When Wendy Dominguez (BSBA 1991, MBA 1992) considers hiring someone at her investment advising firm, she is, naturally, interested in the candidate’s qualifications, experience and aptitude for the job. But before she considers any of that, she hones in on the candidate’s character.
“We hire stewards, we hire people who are really smart in finance but it’s always character first for us,” said Dominguez, president and co-founder of Denver-based Innovest Portfolio Solutions, LLC. “We determine whether they want to take care of other people. If that’s the case, we can check that box and then make sure they’re smart and have the ability to do the work we need them to do. But it always starts with that stewardship question.”
The concept of stewardship—and doing the right thing—is what Innovest is all about, according to Dominguez. Indeed, it’s why the firm exists at all. In the mid 1990s, Dominguez was working for a Denver branch of a Wall Street-based investment bank when she and a colleague, Rich Todd, were taken to task by the bank president for firing an investment manager because of poor performance. “We didn’t know it at the time but the investment manager was one of the largest trading partners of our Wall Street bank,” Dominguez recalled. “The president reminded us that we shouldn’t only consider our clients but the firm’s shareholders as well. That didn’t sit well with us.”
Dominguez and Todd felt so strongly, in fact, that they severed ties with the Wall Street bank and founded Innovest in 1996 with the mandates of being independent, objective and always putting clients first. “Keeping clients at the forefront of all decisions and eliminating all conflicts of interest is what we’re about,” Dominguez said.
This adherence to a code of ethics is something that resonated with Dominguez while she was a student at Daniels in the early 1990s. Just a few years before she enrolled at the College, Bill Daniels—the “father of cable television”—presented the University of Denver with a challenge grant to update its graduate business curriculum to emphasize ethics and leadership. “That focus really helped me figure out the type of firm I wanted to work for and how I wanted to operate in this world. It was hugely impactful for me,” she said.
Operating ethically has been hugely impactful for Innovest as well. Since its founding, the firm has grown from 5 employees to 47; from 25 clients to more than 220; and from $250 million in assets for which it consults to more than $18 billion. And then there are the awards: The firm and its services are consistently ranked among the top in the nation by entities such as Financial Advisor, Forbes, PLANSPONSOR and the Denver Business Journal, among others.
Dominguez is no slouch in the awards department either with accolades that include making Employee Benefit Adviser Magazine’s list of the “Top 25 Most Influential Women in Benefit Advising” (2014 and 2016); the Financial Times’ list of “Top 100 Women Financial Advisers” (2014); and the Denver Business Journal’s Outstanding Women in Business Awards (Dominguez was a finalist in 2016 and 2017).
One award makes Dominguez particularly proud, however: For three of the last four years Innovest has been named one of the “Best Places to Work in Money Management” by Pensions and Investments magazine. And with mentorship programs, firm-wide community service projects, and regular check-ins to determine what’s going well and what’s posing a challenge, it’s easy to see why employees find Innovest such a nurturing work environment. Not to mention the passion its senior leaders bring to the table. “I love it all. I love coming to work and being able to help people—our clients and our employees,” Dominguez said. “Rich, my partner, sends an email to the whole firm every Monday morning called, ‘We Love Mondays,’ which recognizes accomplishments from the past week to get everybody charged up for Monday. I think that says a lot about the culture here.”
Something else that speaks volumes about Innovest’s culture are the personal codes of ethics employees develop, identifying principles for which they stand (you can read many of them on the Innovest website). While Dominguez has delineated several beliefs as part of her personal code—including “The ends do not justify the means,” and “My success will ultimately be judged by what my children think of me”—one is particularly resonant for the Pioneer. “It’s ‘Look up, get up and never give up,’” she said. “That’s actually what my husband, my kids and I decided we stand for as a family. So that is the one that’s most important to me.”