Michelle Smith, CEO of Source Financial Advisors is a dynamo. Standing 5’8’ tall with her hallmark head of gorgeous silver gray hair, the 48 year old Smith describes herself as a “zero to 100 mph kind of person; there is rarely a gray area with me.”  Michelle has logged more than 30 years in this business.  In this interview, Michelle discusses her decision to leave the wirehouse world 6 years ago (she was a “breakaway broker” long before the term was even coined), her partnership with her mother, and her vision for Source Financial Advisors, the specialty boutique wealth management firm she launched several months ago. 

MINDY DIAMOND: Tell me about yourself.  Who is Michelle Smith?

MICHELLE SMITH:  I am a divorced mother of an awesome 11 year old son who happens to have Down Syndrome.  He is my pride and joy. I am an all or nothing kind of person. Perhaps the best example of this is my recent decision to train for the NYC Marathon. I decided awhile back I wanted to make a commitment to running and couldn’t do it half way- I dove right into training for the marathon. I’m a problem solver and a very direct person. 

MINDY DIAMOND: Tell me about your professional history including your recent stint as founding partner of Alexandra & James, a Lebenthal wealth management firm?

MICHELLE SMITH: I spent the first 5 years of my career at Merrill Lynch which is where I teamed up with my mother, Corrine Smith, who had been a fabulous financial advisor and portfolio manager for years before I got there. Then, we moved together to PaineWebber where we spent 10 years and then we went to Wachovia (and its predecessor firms) for 7 years. Alex Lebenthal and I had been friends for about 10 years prior to the Lebenthal eventual sale to Merrill.  When Alex chose to leave Merrill, she came to me and shared my vision of creating an independent wealth management firm with family office capabilities. Together, we co-founded Alexandra & James Co. in 2006. It was a wonderful introduction to independence but I decided to launch Source Financial Advisors because I wanted to create a firm of specialists.  Lebenthal Municipal Asset Management still remains our muni manager of choice because we believe they are the best at it, and it aligns with Source’s theme of sticking with specialties. We want everything at Source to be specialized, focused, and a niche.

MINDY DIAMOND: Source Financial Advisors is a relatively new boutique firm but you, as its leader, are certainly not new to managing clients’ money and doing it for a niche set.  Tell us what your vision is for Source and what its value proposition is.

MICHELLE SMITH:  Source is a firm of specialists that serves clients who are dealing with major financial events in life such as divorce, sale of a business, liquidity events in their companies, or concentrated stock decisions.  There is no firm out there like Source today.  Other firms say they specialize in managing money post-divorce settlement or post liquidity event. We have the breadth of experience vertically to guide clients through the event, not just after it.  We have professionals such as Divorce Financial Analysts and ESOP specialists on our team.

MINDY DIAMOND: What does your staff look like today?  How do you anticipate building out your infrastructure?

MICHELLE SMITH:  Today, we are a staff of 11 and we intend to grow proportionately and strategically as the business grows. 

MINDY DIAMOND: Tell me about the partnership with your mother and the role that she plays today at Source?

MICHELLE SMITH:  My mother is a portfolio manager and a partner at Source.  She is an integral part of our organization and still very much involved.

MINDY DIAMOND:  What does your client base look like?  How much in total assets do you manage and advise to?

MICHELLE SMITH:  Our sweet spot is between $2 and $20 million and that tends to be the typical client profile.  We consult, manage or advise on close to a billion dollars and that includes assets where we are just doing the asset allocation and the consolidated reporting.