Hill Feinberg knows the hard knocks of business. With more than 40 years of experience in the finance industry and decades’ worth of common sense under his belt, the chairman and CEO of First Southwest Company has discovered the tried and true methods for success in the business world — and he knows that they are surprisingly simple. According to Feinberg, achievement in today’s ever-changing industry stems from one crucial quality: respect.

“Key words like please, thank you, sir and ma’am: it’s these kinds of things that will make you successful,” Feinberg shared on a recent visit to campus. As part of the Dean’s Distinguished Executive Series, the University of Georgia graduate had an opportunity to address a group of Mays students about the fundamentals of good business, or, as he calls it, the “hard knocks.”

First Southwest Company chairman and CEO Hill Feinberg chats with undergraduate Business Honors students during a recent visit to campus.
First Southwest Company chairman and CEO Hill Feinberg chats with undergraduate Business Honors students during a recent visit to campus. (view more photos)

Starting at an early age, Feinberg began learning the ins and outs of the commercial industry. Working at his father’s shoe store during his junior high years, he not only learned how to be a good salesman, but also picked up on what he says he considers the most fundamental quality to doing business: listening. First Southwest Company boasts more than 1,600 clients, and by being an active listener, Feinberg says he shows each one they are cared for.

“Listening and embracing your clients is awfully important,” he says. Rather than showcasing his own company’s talents and expectations during a business presentation, Feinberg says that keying in on his customers’ needs has proven to be a tremendously successful strategy. With 23 offices in 11 states, First Southwest Company is the “biggest and best” at what they do. First Southwest is one of the country’s largest diversified investment banks, delivering expertise and insight to clients across varied industry specialties.

The firm has what Feinberg, who has served as the investment bank’s leader since 1991, calls “a touching experience” with Texas A&M. Representing the school through assisting the university system on finances, Feinberg fondly recalls that Lowry Mays himself was one of his first clients. He also adds that the firm is extremely pleased with and proud of the multiple Mays Business School graduates employed with his company. The experience they have with hiring Aggie students has been “nothing short of fantastic,” he states.

Upon his recent visit to campus, Feinberg doled out several tips for success in the business industry to future Mays graduates:

  • “Don’t worry about the money right out of school.” Feinberg stresses that, rather than selecting a job with a firm based on starting salary, focus on your own personal performance within the company. The experience you ultimately gain from your work will prove to be more valuable than the money itself.
  • “There’s nothing wrong with asking questions. If you don’t ask, you will not succeed.” The CEO assures students that there are no stupid questions, only stupid mistakes made by remaining silent.
  • “Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.'” Feinberg emphasizes that admitting you’re unsure of an answer is not the same as admitting defeat; rather, it shows humility and a willingness to continuously learn from those around you.
  • “Being candid with a client is of the utmost importance.” Although he admits this honesty can sometimes carry a burden, Feinberg reveals that if you can’t be candid with your associates, then the firm starts to question whether you can be candid with your client.
  • … “It’s all about integrity. You can’t buy your reputation—you have to build it.” Illustrating this point, Feinberg uses Warren Buffett as an example. Citing his decisiveness and discipline, Feinberg notes that Buffett has emerged as one of the most respected and prolific investors in business history. His success is a testament to “working with what you know” and staying true to your ethics.

Hill Feinberg’s tried and true methods for success in the business world are a testament to respect. He has learned all of the “hard knocks,” and after 25 years of prosperous investment experience, assures that sticking true to the basics will most certainly pay off.