July 26, 2022
Louis Diamond Quoted
by Hayley Cuccinello
In his own words, Avy Stein flunked retirement.
In 2010, the then-chief executive of a private equity firm was diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma. He decided to step back from Willis Stein & Partners in order to focus on his health, but he didn’t rest for long.
Two years later, an acquaintance and fellow private equity executive Eric Becker reached out to Stein. Becker’s daughter had died of leukemia, and he wanted retirement advice. The two became friends as well as co-investors in a few companies and real estate developments.
By 2016, they knew they wanted to start a company together. Both were dissatisfied clients of multifamily offices and wealth managers. Their chief complaint was lack of access to direct private investments. They decided to start their own firm, and after a year of research, they launched Cresset Asset Management in November 2017.“Eric and I had life events that forced us to step back a little bit,” Stein, 67, told Insider. “Neither of us had planned to do that, and when we did, I think we gained clarity on what we really wanted to do, and that was to build something great.”
Less than five years later, the Chicago-based RIA has $27 billion in assets under management and a headcount topping 300. Cresset’s growth has been fueled by luring top advisors from household-name private banks and making five acquisitions, most recently buying the $5.4 billion wealth advisory firm Meristem in May. The firm is also expanding its private investment offerings, such as a new private credit fund.
Co-chairmen Stein and Becker were Cresset’s first investors and clients. The firm launched its family office arm a year after its founding, and making two acquisitions when Cresset was two years old.
“We wanted to build a firm that was built by clients for clients, unlike groups that spin out of a bank or wirehouse with a few clients. They’re concerned about profitability from the get-go,” Stein told Insider. “We weren’t concerned about building something – like any other startup – that wasn’t going to necessarily make money for a period of years. It was going to be built the way we wanted to build it.
Cresset uses creative compensation deals and equity to recruit top private bankers.
When Cresset first launched, the firm initially sought higher-end wirehouse teams to build its advisory base, according to recruiter Louis Diamond, who has worked with Cresset. Since then the firm’s focus has switched to private bankers and acquiring RIAs. Cresset has hired top advisors from household-name firms including Bank of America Private Bank and Goldman Sachs.
“Even though their headcount is not as high as the private banks, the teams they are attracting are the top groups within those private banks,” Diamond said.
The firm can offer attractive custom deals, Diamond said. Enticements range from upfront cash payments, a bonus based on how much of their assets are brought over to Cresset, or a percentage of revenue.