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Balancing the Challenges and Advantages of our Small-Town Location

Balancing the Challenges and Advantages of our Small-Town Location

Laura Grant
Chatham Financial
March 28, 2023

The headquarter offices of Chatham Financial are located in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. It’s a relatively small, suburban town about an hour outside of Philadelphia. It’s horse country and it’s beautiful. The schools are great, the community is strong, and life is good for families, children, and recreation. The core of our business is advising on derivatives trading and consulting in the capital markets, which are fairly sophisticated areas of financial service. It’s definitely unusual to do that work in a location like ours; most of our competitors are located in big, urban centers. For many years, however, our small town location has served as a net advantage to us. With all the recent shifts in the world and in the markets, the balance of advantages and challenges presented by our location has reshuffled significantly, but as we emerge into the new landscape, we are still finding ways in which being in Kennett Square helps, rather than hurts us in our effort to recruit world-class talent and build a strong, excellent team.

Chatham Financial was founded by a man who left his Wall Street job because he saw an opportunity to bring transparency to the derivatives markets. He and his wife lived in NYC, but as they embarked on this new adventure, they decided to move back home to a place that was more conducive to raising their family. Everyone said he was crazy to set up a financial services firm in rural PA, but he wanted Chatham to be a different kind of company. Today, our culture is firmly grounded in that same mindset. We value work-life balance, we honor our employees’ lives outside of the office, and we communicate this value to both current employees and potential new hires consistently.

For many years, we were appealing to employees at a certain phase of their career. Once they started a family, or as they were about to, the prospect of being able to live 10-15 minutes from work, send your kids to one of the great schools nearby, and join a culture that values individual respect and balance sounded far better than commuting into New York City every day. In addition, the cost of living was lower, so while it wasn’t the high NYC salary, it all worked. We mostly recruited for mid-level employees for a long time, who were at this phase of their careers.

Once people arrived in Kennett Square, the risk of losing them to a competitor was slim to none. We are by far one of the biggest employers in town, and one of the only financial services companies, so our turnover rate was very low. People stuck around, staying for 10+ years, which allowed us to grow and develop tight, experienced teams. We felt strongly in those days that our location was an advantage in all the ways that mattered most to us.

The first shift we encountered came about before Covid arrived. We were growing and needed to scale, so we needed to recruit more entry-level employees, right out of college, than we had previously. The prospect of moving to a beautiful but sleepy town an hour outside of Philadelphia appealed to this population a lot less; recent college grads want to be where the action is, in the city. We kept at it but realized that our location was starting to present some challenges.

And then, suddenly in 2020, work moved online. At Chatham, we aim to be a team that is tight, that is together, and that knows one another well. Although we now have eight offices worldwide–in Kennett Square, Denver, New York, Toronto, London, Krakow, Singapore, and Melbourne – we try to have our teams together as much as possible. We have had to expand geographically to manage client coverage; we need to be in the same time zone as our clients and they are now all over the world. But even as we spread out over several offices, we’ve worked hard to keep our teams in each location highly connected. The derivatives trading is best done in the office for risk and regulatory reasons, but even the work that could be done elsewhere is executed in office because we have a “one team” mentality. The value of being together, overhearing conversations throughout the office, and just being present and in the mix is highly valuable to our business and our culture. No one questioned this at all, until suddenly everyone could work from home. Then our recruitment landscape shifted again.

On top of the fact that people can now do many of the jobs we offer from home, the people who are interested in the lifestyle of Kennett Square can now move here anyway, and work remotely for someone else. Our small-town advantage seemed to transform into a problem to be solved.

What have we done in the face of these challenges? Like everyone, we have made several moves to try to mitigate the downsides of the new landscape. First, especially at the junior level, we expect higher turnover and so we hire more than we know we will need down the road. As we build our junior bench, the natural turnover tends to result in the highest talent employees, who fit our culture best, being the ones who love it and stay. Those who don’t, move on. It’s a more labor-intensive and expensive strategy, but it is working.

Second, we have made a few concessions to hybrid work where we absolutely had to. As anyone running a business right now knows, the pressure to hire good tech talent is exceedingly tight. Our tech team is a critical part of our business, but most tech opportunities are remote or hybrid. Therefore, despite how highly we value in-person connection, we compromised to offer a hybrid situation to our tech team in order to be able to build a great team. For the rest of employees, our principle is to be in the office full time, though we offer ad hoc flexibility to balance life needs. We are also working hard to make the in-office experience as appealing as possible by offering perks like free lunches and investing in our office amenities.

We are also leaning into some of our other locations. Denver is hot right now, so we have been ramping up there. Our entire leadership team used to be concentrated in Kennett Square, but as we are growing in alternative locations we are now spread out between Denver, Kennett Square, and London. Again, I would prefer we were all together, but having leaders in each of our largest offices has helped build the cross-office connections. We have also had to come up in salaries and benefits a bit to be more on par with our urban competitors, but again we see more upside with these shifts than not.

And finally, we are leaning into our Evergreen® culture. The downside of remote work is that the line between work and home is more blurred than ever. If you work at Chatham and come into the office every day, that is not the case. And when you go home, you are still in the beautiful, peaceful, and comfortable community, with the great schools and the light traffic, that has always defined Kennett Square. We might have to work harder to get the right people here, but we feel confident that our location will, over the long term, continue to set us apart from the rest of our industry and help us draw the best employees who share our values and who are excited by the unique opportunity to do big-city work in our small town.

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