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No longer behind the scenes at AM&M

As executives at AM&M Financial Services Inc. and Tompkins Trustco Inc. considered a merger four years ago, AM&M’s due diligence rested in the hands of Thomas Rogers, its 35-year-old chief operating officer.

Despite his relative youth and admitted lack of experience in such matters, Rogers navigated the acquisition landscape that led to the transaction.

"I related easily and quickly to Tom," says James Fulmer, who is Rogers’ boss as chairman of the AM&M board. "He’s a young guy but a very good analytical thinker."

Fulmer also is president and CEO of the Bank of Castile, a Tompkins subsidiary, and a vice chairman of Tompkins Financial Corp.

"I found a lot of confidence in Tom, and comfort in him, as we were negotiating," Fulmer says. "He was part of the reason for us to move forward with the acquisition."

The deal was announced in November 2005. A month later, Rogers was announced as AM&M’s next president and CEO, replacing Russell Achzet upon Achzet’s retirement at the end of 2005.

"It was a lot of responsibility at the time for never having done it before," Rogers says of his research of Tompkins. "But when you’re face to face with honest people that you can tell just want the best for their clients and for yours, it wasn’t that hard."

Rogers, now 39, a resident of Victor in Ontario County, oversees some $500 million in discretionary assets managed by 40 AM&M employees and more than $200 million in non-discretionary assets. He also manages activities at the brokerage firm Ensemble Financial Services Inc., an AM&M subsidiary with 10 full-time employees.

Offices for both companies are on Sully’s Trail in Perinton.

"I’m the guy that sets the vision and then goes out and finds the best people I can to achieve that vision," Rogers says. "It’s my job to create an environment that’s challenging and rewarding to our employees, then let them go out and accomplish that.

"Most of our good ideas come from our staff members, who are out there dealing with our clients on a daily basis. If I can clear the way for them to be successful, ultimately we will be successful here."

Joining the firm
Rogers came to AM&M on Jan. 2, 1998, from Deloitte & Touche LLP, where he had been tax manager after joining that company as a senior tax accountant in 1995. At AM&M, he started as tax manager and controller and was promoted to chief operating officer in 1999.

"It was a much bigger jump to go to CEO from COO than to go from tax manager to COO," Rogers says. "Before I became chief operating officer, I was doing a lot of those functions already. I had already taken over some of the hiring things, and some of the internal operations had already come to me.

"When I became CEO, there were a lot of roles that Russ was doing that I had not done before, being the public face of the organization. I’ve always been more of a behind-the-scenes kind of guy."

As CEO, Rogers had to attend company events and speak at Tompkins activities on behalf of AM&M.

"I also had to get used to recognizing that my success is born out in the success of others," he says.

"I went from being a technical professional, where the things I did on paper benefited the organization, to now asking other people to go out and be successful. That makes my ability to be successful exponential. It’s a tough thing to do, to go from one to the other."

Rogers was born and raised in Avon, Livingston County. He graduated from SUNY Buffalo in 1992 with a bachelor of science degree in accounting, after which he took a job with Rochester accounting firm Walker, McGrath and Thaney.

Three years later, Rogers was hired by Deloitte & Touche.

"I decided that tax was really my ball game, not auditing," he says.

He joined AM&M nearly three years after that.

"This was a great opportunity for me to take on more of a leadership role within a small company," Rogers says.

"It was interesting because it was December of 1997, and you don’t find many tax people in December. But they had a vacant position and nobody to do their tax work here. At the time there were 200 or 300 tax clients. These files stacked up, and they needed somebody to come in."

Adding money management skills to his repertoire was a challenge during his early days at AM&M.

"I remember thinking how naive I was when I was in public accounting, about how little I knew about personal financial services," he says. "I was pigeonholed into doing tax returns. That was all I did.

"I got here and there were people doing financial planning and investment management and insurance business. I never even thought about these areas. It was a little overwhelming that there was so much more to providing good financial services than what I was accustomed to."

