Corporate giving is as varied as the types of companies that call Memphis home.
At Duncan Williams Asset Management, community involvement doesn’t take one shape. Every employee brings his or her own passions to the company. And a passion for the community is a clear part of the company’s makeup.
“If you’re not passionate about the city, you wouldn’t understand the culture of Duncan- Williams,” said Hudson Atkins Jr., a vice president at Duncan Williams Asset Management. “We work with a purpose, and that’s to continually move our city in the right direction.”
Duncan Williams Asset Management spun out of Duncan-Williams, Inc. in April 2015. Today, the company is a tight-knit group of eight, who helps meet the financial needs of individual investors, business owners, and foundations. And while they work for the betterment of their clients, the Memphis community is always top of mind. Every employee is encouraged to get involved in the community, usually with at least three organizations.
Atkins said the smaller size gives the company great power in making a true difference in the Memphis community.
“That’s one of the cool things about Memphis. It’s not Atlanta, Dallas, or L.A.,” he said. “If you’re a small company of around 10, and each one of your employees gets involved in a nonprofit, think about the impact that makes.”
Patrick O’Connor is an associate vice president with Duncan Williams Asset Management. He came to the financial advisor role from the advertising industry. He said he’s always worked for smaller companies, and he feels those organizations have real power to make change in the community.
But it must start with a culture that encourages it.
“It’s easier to get to know people,” he said about the small, close-knit culture of the company. “We’re each involved in two or three things and potentially affect up to 30 nonprofits or organizations around town. It goes to show that one person can make a difference, and we have this small firm, and we’re making a difference.”
Grace Simmons is the executive administrator at Duncan Williams Asset Management. She started out as a summer intern at Duncan-Williams, Inc. and began working there full-time in 2011. She was part of the team that hired a group of financial advisors in 2012, when the foundation for community involvement for all employees was set.
For her, though, it began when she was an intern. It was a clear culture that started at the top.
“I remember Duncan coming and meeting with the interns one morning,” she said about the leader of the now almost 50-year-old company and later founder of the new organization. “A majority of us were young native Memphians. Rather than moving to a different location after college, he encouraged us to choose Memphis, to come back to our city and invest in it. That struck a chord for me.”
What Simmons called a light bulb moment, helped to bring her back home after she graduated from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.
Carter Giovannetti sees the important work occurring in the community just by the simple fact that his role as a vice president at Duncan Williams Asset Management is to advise clients on wealth management, many of whom have endowments, foundations, and corporate retirement plans. He said his view of the company might be different than others who started their career at Duncan-Williams. He came to Duncan-Williams, Inc. in 2013 from another firm.
The Duncan-Williams name attached to sponsorships of a variety of organizations in Memphis caught his eye. “Ultimately, the business carries sponsorships because Duncan believes it,” Giovannetti said. “And because he believes it, he attracts people who have talent and who share the passion for community involvement.” Giovannetti went on to say, “Working for Duncan allows you to see that at the heart of his companies is the idea that as a community, we can all do good by getting together and helping.”
Atkins said the company’s focus on philanthropy was evident from his earliest interactions. Thinking back to his first interviews with the company in 2012, he said there was a real passion for the community that was emphasized. During his financial advisor training program, everyone was encouraged to find three nonprofit organizations to get involved in.
He now serves on the board of Le Bonheur, serves as the treasurer of the Memphis chapter of Ducks Unlimited, and as the secretary of the vestry of St. John’s Episcopal Church. He said he tries to help friends with causes when he can, whether it’s volunteering with the Ronald McDonald House or Books from Birth.
Simmons said that, while to some people having an employer encourage its employees to be involved in a certain number of organizations might seem like a requirement, in reality it’s in these individuals’ makeup to want to volunteer. The people the company wants working there, she said, most likely have the personal desire to serve their community.
And while the company encourages employee involvement in the community, it’s more than just stating a desire. Employees are encouraged to take time away from their workday to attend a board meeting or event, if necessary.
For example, Simmons is given the mornings off for a week in the summer to teach Vacation Bible School at Second Presbyterian Church. O’Connor works with a nonprofit organization that’s based out of Knoxville. He’s been given time off to attend board meetings out of town. It’s a simple gesture, but one that matters for individuals who want to give back.
“You take care of work, but if you need to help out a nonprofit, it’s not uncommon for a person to miss work for a few hours in the morning to attend a meeting,” Atkins said.
It also goes to the adage that happy employees are productive ones.
“A lot of companies may give you one service day, but to do this for the entire week is unique,” Simmons said, referring to her time off to teach Vacation Bible School. “I think it pays off in the end. It makes for happy employees, who feel like they’re able to give back to their city. I hope it encourages other companies to see it can benefit their organization.”
Still not convinced? Simmons said that while some of her volunteer work occurs outside the workday, it’s important to her to have the support from her employer.
“Companies may feel like they can’t give up the man hours for their employees to do this, but I think it makes for more loyal and motivated employees,” she said. “Our lives are so busy with family. This approach allows us to have a healthy work/life balance and incorporate our giving back to our community.” Simmons went on to say, “Nobody is keeping track. It’s just if you of your own accord are called to do this, you’ll be supported by your company. I might not know what other employees in our company are necessarily doing, but it’s not about us, or about boasting about what we’re doing. It’s about giving back to community organizations we feel passionate about. And we’re given the support to go do it.”