Jim Pupillo

Portfolio Architect

James A. Pupillo, CIMA®, CIMC®, C(k)P™, TFMC™
Managing Director, Partner, HighTower, Scottsdale, Arizona


As a high school student in Munster, Indiana, James A. Pupillo, CIMA®, CIMC®, C(k)P™, TFMC™, became intrigued by the financial world, and the fascination has never left. “I think it was almost inevitable that I gravitated toward investment management consulting,” he says. “But if I couldn’t do this job, maybe I’d be an architect. I love architecture.”

Pupillo draws on architecture to frame his approach to consulting. “Architecture is not a one-box-fits-all,” he observes. “A good architect takes time to understand the client’s goals, objectives, and lifestyle, and designs accordingly. We do the same. We construct investment portfolios for clients like an architect designs a home. So in a way, I am an architect. I design and build portfolios.”

Pupillo also has designed and built a successful career. After graduating from Indiana University with a double major in business administration and marketing, he worked for an automotive parts distributorship where his responsibilites included overseeing the company’s employee benefits. But when his wife Jan was offered a position as a physician’s assistant at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale back in 1987, the couple pulled up roots in Munster, hopped a plane in snowy Chicago, and arrived to sunshine and blue skies in Arizona.

“I whispered to Jan that I thought this was going to work,” Pupillo recalls. “Then it was time for me to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up.”

Pupillo set his sights on financial services and soon joined E.F. Hutton, where his training exposed him to the company’s investment management consulting group. “It felt right to me,” he says. “As a young man in my 30s, who was I to pick stocks and bonds? I knew I would be much better at managing the relationship, constructing portfolios, and delegating investment selection to professional money managers. That became my business model, it started to work, and I stayed with it. I’ve never wavered from investment management consulting.”

Pupillo’s youthful looks prompted him to build his credentials and resume so clients would feel comfortable giving him their money to manage. “I joined professional associations like the Investments & Wealth Institute where I could be around people who knew more than me and learn by osmosis,” he says. “I met practitioners who mentored me, took advantage of the Institute’s education, and went to Institute conferences—something I still do today—so I could glean the knowledge I needed to succeed.”

CIMA® certification was a cornerstone in Pupillo’s career design. He describes it as the platinum standard.

“CIMA certification focuses on the process of investment management consulting,” he explains. “There’s a lot to learn about products, but in the CIMA program, you learn about them in the context of a process so you can do a better job of fulfilling your clients’ objectives and goals.”

Pupillo earned CIMA certification in 1997 and vividly remembers the culminating week at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. “The quality of the Wharton program made an indelible impression on me,” he recalls. “The professors were so effective at taking very complex information and breaking it down in a way that we could understand. It was hard work, but well worth the time and effort I put into it.”

Increased confidence quickly proved a tangible outcome. “I walked away with the process of investment management consulting fortified in my mind,” Pupillo explains. “When I sat in front of a prospective client or a board of clients, I was confident that I knew more about what we would be talking about than anyone at the table.”

When colleagues ask him about CIMA certification, Pupillo doesn’t hesitate. “If you are in the business of being an investment management advisor, you should invest in your business and invest in yourself. Earning CIMA certification is one of the best investments you can make.”

He adds, “You’ll give yourself a credential. You’ll give yourself a body of knowledge. That intellectual property will be invaluable in building your practice. And the Institute provides the best resource for obtaining it.”

In 2012, Pupillo joined HighTower as a partner and managing director. “We conduct ourselves in a full fiduciary capacity as an RIA,” he says. “Our clients view us as stewards of their capital, and I take that responsibility very seriously.” Two-thirds of Pupillo’s clients are high-net-worth individuals and families; one-third are institutions. “The asset make-up is the reciprocal of that, however,” notes Pupillo, who has managed assets in the billions of dollars during his 25-year career.

Native American Nations comprise some 20 percent of Pupillo’s institutional clients; he helps manage assets for tribal governments, tribal enterprises, and minor and elder trust funds. To better serve this segment of his practice, Pupillo earned the Tribal Financial Manager Certificate offered through the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University in 2012. He also served on the editorial advisory board for a fiduciary manual, The Management of American Indian Investment Decisions, by Donald B. Trone. “The manual dovetails Native American indigenous wisdom around judgment, discipline, courage, and integrity with today’s fiduciary best practices,” Pupillo says.

A Barron’s Top 100 Financial Advisor since 2006, Pupillo was named the top financial advisor in Arizona in 2009. He admits that his passion for being the best practitioner possible means long hours on the job, but he also strives for balance in life. The former high school wrestling star runs and lifts weights to stay fit, and credits the discipline he learned as a wrestler with the discipline he brings to his career.

Away from the office, Pupillo and his wife Jan enjoy travel and time with their two grown children. He also makes a conscious effort to give back to the community, serving on boards and financially supporting the Arizona Community Foundation, Musical Instrument Museum, and Arizona 5 Arts Circle.

“Two common threads exist in any great civilization: compassion and an appreciation for the arts,” Pupillo observes. “That helps explain what drew me to these particular organizations. Besides, as a kid from the Midwest where there were no backyard fences and it was one big playground, I like being part of something that brings a community together, and the arts do that.”