From mail room to marketing chief
January 4, 1999
Rui Moura, now 40 and vice president and chief marketing officer at Jones & Babson of Kansas City, got his start in the mutual funds industry 12 years ago figuring out how to rationalize Fidelity's mail.
Ned Johnson, chairman and ceo of Fidelity, selected Moura- at the time assistant vice president of operations, without a specific assignment- to run the company's mail operations. Johnson thought Moura's experience as a Marine Corps first lieutenant had imbued him with the ability to impose the discipline he felt was needed in the mail operation, says Moura.
"He told me he had a very serious discipline and control problem in what was Fidelity's life blood' and was looking for someone with a drill sergeant mentality to correct it, give it structure," says Moura.
Now, Moura is tackling the late 20th century equivalent of the mail room- the Internet- and translating the lessons he learned from his early days in the industry.
After five years in the Marine Corps, Moura joined Fidelity with the ill-defined task of learning the mutual fund business. At that time, before the commercialization of the Internet and the advent of the mutual fund supermarket, the U.S. Postal service was central to Fidelity's operations. All its statements, other types of shareholder communications, everything having to do with the business, went through the mail. But Fidelity's system was inefficient.
Given the task of rationalizing the operation, Moura decided step one was understanding the existing operations thoroughly. He decided to become a piece of mail. He personally traced the route of a letter, taking planes to follow the mail path, and skulking around mail facilities at wee hours of the morning to learn about the secret lives of envelopes. He concluded that the U.S. mails were actually quite efficient and that it was Fidelity's own operations that were for the most part the cause of the company's mail problems.
To change that, he informed Fidelity's decentralized marketing departments that they should not be using red envelopes because the postal departments' electronic scanners have difficulty reading red. He also helped set up regional mail facilities and made Fidelity the third company in the country (after American Express and Reader's Digest) to get its own zip code. He further assigned different internal zip codes for the company's 19 different buildings in Boston and the fourteen cities in which the company had offices. He also set up a management training system in the mail department and made the mail department a critical training ground for the company's top management. He also introduced "Nedly" at the company, an electronic robot that delivered mail throughout the Boston headquarters.
Moura decided that the mail operations was a perfect management training area because it is an area plagued by poor morale, the stereotype that anyone who lands there is going nowhere and indeed, not dominated by employees with the greatest skills or work histories. These are some of the toughest problems facing any manager and anyone who succeeds in dealing with them has skills that are valuable throughout a company.
While Moura found his experience at Fidelity invaluable, he says he was uncomfortable with the management philosophy of pitting the most aggressive go-getters against each other and allowing the "one still standing at the end of the day," to prevail. Moura preferred a more cooperative approach and left in 1987 to join the Boston Safe Deposit & Trust, the retail bank subsidiary of The Boston Company, as assistant vice president.
Moura helped create systems for the private banking unit such as a bank by mail capability before leaving for six months in 1990 to serve, as a captain in the Marine Corps reserves, in the Persian Gulf War.
Returning with his 21-person unit intact, he resumed work at the Boston Safe Deposit but this time concentrating on the mutual fund side of the firm. He helped build up the firm's $1.4 billion proprietary mutual fund family- what he calls the "stealth funds" because no one noticed them. The company's mutual fund business was marginal because it conflicted with the company's administration and custody businesses. To build up the retail business, Moura led a painstaking effort to form relationships with advisers "one by one." He then went to work for Funds Distributor, the affiliated company charged with distributing bank funds.
Moura joined Jones & Babson at the end of 1997 to oversee the promotion of Babson's three mutual fund complexes under administration- the Babson Funds, the Buffalo Funds and the Scout Group of funds. The promotions were aimed at mostly fee-based financial intermediaries. Since joining Jones & Babson, which now has $4.3 billion under management, Moura's focus has changed. His original goal was to, "build the firm into an intermediary/401(k) distribution juggernaut," he says. But the firm decided it was time to redefine how it did business. It is now turning itself into a marketing powerhouse, shedding its servicing-only reputation, (it just completed an overhaul turning over back-office systems to DST) and building stronger links with its parent for increased global distribution of product offerings.
Moura's immediate goal is to build relationships with an eventual network of 700 to 800 financial planners. And he is set to take the firm into the 21st century with an investment in advanced Internet capabilities that does not just play catch up but leapfrogs past competitors, said Moura.