represent only 4 percent of top executives at mutual funds, hedge funds and other investment vehicles, according to the Harvard Business Review.”
As reported in major media outlets that spoke with investors present at the Oct. 8 conference and obtained audio of Fisher’s comments, the billionaire investment guru made reference to genitalia and compared approaching a potential client in a forceful manner as being similar to “going up to a woman in a bar and saying, ‘Hey, I want to talk about what’s in your pants.’”
Other media outlets have since unearthed questionable texts from Fisher discussing sex and slavery.
In his letter to the Camas community, Fisher apologizes for the comments.
“I made some inappropriate remarks at a conference that do not reflect any values I have or have ever had,” he stated. “I apologized for those. I apologize to you for those. They will not reoccur again ever in any form.”
‘Most clients are supportive’ CEO tells employees
In an email sent to employees today, Ornani said the task force is a top priority for him and for the company and answered some questions about what the fallout from the comments means to Fisher Investments.
“Most clients are supportive but a small minority are angry or concerned,” Ornani stated. “Many are simply curious about our response or thoughts.”
The CEO told employees Fisher Investments remains “on track to exceed $1 billion in sales this month,” and said while it may take “several weeks or months for the full impact of this to play out,” the company’s leaders are not projecting negative impacts to the “core” of Fisher Investments’ private U.S. client group, its largest source of revenue.
The institutional clients will be more challenging, Ornani stated.
“Many institutional clients have to consider the feelings of their boards, bosses, beneficiaries, politicians, potential donors and a variety of other stakeholders,” he stated in his email sent today to employees. “Those can be sensitive to ‘headline risk’ and be unwilling to bear that risk as stories continue to emerge in the public sphere.”
Saying that “the ultimate impact across (Fisher Investments) is still to be determined,” Ornani urged employees to devote their energy to things they can control, such as “helping more families and clients.”
“There’s little we can do to prevent press stories or comments on social media, but we can focus on doing our jobs (and) delivering unparalleled service to our clients and always doing what’s in their best interests first.”