Interview with Nicholas Delgado, founder of Dignitas
As a wealth advisor for some of the world’s largest banks, Nicholas Delgado began noticing the limitations of traditional financial service companies. He discovered that while many of them were successful in managing wealth, they were unable to tackle other issues related to wealth management. Founder of Chicago-based firm Dignitas, Nicholas Delgado, shares with Tharawat Magazine how he is helping to democratize the family office and investment bank experience.
Tell us about Dignitas today. What kind of operations does it entail?
Dignitas is an investment banking and family office firm for founder and family-run enterprises. In terms of investment banking, Dignitas helps entrepreneurs capture value. We start with fundamental evaluations of the operator’s goals and from there we advise on and lead in the practice of buying, selling, raising capital or governance creation. Families come to Dignitas when they recognize that it is the time do something big, personal or business related, and they need a space to identify the appropriate path to achieve those results.
Dignitas is unique because of our integrated investment banking and family office business model. We offer similar services as other investment banking firms do, but the experience that clients have at Dignitas is not being adapted into the traditional financial sector.
What was the catalyst for leaving your previous occupation at the height of the financial crisis to start a family office when so many financial institutions were failing?
Dignitas was founded as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. Traditional investment firms were not catering to the market and I saw a way to create a firm that did. Yes, there were doubts, but more conviction about the opportunity. Doubt is rooted in the perception of risk. We mitigated risk and managed doubt by listening to families within the market and understanding there was not currently a space for those families to occupy. That model would not work today in 2015 and was unique to the 2009 situation of the market. A number of flaws in the system were exposed that contrasted with what was currently available to families.
What does it mean when you say that the firm “democratizes the family office and investment banking experience”?
Dignitas is making something available to all types of families that has only been available to a part of the market in traditional firms. Other firms don’t highlight families that are not UHNWIs and Dignitas is a place for those families to turn to. Our approach can be delivered to wealth creators and wealth builders that would not have regular access to advisory. Every UHNWI started as an average family. Dignitas doesn’t see families as numbers and we look for the upside of each family we work with.
When a family approaches Dignitas to set up family office services, what can they expect from the process?
Families can expect to establish a family enterprise through learning to institute behaviors that allow them to achieve more. Dignitas has identified over forty conversations and experiences that families may have within their lifetime. Our model helps them prioritize those decisions through a unique approach.
What advice do you have for families looking to set up or seeking the services of a family office?
Fundamental differences between managing family affairs and family office is the family. They have a choice in the direction that their business and family affairs go. Some institutions may not have the same interests as the family and that family can play a passive role in the decisions being made or the family can act as a fiduciary within their enterprise. Family office requires work and effort beyond traditional, passive, consumer family management advice. When families are looking for advisory, scope matters. Families should be deliberate about what they want to achieve so that they can be in a better place to hold themselves accountable. Because Dignitas does more, decisions are made on a high-quality, sustainable basis.
You started the business with your wife. Was that an intentional decision or chance circumstance?
The family dynamic was critical in launching the firm. In starting the firm, I needed a partner that I trusted and that was committed to working as hard as I was – Haydee was a natural fit.
As a family, we have one rule regarding the business – you can’t bring home to the office. We’re quite comfortable bringing business home as that is a part of our identity and we are in a private setting. Bringing home into the business has limitations given our role with clients and fellow teammates. Meanwhile, Haydee has left Dignitas to join a venture-backed real estate firm, Compass, in New York City where she will be leveraging her M&A experience and driving enterprise value.
What are some of your tips for success and advice that you wish to share with other business leaders looking to start or grow their companies?
The two biggest drivers of success are people and culture. Ideas matter and are dynamic, but people are the most important part of those ideas coming to life. Culture is a catalyst for those people capturing the ideas and feeling securing in their workspace to express them.
As an entrepreneur, be clear about your objective first, then be relentless in its pursuit.