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After Adversity, Building a Culture of Integrity: A Conversation with K&B Chair Sheila Baird Thumbnail

After Adversity, Building a Culture of Integrity: A Conversation with K&B Chair Sheila Baird

Sheila Baird—the Baird in Kimelman & Baird—doesn’t dwell on the past. She’s more focused on the work of the present: sourcing interesting and sound investments, taking care of K&B clients—some of whom have been with the firm for decades—and overseeing the firm’s philanthropic efforts.

And now, Sheila is looking squarely toward the future. She’s spent decades building a culture that has come to define K&B, with an aim to set the firm apart from other financial service providers. Core to that team are the partners Sheila has spent years mentoring, and who embody the values she’s inculcated: values that include integrity, client service, and resilience. Here’s how Sheila—and, by extension, Kimelman & Baird—came to have those values.

Persevering through Adversity

Sheila, the firm’s Chair and co-CIO, was a founding member of K&B, and her name has been on its door for nearly 30 years. While she has always been a leader at the firm, that was not always the case in her career, which began in the 1960s. At the time, Sheila was one of very few women working on Wall Street. “It was difficult on research trips, because I was female,” says Sheila. “It wasn’t always easy to get an appointment with senior management, and if I did get the appointment, they could be quite dismissive.”

Those types of interactions didn’t preclude Sheila from soldiering on, but they did sometimes influence her judgment about whether to invest in the companies she was researching. “I hung in because I didn’t want to be a secretary, and that was the alternative,” she explains. “But there were lots of places women weren’t admitted to, so you couldn’t go to certain meetings.” She remembers a doorman denying her entry to a particular event at a club that by policy did not admit women. “We had to go in through the service elevator,” she says.

Rather than deter her, these challenges galvanized Sheila. She never accepted the status quo, but rather worked with other women in the industry to subvert it. “These types of experiences are why the Financial Women’s Association (FWA) was started,” Sheila says. “Because we couldn’t get into the Financial Analyst Federation.” In 1974, Sheila was elected President of the FWA, and in 1978 she traveled with the organization to China, where she studied the nation’s economic structure, business enterprises, political framework, and social organizations.

Building a Firm Culture

That no-nonsense, can-do attitude has defined Sheila and her work for decades. It’s the same attitude she applies to firm-building, and which has shaped the very culture of K&B.

“Our values—customer focus, integrity—have been there from day one,” explains Sheila. “It’s just a given: you do the right thing—period—all the time. We’ve never deviated from that.” Sheila reflects on another firm she had worked for, which cut corners and did not always act ethically. “By the way, it went out of business,” she says. “That just reinforced my belief that you do the right thing, and doing the wrong thing doesn’t work.”

That unwavering commitment to integrity has resonated with clients, many of whom have been engaged with K&B for years, and who receive the highest standard of care under the leadership of partner and Head of Client Relations Yasmeen Mock. The closeness of these relationships is immensely attractive to Sheila. “It is gratifying when we can see people being able to have a financial life that supports what their own values and ambitions are,” she says.  

Reaching that point, of course, is incumbent upon the firm’s sound investment strategy, which Sheila has guided over the years, and which Co-CIOs Scott Kimelman and Sapan Vyas shepherd today. “The most gratifying part about the investment process is when you’re right, obviously,” she says. “But the work is always enjoyable because it’s always a challenge. There are always new things to learn, and it’s never boring.”

The relative volatility in today’s markets certainly keeps things far from boring, but it’s not overly concerning to Sheila. “The present situation is obviously fraught with lots of problems, but at the same time we don’t have the serious problems we did for instance in ’08, ’09, ’10,” she says. “I think it’s easier now to see a way out of the economic problems we’re having now. I think they’re solvable.”

Sheila’s landed on that opinion after more than five decades in the financial services industry and exposure to multiple market cycles. “Absolutely my experience has affected my perspective,” she says. “The grounding is that if you look back over the years, the U.S. economy has grown with bumps along the way. There’s no question, though, that the long-term trend is up. One way or another, with more or less pain, we’ve lived through the downturns. I have a basic faith in the U.S. economy.”

Through faith, integrity, perseverance, and a good deal of grit, Sheila has built a firm of which she is   proud. “Certainly Scott, Yasmeen, and Sapan have taken the lead in all these new things we’re doing, which I fully support,” Sheila says. “We’ve got a great team.  We have a wonderful group of clients that have stuck with us over many years, and we continue to get new ones. I’m very optimistic about the future.”