Ken Fisher, the embattled founder and frontman of RIA giant Fisher Investments, has killed his $112 billion brand -- at least according to an overwhelming majority of respondents to an FA-IQ straw poll.
As reported, Alex Chalekian, the CEO of a $90 million AUM RIA, posted on Twitter a video describing what he said were “horrifying” and “inappropriate’ comments made by Fisher on Tuesday last week at the Tiburon CEO Summit in San Francisco.
Chalekian, who founded Lake Avenue Financial, said Fisher talked about genitalia, picking up girls and tripping on acid, among other “inappropriate” things.
He said Fisher also made references to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and talked about how charities are immoral. Chalekian’s video, which has been viewed more than 140,000 times, is posted below.
In the FA-IQ poll, published Monday, we asked readers if Fisher’s remarks at the conference have tarnished the Fisher Investments name and will cost his company clients, or if end-investors are unlikely to hear about the event and even if they do, they’re unlikely to connect the dots to take action.
Fisher is the executive chairman and co-CIO of Fisher Investments, which had $112 billion in AUM as of September 30, according to the firm’s website.
As of 4:30 p.m. EST Monday, around 85% of the 71 straw poll respondents said yes, the brand has been tarnished and will cost his company clients. FA-IQ’s readers are largely practitioners in the broker-dealer and investment advisory industry.
Fisher Investments has already experienced a pullout of client assets. The state of Michigan has withdrawn $600 million of its pension fund from Fisher Investments, as reported by the Washington Post.
Jon Braeutigam, deputy treasurer and CIO for Michigan’s Department of Treasury, informed the state’s investment board on Thursday last week that the Bureau of Investments has terminated its relationship with Fisher Investments because of Fisher’s “completely unacceptable comments,” the report says.
Apology upon apology
Fisher and his firm have been apologizing for the conference remarks since Wednesday.
Fisher has so far sent Fisher Investment’s roughly 1,750 employees two emails to apologize — one hours after the Chalekian video was posted and another late last week. Fisher has so far issued two media statements.
In the second email Fisher sent employees, which was seen by FA-IQ on Monday, he said: “I can recognize the last few days have been difficult for many of you. It pains me to know that my comments have caused you grief.”
Fisher reiterated in the second email his acknowledgment that he has “been at the center of controversy in the media” because of his comments at the Tiburon event.
“It’s clear to me now that some of the words and phrases I used to make certain points were unnecessary, inappropriate, and have no place in our company, industry, or society. They certainly don’t reflect my values or the firm’s. I want you to feel proud to work here and I recognize I may have let some of you down. I want to make clear to all of you — one of my proudest accomplishments is building a firm where so many of you have chosen to build lifelong careers. My life’s work is the well-being of this firm, our clients, my family, and all of you,” Fisher says in the email.
“As I said earlier, my focus remains on building the best firm possible for all clients and FI-ers,” he notes, referring to employees of Fisher Investments.
“One of the things that’s become clear to me is that we haven’t done an adequate job communicating our values internally and externally — meritocracy, inclusion, life-long careers and being unconstrained by convention. [Fisher Investments CEO] Damian [Ornani], I and the leadership team are committed to ensuring we address issues raised by my comments. I’m confident we can come out of this stronger and better as a result. You’ll hear from Damian soon on our action plan,” he says.
“Again, let me say how sorry I am that I’ve put you all in this position,” he adds.
Ken Fisher’s “terms of endearment”
Ornani followed that up with a letter sent to employees Friday containing a categorical apology on behalf of Fisher, an acknowledgment that the firm can do better in the areas of diversity and inclusion, and the creation of a task force to address diversity and inclusion issues.
"Let me be clear: Ken’s comments were wrong. He has admitted that and apologized for them,” Ornani says in the email.
“I accept his apology because I know he, as the founder of this firm, has built the values we all share into the fabric of this firm and I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that he loves this firm more than anything in the world. We have always been committed to our female employees exactly the same as our male employees. We value and support our female and minority colleagues,” Ornani adds.
Ornani references in his letter how Fisher communicates with employees.
“He will often say they ‘bleed Fisher green’ or have ‘FI stamped on their butt.’ He has said it about me many times over the years,” Ornani says.
“He uses those phrases as terms of endearment for those who understand our culture deeply and live it every day. I have always taken it as a sincere compliment. Ken’s comments about employees were reported in a very derogatory manner that don’t relate at all to how his true feelings have ever been or are today,” he adds.
In the video circulated on Twitter, Chalekian made references to how Fisher allegedly conducts himself in the workplace and an alleged comment about Fisher’s view on slavery.
“I’ve come to find out, talking to others in the conference, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Ken Fisher is actually known for making these kinds of comments around the workplace with his employees. One of his past employees told me that he [Fisher] made a comment to them that he thinks slavery should have never been abolished,” Chalekian says in the video.
FA-IQ reached out to Fisher Investments to ask if there are concerns within the company that Fisher’s self-described “colorful” means of expression may have created a hostile working environment.
FA-IQ also wanted to know if Fisher is reassessing the way he expresses himself at the workplace, with clients and in public, given the backlash to his conference remarks.
Fisher Investments declined to comment for this article.