In announcing his plans to retire in 2005, Achzet said Rogers had been groomed to replace him from the time Rogers was hired.

"If there was grooming to be done, I wasn’t made aware of that from the onset," Rogers says. "I think Russ and I clicked very quickly. Within a matter of months, we started to work really closely together.

"Russ is a great sales and service guy, and I was a guy who focused on the organizational design and what we needed to do to grow the business. We functioned really well together. I had a desire to continue to move on within the organization, and he trusted me and respected my abilities."

Even with his corporate responsibilities, Rogers retains a handful of clients.

"I think it’s important to maintain client relationships in some regard," he says. "You don’t have a ton of time for it, but there’s no better way to get a pulse for what’s going on than to talk to clients about what their fears and aspirations are."

AM&M targets three markets, the largest of which is wealthy individuals, Rogers says. The others are executives of large corporations and owners of successful businesses.

"There are more high-net-worth individuals relative to the other two categories, and the other two categories turn into high-net-worth individuals when their careers end," Rogers says.

Behind the deal
The acquisition of AM&M by Tompkins was arranged to satisfy an exit strategy for Achzet and President William Welch, the company’s other primary shareholder. It was initiated by an attorney who worked with both AM&M and Tompkins.

"We had not even decided what we were going to do at AM&M when our attorney came to us and said there’s somebody out there that might be interested in buying," Rogers says. "We were just trying to figure out how we were going to help Russ and (Welch) liquidate their investment here.

"After we talked to the Tompkins people-Jim Fulmer was right at the front of that-we never even looked at another suitor."

Rogers downplays his role in the deal, saying the vision of executives at Tompkins was the reason for the successful transaction.

"The credit belongs to that group that saw a company that wasn’t exactly like what they were doing but saw how it could fit and serve their clients and our clients better," Rogers says.

In addition to being the holding company for AM&M, Tompkins is the parent of the Bank of Castile, which has 11 offices in the Rochester market, and of Tompkins Trust Co. and Mahopac National Bank branches in New York.

Tompkins, whose corporate offices are in Ithaca and whose assets total $2.7 billion, also is the holding company for Tompkins Insurance Agencies Inc., whose headquarters are in Batavia.

"When we were acquired, one of the things they commented to us from the onset was ‘We don’t know how to run a business like yours, and we don’t expect to,’" Rogers says. "They expected us to continue to run our business.

"By doing that, all of our people, who were initially concerned-as you would expect they would be in an acquisition situation-couldn’t be happier to be with an organization like Tompkins. That’s not the case in a lot of acquisitions."

Tompkins has incorporated some of AM&M’s best practices, Rogers says.

"We account for less than 5 percent of their total revenue, but they adopted much of our investment philosophies," he says. "We have started to bring our investment organizations together, and we’re given an equal seat at that table. They adopted some of our human resource policies.

"It seems like a small thing, but they were completely open to accepting that, as small as we were, we might be doing some things even better than we were."

AM&M’s focus is on its clients, Rogers says.

"What kind of experience is our client having with us?" he asks.

The company measures that in a variety of ways, some of which are common, such as surveys, and others uncommon.

"We have a client insight process, where we’ll sit in a client’s office or at their home with them for a few hours, talking about what’s affecting them so we can understand and better tailor our services," he says.

The firm has an advisory board of clients and non-clients that provides feedback to its leaders. Richard Ottalagana, a former chief operating officer at Paetec Holding Corp., is on that board.

"Tom is a leader," Ottalagana says. "Cream rises. There are some people that have that ‘it’ factor, and I truly believe Tom has that. It’s not because there are not a lot of smart people out there. But Tom is so receptive to ideas and suggestions and con-structive criticism."

Ottalagana and Rogers have known each other for 10 years. Rogers describes Ottalagana as a mentor.

"He and I just hit it off," Ottalagana says. "He asked me to be on his advisory board. Through that advisory board I have gotten to work with Tom. He really takes to heart the comments and advice he’s getting from the advisory board, me in particular."

