Part 1: How Doug Brown of Exelon Mentors Future CIOs

Doug Brown, senior vice president and CIO of Exelon, submitted photo

It’s not a chief investment officer’s job to groom some one else’s career, and yet, the good ones know, a positive learning environment is necessary in order to recruit and retain the best talent and create stability for their fund’s investments. The sharpest job candidates are interviewing the intelligence,  humaneness and wisdom of their bosses, as well as the job’s potential for growing their careers.

But how do you do it right? How do you groom your investment team to grow their careers while also buttressing your fund and its investments? (Especially in volatile markets, when you need all people on deck doing what they do best.)

As I asked the question, one name came up repeatedly. He’s a chief investment officer who has groomed at least six people and counting, to rise to the chief investment officer seat, and has been a mentor and a coach for countless others. His name is Doug Brown, chief investment officer of Exelon, and he is considered one of the best mentors in the industry. Working on his team is likely to increase your chances of having the best of both worlds: you’ll be given plenty of opportunity to flourish, and you won’t be isolated into the niche that you do best. It means that you will be given an environment to learn so many new skills that you will eventually have enough acumen to rise to the top spot yourself, should you want it. 

 “That’s what it’s all about,” said Brown.

When asked to get into detail on how he creates such a successful learning environment, he smiled and said, “why don’t you ask them?” And so, I made appointments with five of his former teammates or mentees who became chief investment officers to find out what methods he used, and what was so different about his leadership style that it allowed them to rise.

Brown’s first role as CIO was at Chrysler Motors Corp., where he started his career in 1983, worked in the Treasury department, and later became chief investment officer in 2003 before becoming CIO of Exelon in 2009.

For Part 1 of this series, we will start with one of Brown’s first investment team members at Exelon, who watched him create the Doug Model that built the team’s foundations.

Part 1:

Neil Roache, of Johnson and Johnson, on the “Doug Model”

“Having coached seven CIOs, that’s not luck,” said Neil Roache, now CIO of Johnson and Johnson, who was one of the first members of Brown’s investment team at Exelon, and watched as he built the team from scratch. He considers watching his leadership approach one of the most important things he has learned.

To this day, Roache follows what he calls the “Doug Model,” named after Doug Brown.

When laying the foundation of the team, the Doug Model’s first principles start with choosing the right investment strategy. From there, the next question is: what does the team need to look like in order to execute that strategy effectively? After that, the third question is: what should the governance model look like to be able to empower that team to execute?

From there, Brown gave the team “a lot of rope” as the saying goes. The team functioned as its own ecosystem with a “high level of scrutiny,” said Roache. Each could challenge an investment, discuss it, ask questions of it, and all team members voted on new investments. The team culture was selfless service to the team, company, and ecosystem they created.  The team members could attend investment committee meetings, where Brown would allow them to explain investment decisions.

“What we do, day-to-day is incredibly technical. It takes an entire career to understand some of the concepts and dynamics of managing large portfolios. But Doug was very good at communicating very complicated things in simple terms” so that committee members could all follow the investment decisions, whether or not they had a background in finance.

As CIO, Brown had veto power, and often had the wisdom to advise when not to do something. He encouraged new ideas, but would also explain why something wouldn’t work. He also had an off-sheet list of references that he could call to get invaluable details about an investment.

“And at the end of the day, if something was the right thing to do, you always knew you could do it, and that he would always have your back,” said Roache.

Family is important to Brown, so much so, that spouses were invited to company parties, and there would always be extra seats at sports games for the kids. (“Probably the best litmus test is that my kids think Doug is cool,” laughed Roache) 

Brown engenders trust.

“He was never going to burn you. Or treat you unfairly. That creates a level of trust, and you want to work harder for someone.  You never want to let someone down that treats you that way. And it makes sense that he's just always, always looking out for the team, always finding opportunities for the team,” reflected Roache.

To this day, if Roache has a challenge and needs to phone a friend, Brown is the first call he’ll make.

Stay tuned for interviews with four others who credit Doug Brown with helping them to become CIOs, including one with a new mother who was once his mentee as a part time worker, who is now a CIO of a public company.

Story by Christine Giordano

Group photo by Tima Miroshnichenko