Robert W. Baird & Co. plans to keep up its hiring pace this year following overall record revenue for 2011 that was bolstered in part by the firm’s financial advisors, John Mabee, managing director and vice chairman of the firm’s private wealth management group said in an interview.

In 2011, Baird’s net revenue climbed to $925 million, a 9% increase from $847 million in 2010, according to a 2011 annual report released by the firm. The firm’s operating income rose to $86 million, a 2% gain from $84 million in the previous year.

Baird’s financial advisor force totals almost 700 following the hiring of more than 250 financial advisors and branch managers since 2009. Baird has also opened 21 new private wealth management offices in the U.S. in the past five years. The firm plans to opportunistically look for opportunities to continue that expansion, Mabee said.

“It’s just all about quality,” said Mabee, who indicated the firm would like to talk to as many prospective financial advisor hires as possible, but does not have a specific hiring target. “We’d like to hire all the good quality [financial advisors] possible, but we’re very firm about not lowering the bar at all to build out the numbers.”

Those plans come as Milwaukee, Wis.-based Baird, which has an employee-owned and independent model, has expanded its financial force in recent years as industry employment was shrinking. Overall, Baird has increased its employment by more than 25% since 2007, the firm said in its annual 2011 report, while at the same time the U.S. securities industry has reduced its employees by 4%.

Baird’s private wealth management unit manages almost $68 billion in client assets, according to the annual report. The firm’s total number of financial advisors rose to 694 in 2011 from 680 in 2010, while its number of private wealth offices rose to 69 from 66 for the year before.

Baird has continued to expand its wealth management business this year. That includes the opening of a second wealth management office in Sarasota, Fla.

The new office is led by Managing Director Paul Buskey, who joined Baird from Wells Fargo earlier this year. Joining Buskey are other hires from Wells Fargo, including Scott Woods, who serves as managing director; Jane McGinty, senior vice president; Charles Fortenberry, vice president; Chip Alario, vice president; and Meredith Woods.

“We had an operation that was successful in Sarasota, and then we found an opportunity of another very successful group of [financial advisors],” Mabee said of the legacy A.G. Edwards employees.

Baird also hired Douglas W. Mabie as a managing director in its Chicago wealth management office. Mabie most recently served as a portfolio manager in the investment management division at William Blair & Co. Registered client specialists Jennifer Krohn and Kate Pawela also join the firm with Mabie.

“The more people that we talk to, the more recruits we’re getting, and our story is getting out a lot more just by word of mouth,” Mabee said of the firm’s hiring success. “Most people we’ve been hiring are very successful in their own right. They want to make a difference at the firm, instead of just being a number.”

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