Surprised Wealthfront's Adam Nash took off the gloves? You shouldn't be

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12 March 2015
William Trout
In my last post I discussed the contretemps between Wealthfront and Charles Schwab. Here I look at what Adam Nash’s salvo across the Charles Schwab bow suggests about where he’s taking his fast-growing firm, and about his leadership style. The readiness of Nash (after barely a year as CEO) to go after Schwab reflects a changing of the guard on three fronts.
  • The first change is generational. As I told RIA Biz, Nash has little truck for tradition, and even less patience for what he sees as inefficient or customer-unfriendly practices.
  • Second, Nash is a disruptor by nature. His predecessor (Stanford Business School professor and storied venture capitalist) Andy Rachleff, while brilliant and innovative, is very much invested in the Silicon Valley ecosystem.
  • Three, Nash is a software engineer, while Rachleff (Wharton ’80) is a businessman and investor.
This latter distinction is perhaps the most important of all, as it suggests a sea change in a longstanding industry narrative. In today’s digital ecosystem, software engineering firm vs. incumbent increasingly is not a fair fight. As I note in a recent report, it is questionable whether an established firm outside the Bay Area could even hope to attract enough talented engineers to build anything on the scale that Schwab has done. Looking forward, established firms will increasingly struggle to keep up with nimble start-ups. The readiness of Millennials like Nash to speak to truth to power underscores this power shift. Indeed, Nash’s damn-the-torpedoes approach reflects not just his personal style, it speaks to the way he does business.

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