Shirl Penney, the president and CEO of Dynasty Financial Partners, crisscrossed two dozen cities during the yearlong process of deciding where to relocate the firm’s headquarters. He wasn’t just moving his company and its employees to a new place – he was moving there, too.
“I’m a leader that believes in leading from the front. It’s always been my style never to ask someone to do something that I wouldn’t do myself,” Penney told RIA Intel.
Ultimately, St. Petersburg checked off the most Harvey Ball criteria, including ease of transportation to other cities, affordable real estate, lower taxes and high quality of life.
The Tampa Bay area is a paradise to many; a rare combination of lifestyle and business opportunity. “It’s crazy, it’s like we’re on vacation every day. It’s hard to beat it,” said J.P. DuBuque, president of the Greater St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation. People who move to St. Petersburg tend to stay, he said.
Still, most Dynasty employees were blindsided by the news when it was announced in February. They then had to be won over about a place most hardly knew.
Key stakeholders made their pitch. Matthew Silverman, president of the Tampa Bay Rays, hosted Dynasty’s first board of directors meeting at Tropicana Field after the move. And the city has helped Dynasty roll out the red carpet to sell dozens of employees on the benefits of relocating to the Gulf shore.
Dynasty, a service provider to a network of 47 RIAs that manage more than $40 billion in assets, expected that half of its roughly 75 New York City employees would relocate.
Amanda Kerley, the chief experience officer at Dynasty, worked closely with DuBuque and other locals to plan three distinct weekend trips for employees to showcase what St. Petersburg had to offer. Dynasty even created a website to help employees navigate the weekend events, dubbed Project Sunshine.
On one excursion, employees with children toured local schools and attended a Tampa Bay Lightning hockey game. On another outing, employees watched the Rays’ opening day from a suite, perused local real estate, and attended a private tour of the Dali Museum, home to the largest collection of surrealist Salvador Dalí’s works outside of Spain. A third group attended the St. Petersburg Seafood & Music Festival at Vinoy Park, toured a brewery, and sailed at sunset. All attendees spent three nights at The Don CeSar hotel. The “Pink Palace” opened on the beach in 1928, and has hosted luminaries including Clarence Darrow and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The ultimate aim, of course, was to dazzle and convince New Yorkers that St. Petersburg’s entertainment and nightlife could hold its own against the Big Apple.
“I had reupped and signed a one-year lease the day before Shirl announced the move of the headquarters to the firm. I thought to myself, ‘This is incredibly exciting but the timing of this could not be any less opportune,’” said Nick Gerace, a senior vice president of Investments at Dynasty.
Gerace said other employees in the room were as shocked as he was by the news of the move to St. Petersburg and, like him, knew little about the city.
After visiting, though, the Philadelphia native was onboard. He’s now living in a luxury apartment building with comparable amenities to his old apartment in Manhattan, only it’s twice as large and the rent is 40% lower. For the first time, his apartment can accommodate a sectional couch and king size bed.
In New York City, Gerace considered himself “spoiled” having to walk just 30 minutes each way from his Hell’s Kitchen home to Dynasty’s midtown office. Even that improved. A 10 minute stroll gets him to work.
Golf was a rare treat for Gerace while living in New York. No longer. As he and other Dynasty employees have settled into their new digs, they’ve begun sampling local courses to see which clubs they might join. More than a dozen courses exist less than a 40-minute drive from Dynasty’s headquarters in the arts district adjacent to downtown.
“In New York you just go, go, go and you don't really think about what you do for fun, or your hobbies,” Kerley said.
Other employees have experienced similar lifestyle improvements, in the form of bigger homes and yards, new pets, and more amenities. Junior employees, who heretofore may have been crammed in apartments with roommates, have their own places.
Beyond the tangible, and quantifiable, benefits of relocating that the excursions showcased, an invisible, and impossible to value, gift has apparently had the most profound impact upon those who have relocated: more time.
Kerley recalled a recent surprise lunch visit from her husband and one of her daughters near Dynasty’s new office, something essentially impossible when she worked at the old headquarters. She’s also shaved a total of two hours from her daily commute. Arriving at home early enough to watch her daughters ride their bikes in the neighborhood was a luxury she was without before.
“I didn’t realize that I missed so much,” Kerley said.
Choosing to make the move was a weighty decision for the born-and-raised New Yorker but she found herself smiling, bouncing out of the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles, of all places, with a license for her new state of residency. After visiting and hearing all the positive reviews, Kerley’s parents are now planning to move to the area. A campaign is underway to convince her three brothers-in-law to follow.
Penney had been commuting back and forth between New York City and Saratoga Springs on weekends since he started Dynasty nine years ago. His wife has “really been a single mother during the week” to their two daughters, he said. It was a worthwhile trade-off that enabled their kids to grow up in a small town like they did.
“There is a sense of needing to run as hard as you can in that race. I did it for almost 20 years and I think we did it well,” Penney said.
The move to St. Petersburg did more than resolve that. For the first time in their lives, Penney and his daughters, who are 10 and 13 years old, will get a chance to eat dinner together on a Wednesday night.
A sense of family has always been part of Dynasty’s culture, said Kerley, who joined the firm at its inception. The headquarters’ geography now reflects and enables that.
For that same reason, a handful of employees have elected to stay. Joe Dursi, who oversees Dynasty’s investment platforms, said an argument can be made for their investment team to remain in New York, the country’s financial capital. But he also grew up on Long Island, where most of his family still lives. Dursi didn’t rule out the possibility of someday making the move.
Family or not, there is much to contemplate when thinking about leaving New York City.
“I thought I would miss pizza, to tell you the truth and, weirdly enough, I’m finding places that are actually comparable,” said Dynasty CFO Justin Weinkle.