Shirl Penney rose from the humblest of beginnings to achieve prominence in the fast-paced world of financial management as the founder of Dynasty Financial Partners, a company that created an innovative platform for independent financial advisors. Orphaned as a child, he was raised by his step-grandfather and was sometimes homeless, cold and hungry in rural Maine. In 2019, in a major coup for the Sunshine City, he moved his company, whose network of advisors manages some $60 billion in assets, from Manhattan to downtown St. Petersburg.
Years in St. Pete
Organizations involved in
Unfortunately, we lost my mother-in-law to Lou Gehrig’s disease, so my wife and I are very passionate supporters of various charities supporting ALS research, and we’re big proponents of education, financial literacy and fighting food insecurity. The two things that are very difficult in life that I can speak to are being cold and being hungry. You put those two things together, and it’s not good. So I’m a big supporter and believer in issues around food insecurities. We’ve donated to food banks in quite a number of places, and we’ve donated to programs to help feed people during the pandemic here locally.
What gets you out of bed every day?
I love what I’m doing with Dynasty. I’m the founder of Dynasty, so I joke that I have three kids, you know, my daughters and the business of Dynasty. And I love our clients. We have 50 firms, registered independent advisors, that we support. I’m very close with a good number of those firms, as well as their clients that they support. And then more broadly, obviously my kids, who I adore. Townsend is 14 and Claire, who is 12. And my wife, Marianne. I’m a big family guy.
Why St. Pete?
It checked all the boxes on the infrastructure side, you know, the fact that with airports in St. Pete and Tampa, you have the ability to have a direct flight between those two airports from anywhere in the country, essentially. And the walkability — so many of my team members were tired of long commutes in the city. So that was very, very positive. And all the local sports teams, the culture, the nightlife, all of those things had people excited, but the last thing — and this was very tangible for me — is I felt like every time we came here, I was getting this big community bear hug and, and it would be other CEOs reaching out, trying to be helpful.
What is one habit that you keep?
I am known in the industry for my work ethic. I tell a lot of young people, when you find your passion, it’s actually not work. It’s what you’re thinking about all the time, and you’re committed to it and passionate about it, and you want to go all in. For me, I’ve always been up early and in the office when there’s a lot to get done, working hard. I am very present with my kids and my wife, but I love being in the captain’s chair, in the office, with the team. So I think, you know, commitment to my craft has been a habit always.
Who are some people that influence you?
Certainly my step-grandfather, who raised me. He had only a sixth-grade education but he taught me the importance of integrity. He always told me I could do anything in life if I was willing to work hard enough and commit myself to it. He was hugely supportive of me. And because we were very poor, he taught me the importance of capital stewardship and trying to do as much as you can with very little, which, as you can imagine, is pretty good training for an entrepreneur.
What is one piece of insight - a book, methodology, practice - that you would share with our readers?
My leadership philosophy is to be cold on numbers, but warm on people. What I mean by that is to be very clear on goals, with no ambiguity, so everyone understands what we’re trying to achieve together. But sometimes, even with best efforts, if you’re not successful, you need to make changes. But you do it in a way that’s very respectful and with a high level of integrity.
What is one thing you wish you knew about your work 3 years ago?
It took us 18 months to decide whether we were going to move out of Manhattan. We were very, very concerned about making sure that we picked the right place so that our employees would move and they’d be happy. We looked at companies up and down the east coast, but looking back, we were probably a little oversensitive and spent too much time on the analysis, because once we made the decision and people started moving here, what we found is that they were saying, “I wish that you had done this sooner.” So, I wish three years ago I would’ve known then how happy our employees would be in St. Pete, because I would have moved even sooner.
On the business front, we’re racing toward $100 billion in assets. We think we can get there within 24 months, given our growth rate. We really want to become the largest independent wealth management brand in the country. Our industry is rapidly moving toward independent wealth management advice, where clients are looking to get advice separate from where products are manufactured. With our model, there’s no connectivity between advice and product sales. That space is growing so fast because clients fundamentally understand why it’s a better structure for them. So where Dynasty is headed, our five-year brand architecture, is to become the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for independent advisors. Like that “Intel Inside” sticker on computers. So look for an independent advisor, but look for one that’s powered by Dynasty. That’s where we’re headed as an organization.