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Vancouver money manager Odlum Brown turns 100

Firm manages nearly $18 billion in client assets
Odlum Brown CEO Debra Doucette has headed her firm since 2007 | Chung Chow

Venerable B.C. asset manager Odlum Brown is marking its 100th anniversary by expanding operations.

CEO Debra Doucette told BIV this afternoon that her firm has hired a net total of 40 new people in the past year, and that it continues to expand its 350-person workforce.

The company, which has weathered the Great Depression, World War II, countless recessions and market volatility, is becoming more profitable thanks to the increasing size of its assets under management.

When Doucette, then known as Debra Hewson, took the helm of the organization, in 2007, Odlum Brown’s portfolio managers oversaw about $6 billion in assets. Steady growth means that its advisors now manage nearly $18 billion, she said.

“The business has grown, and the profitability of the firm has grown along with it,” she said.

Much of Odlum Brown’s revenue comes from percentage-based commissions charged to clients for managing their money. Doucette would not say how much her firm generates in revenue and profit.

She chalked up its staying power to the trust that clients place in the firm and said that turning 100 years old underscores that the firm is “in it for the long run.”

Unlike some firms, she said, Odlum Brown has its own “back office,” which independently clears client trades and ensures dividends get into accounts.

“Whatever happens in your account, in terms of all the processing, and all the trading ­– all of that – we do all that in-house, she said. “That's becoming more and more unusual because it can be a more expensive way to operate. For us, it means that we have control over the type of service that our clients get.”

Some money-management firms, she said, use third-party companies to handle those functions.

Odlum Brown opened its sixth branch office in Langley about five years ago, and it also has offices in Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, Courtenay and Chilliwack.

No new offices are planned but Doucette would not rule out further expansion in the coming years.

“Every business has to grow and evolve,” said Doucette, who is a former BIV Influential Women in Business honouree. “If those opportunities present themselves, we'll certainly avail ourselves of them.”

Opportunities for new offices arise, she explained when the firm has a significant number of clients in a community, and it finds qualified advisors who want to work with the firm in that community.

“We've never wanted to open offices for the sake of opening offices,” she said. “We've always wanted to find the right people first, and I think that's been a big part of our success.”

Odlum Brown is one of B.C.’s largest money managers. Leith Wheeler Investment Counsel Ltd., which turned 40 years old last year, told BIV recently that it manages about $23 billion in assets. Nicola Wealth, which has been around since 1994, has approximately $13.1 billion under management.

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