Investment focus

The investment philosophy at AM&M involves risk-adjusted returns.

"We’re not out on the street selling based on performance," Rogers says. "It’s so easy to try to sell your latest performance, but that’s important only if the client needs that level of performance.

"We want to assess somebody’s risk tolerance, look at their time horizon for when they’re going to need the money, then put together a plan to get them there."

Some 90 percent of AM&M’s client base has roots in the Rochester area.

"That’s less and less now that we have a much farther reach," Rogers says. "We have clients in 42 states, with significant pockets, as you might expect, in Florida and North Carolina and even some on the West Coast."

There are no immediate plans for branch offices in the Rochester area or in other states.

"We’d like to do multiple offices," Rogers says. "We would have to have a critical mass of relationships to do that. We’ve thought about Florida, for example, where many of our clients either reside or spend their winters."

Off the job
Away from work, Rogers spends most of his time with his family. He and his wife have two sons, 10 and 8, and a 7-year-old daughter.

"With the kids at the age they are, we do a lot of outdoor activities," he says. "My kids are very active. Chasing them is my primary responsibility these days."

Rogers was a baseball player in high school.

"I kept the box score for the World Series," he says. "I loved baseball growing up."

These days, golf is his sporting passion.

"I certainly have not done it as much as I used to, with kids at this age," he says, "but I’ll get back to it."

He owns two rental properties in Victor and one in Canandaigua, and he does maintenance work on them.

"I’m the first option, but I might not be the last one, depending on how complex it is," he says. "It’s a nice outlet to do something physical when you work all day at a desk.

"My parents had rental properties when I was a kid. From the time I was old enough to be helpful, I was asked to help. I enjoyed it."

Rogers applies his home repair and building skills in his work with Habitat for Humanity. He also is involved with the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc., having recently been appointed to its board, and serves as chairman of the agency’s community investment division.

"I love Habitat for Humanity because I’ve always been particularly interested in providing people the opportunity to own their own home," he says. "I find great reward in the United Way because of the magnitude of the impact the United Way makes on this community."

Rogers is a past president of the Center for Youth Services Inc. and a board member for 10 years. He is chairman of the pension committee for the Rochester Hearing and Speech Center.

Ottalagana says of Rogers, "There are a lot of smart, hard-working people, but you wouldn’t want to have a beer with them. Tom is an incredibly nice man."

Rogers calls the last 18 months tumultuous for both AM&M and Tompkins but says they have weathered the financial tsunami better than most.

"For the first seven years of this decade, we were growing at a rate of more than 20 percent a year in revenue," he says. "The staff didn’t grow quite as fast, but certainly in the double-digit range."

AM&M has maintained its staffing levels in recent months and is prepared to start hiring again, Rogers says. Three positions are open now, he says, with five more hires anticipated in 2010.

"I’m loving what I’m doing right now," he says. "I feel like I learn every day in this job. It’s all new to me, not only my role but being part of a larger organization like this. It’s being part of the senior management team of a larger organization, a public company, and a banking organization to boot.

"There’s just so much to learn. I can’t imagine that will end in the near future. As long as I’m given the opportunity to continue to learn and grow, I think it’s a fantastic opportunity."

Thomas Rogers
Title: President and CEO, AM&M Financial Services Inc.
Age: 39
Home: Victor
Education: B.S. in accounting, SUNY Buffalo, 1992; MBA in finance, accounting and organizational strategy, Simon Graduate School of Business, 2008
Family: Wife, Tammy; sons Mason, 10, and Jackson, 8; daughter, Brooklyn, 7
Hobbies: Golf, residential renovation projects
Quote: "The recession showed some weaknesses that were inherently there. The other part was overreaction to it. I think we’ve gained some of that back, and I think we probably will continue to move in an upward direction. But I don’t think it’s going to be fast. I think it’s better for our economy that it’s a slower recovery and we’re given time to digest everything that’s happened."

 

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