Starting small – and then working hard to make it big – is how David Spinney likes to roll. As a fifth grader who weighed 84 pounds soaking wet, his Phys Ed teacher suggested he try out for the school’s wrestling team because they didn’t have any competitor in that weight category. Little as he was, his talent was huge. “I really like the sport. I had some success early on and I think that is a motivator when you’re young and trying something new,” he says.
Being young and highly motivated could also be a description of his career in investments thus far. After a move to Manitoba from his hometown of London, Ontario, Spinney found himself working as an assistant investment representative for Scotia McLeod while attending university to achieve his graduate degree in Economics. As with wrestling, Spinney was hooked from the beginning and began actively pursuing a career in the investment business. Two years and a switch to RBC Dominion Securities later, Spinney began looking to make the move back to Ontario – but not as an employee of someone else.
“When I relocated back to London, I was more interested in being an entrepreneur. I have a bit of that in my blood. I didn’t want to work for a large company; I wanted to start my own. When I moved back, that’s when I started my own company.”
Spinney began his life back in London by looking over all the investment firms in the area to see which one might be the right fit for him and his career objectives – namely, starting and growing his own full-service investment firm. After searching for a while, he came across a small firm – at the time, Azotini MacLean Rounthwaite – and made the decision to approach them. “I asked them, straight up, for a job. I gave them my plan which was to try and start my own company by obtaining a good book of clients. They were supportive of that and I was able to start right away as an advisor,” says Spinney. “With the help of James MacLean, I was able to purchase a book of business, and I just started to work it.” With a retirement and the branching-off by another senior advisor, Spinney eventually partnered with MacLean to form MacLean Spinney Investment Group. But in 2014, Spinney was finally able to take the leap he’d always wanted, going out on his own and forming Autus Incorporated.
“I asked them, straight up, for a job. I gave them my plan which was to try and start my own company by obtaining a good book of clients. They were supportive of that and I was able to start right away as an advisor,” says Spinney. “With the help of James MacLean, I was able to purchase a book of business, and I just started to work it.”
With a retirement and the branching-off by another senior advisor, Spinney eventually partnered with MacLean to form MacLean Spinney Investment Group. But in 2014, Spinney was finally able to take the leap he’d always wanted, going out on his own and forming Autus Incorporated.
‘Autus’ is the Greek term for growth, and is a very rightful name for Spinney’s investment firm, as they’ve done nothing but grow in the past two and half years. As a full-service investment brokerage, Autus Inc. offers its clients everything from stocks, bonds, GICs, and mutual funds to insurance, segregated funds, and estate planning services.
“I’m a Chartered Investment Manager (CIM) and am also a Fellow of the Canadian Securities Institute (FCSI). I’ve hired an associate, Riley Otto, who is actually a former wrestler as well,” Spinney says. “I’m happy with the direction our business is going. But what I’d like to do now is continue to grow it as it is. We’re able to offer investment and insurance services in every aspect, so I’m looking to continue to do what I’ m doing and offer my clients what they need.”
The approach that Autus Inc. takes with their clients isn’t what Spinney would call modern, choosing to focus on client service as opposed to something more sales-driven.
“I feel like I’m old-fashioned in that I want to provide a good service to my clients, to be loyal to, and supportive of them. The nature of a lot of industries is that things are becoming less personalized. Volume is more important. Having a real person help you is an old-fashioned concept. But if you call my office, you’ re going to get a real person answering the phone. That just doesn’ t happen when you call the bank.”
For someone who appreciates the value of knowledge as much as Spinney, it was inevitable that his firm would also be very research-focused. With markets as volatile as they are today, being on top of things is crucial, especially when your business is still in its growth stage. “I spend a lot of time paying attention to the markets. I’m up very early in the morning, studying and researching. Because of this, I’m able to handle any volatility that comes up in the market and provide the assurance that my clients are looking for when they have questions or worries,” says Spinney.
Choosing to concentrate on research also allows Spinney to provide highly personalized investment solutions for his clients, something that he believes differentiates Autus Inc. from larger firms. “My clients want different things. I have clients who only want to sit down with me face-to-face; clients who only want to text me, or email me; clients who only want to hear from me once a year. I don’t have a cookie-cutter way of doing business. I’m going to do what my clients want and what makes them comfortable.”
Operating this way, of course, involves developing a high level of trust, something that Spinney takes very seriously. “I’m pretty no-nonsense, honest, and straight up. I feel like if you’re honest and genuine, it comes through when you speak to a person. I ask my clients a lot of questions so we can put something together that works for both of us. If you stick to your plan and do what you say you’re going to do, I think you can build trust quickly. What’s detrimental to that trust is when you don’t follow through.”
Follow-through seems to be a speciality of Spinney’s when it comes to his business. While Autus Inc. is growing and doing well now, he has come a long way from his early days. “The first couple of years, I was on 100% commission. There were a couple of really lean years in there. But I just kept going. Then in 2008, with the financial meltdown, that was within the first couple of years of my business as well. So, to be able to persevere and see it through, that’ s huge for me.” He also is quick to recognize that his hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed by his clients.
“I’ve been lucky, but I also think the approach I’m taking is yielding results for clients and when they see that they’re still able to get results in a market that’s volatile, they’re pretty happy with it.”
Spinney is still heavily involved in wrestling as an assistant volunteer coach with Western University, having recently returned from the World University Games in Turkey as part of the coaching staff for Team Canada. One of his personal athletes brought home a bronze medal (not to mention the countless other achievements made by both the men’s and women’s teams). Although wrestling and investments don’t seem like they have much in common, Spinney utilizes a similar approach when it comes to coaching: athlete-focused and personalized.
“I don’t have the same competition philosophy for all of my athletes that I coach. I get to know them and what makes them tick, and then use that when they’re on the mat. Some need to be activated; some need to be calmed down. It’s different for everybody so I try to tailor how I coach each athlete and use what makes them work to their advantage.”
From the smallest athlete on his school wrestling team to a boutique investment firm with tremendous promise and growth, David Spinney is proof that hard work really does pay off.
Written by Jess Campbell