Inspired Leadership: A Q&A With COO James Spinelli

The RIA industry continues to grow at a record pace, with the number of SEC-registered advisers and their assets under management growing substantially in recent years, according to the latest Evolution Revolution Report from the Investment Adviser Association and National Regulatory Services. This growth is driven by visionary and future-minded leaders who understand the industry’s direction and are willing to challenge traditional thinking within firms.

Here at GVA, one of the leaders driving our firm’s innovation is James Spinelli, our chief operating officer and managing director. James was recently invited to appear on Executive Leaders Radio to discuss his path to leadership, and how his upbringing and family dynamic laid the foundation for his current career. During the interview, James spoke about his family’s entrepreneurial roots, and what sparked his initial love for technology.

This passion for technology and innovation remains strong today and is at the heart of his work with GVA. James’ visionary mindset and appetite for innovation have shaped the GVA community, and he strives to enhance the advisor experience every day. We recently sat down with him to discuss his philosophy and leadership style at GVA. Here’s more from our conversation:

Tell us about your leadership style at GVA. How does this impact the GVA experience for advisors?

I am drawn to leaders who are truthful, honest and willing to be fully transparent. These are the qualities I look to embody. My leadership style is very open, transparent and focused on facilitating communication. This creates a better experience for our advisors and the employees across GVA because it ensures we all remain on the same page. It allows us to be interconnected and openly discuss new ideas and trends.

This approach benefits advisors at GVA because they can truly understand what we are doing as a firm, our vision and our future direction. When we can effectively communicate what we are aiming to accomplish, what is really happening at the home office and within the walls of GVA, then it makes our advisors feel more confident and able to grow their business in the same direction we are trying to grow the larger firm. It goes hand-in-hand.

You have spoken about your family’s successful printing business. How does your family’s entrepreneurial roots inspire your work today?

When I was growing up, I spent almost every single day with my grandparents. As a child, there’s really nothing better than that! Along with the amazing memories created during this time, I saw firsthand the work that went into my family’s business. My father and grandfather both worked for ANRO Printing, alongside my great-aunt and great-uncle. As a child, I used to visit my family at the printing shop, and I would see how hard work and determination equates to success, as long as you stay focused on your goals. I will always remember a quote from my Great-Aunt Rose, who started ANRO. She said that she never wanted to have children because the business was her child. That sentiment captured her level of intensity, work ethic and focus on building the business.

My grandfather was in this environment every single day, and would later be joined there by my father. The collective focus, determination and work ethic were passed down through the generations. This inspired me to do what I do today with GVA.

What elements of the “family business culture” inspire the GVA experience?

We work with all kinds of businesses and advisor practices at GVA — some of them family businesses in the traditional sense and others a group of tight-knit individuals who feel like family. The family dynamic is great in the workplace. Everyone who joins GVA is part of our family, community and network, and I am confident that our employees and advisors feel this way too. We are fostering a specific culture here, built on transparency and trust. Our team knows we are operating in their best interests, so they can act in the best interests of their clients. There is always that family element, which comes from how I was raised. This is something that I have emphasized in growing GVA and I think every individual who works in our office, or is part of our network, feels it too.

How do you apply your visionary thinking and innovative approach to your work with GVA?

I have always loved technology, and I was a bit of a geek growing up — always into computers, writing code and working on websites. I was constantly looking for the next big thing, so I had that big picture and visionary mindset. I looked for the holes and brainstormed ideas to fill them, then found the people to help execute on the ideas.

As a visionary and leader, you need to make sure you have the right people around you. I am a big ideas person, and I really thrive off idea sharing and thinking outside the box. I know my team can follow this line of thinking, see my vision and execute on it, all for the benefit of our network. If you don’t have that original idea, and you’re not disruptive in a good way, you’re not a visionary. You have to believe you are innovative and do everything under the sun to make it work.

The idea of community and family are important to who you are and your approach to work. How does this influence your day-to-day? How do GVA advisors benefit?

The GVA network is a community of advisors who are like-minded and focused on similar goals, such as advancing their businesses, improving operational efficiency and building legacy businesses. We view everyone as entrepreneurs and business owners. They are not GVA employees, but rather working toward their own goals and operating independently with the support of the larger GVA community.

The community component is an essential part of the GVA experience. It allows our advisors to collaborate with our team and one another, to ensure they are making the right decisions for their business and facilitating growth. Our advisors can network directly with other advisors who have experience in specific areas, and they can share ideas with like-minded professionals.

This community is like a family. I believe your family experience is very important and shapes who you are well into your professional years, including how you act in meetings or interact with others in your office. For me, I have been heavily focused on work since we founded GVA, but I am also heavily involved at home. I want to do the exact same thing my parents and grandparents did for us. Even though my father was very involved at work, he always made it a point to come to my games as a kid. If you have a really good experience at home, it translates to your work life too.

Culture is so important in today’s workplace. A lot of companies are talking about this, but we are really dialed into it here at GVA. The idea of fostering a positive and productive culture is central to our decision-making. If you are creating a great culture at home, it lends itself to a great culture at work.

Where do you look for advice, inspiration and insight?

From an industry standpoint, I am an avid reader, absorbing as much knowledge about technology and fintech as I can. I like to follow tech-focused news to inspire new ideas and find advice on common issues.

On a more personal level, there is one person I go to for business and career advice, and that’s my father. He and I are always speaking about challenges, new ideas and ways to evolve our businesses for the better. I also look to my grandfather. I have a photo of him in my office and look at it often, reflecting on his work ethic and dedication to family and business. He was a war veteran, a dedicated business professional, and a loving father, husband and grandfather. After a long day at work, he came home and tended to an enormous garden at his home in Devon, Pennsylvania. I saw firsthand how dedication and perseverance pay off. Looking back now, I realize how few hours there are in the day to focus on the various things that demand and warrant your attention. It’s hard to keep a balance.

When I look for inspiration, it is right here within GVA. Seeing the advisors we now work with and where we are today compared to just a few years ago, the progression has been truly amazing. People often ask how we have achieved so much growth in a relatively short period of time. Our team shares a forward-thinking and forward-looking mentality. Every employee knows how to take it to the next level and that’s an inspiration in and of itself. If you are not working with the right people who inspire you to do something better, you aren’t doing it right. This inspiration is what we strive for every single day, and it directly benefits our advisors because we have opened up so many different avenues enabling us to grow. We have had great partnerships throughout the years, and these are really a testament to what goes on at GVA.

What do you feel is the most important thing for advisors to learn about GVA as they are getting to know you?

GVA is transparent. We are going to fight for our advisors 100% of the time, each and every day. We have a great team of people here who will work with the advisors and help them grow their book, whether they want to sit in on every phone call or connect with us when the time’s right.

That is how GVA was built, and it’s the same way we will run the company in the future. There is no reason for us to change this approach because we have proven that it works. That’s the kind of company we want to stand behind. 

For more insight on the GVA culture, leadership philosophy and opportunities for advisors within our network, schedule a call with us. Connect with us on LinkedIn and Facebook for our latest insights and team updates.