Do You Take This Business Personally?

A few years ago I unexpectedly learned that my previous firm would be closing and life as I had known it for the last 20 years suddenly screeched to a halt. I hadn't really considered what I might do in this situation. I had to take a hard look at my life goals, career goals and family situation and find a way forward. I updated my resume and leaned on my professional network, seeking introductions, connections, or occasional meetings with other professionals (mostly in the financial services industry, which is vast...). I met people for lunch, coffee, breakfast, you name it. In one of my more memorable meetings I was having dinner (an obviously important meeting) with the CEO and COO of a large and established Registered Investment Advisory firm (RIA) here in town. Hopefully they'd be impressed with my extensive experience and likability and want to hire me.

Red Oak

Not long after we'd been seated an exchange occurred that I'll never forget. Somewhere between “tell me about yourself” and “please pass the butter” one of my hosts plainly asked me, “Do you take this business personally?”

Almost without hesitation I replied, “No. I try not to.” Having found success for nearly 20 years in a business where I spent my days immersed in markets and economic data, and focused on portfolio management (and rarely clients), I knew that emotions are often an enemy of rational decision making. Letting the unpredictable and irrational short-term nature of markets get under your skin causes unhealthy angst which can result in impulsive trading decisions... It was only on occasion that we met with clients or shareholders face-to-face. The most likely place someone would see my firm's name would be associated with a ticker description on their brokerage statement. The investment world that I operated in could be cold and uncompassionate with very little client interaction. However, stoicism in that world is also a strength.

So in that regard, when the question was asked of me as to whether I took the business personally, "no" was not necessarily bad nor "wrong." However it was shortsighted and was a poor choice for an answer. My response had given the impression that I was callous and didn’t care at all about clients, let alone anyone or anything else in my business (which was obviously not true!) I had “misread the room." In stark contrast to the world I was used to, my dinner guests engaged and regularly interacted with their individual clients. Ironically, I actually was seeking out opportunities to work more closely with clients. The business of allocating assets between investments is deliberate and impersonal. Working on behalf of people you care about to accomplish strategic objectives is indeed very personal. And when client goals become shared goals it can be a powerful incentive for an experienced, hard working advisor.

When I establish a new client relationship I want to be sure it's a good fit, not just "assets in the door." Style, temperament, and shared values and beliefs are important factors in developing strong relationships. Clients place implicit trust in me and as a fiduciary I am (happily) bound to always put my clients' interests ahead of my own. Where the advisor and client have a solid relationship, the chances of success are increased. Put differently, the better I know my clients, the better I can add value and help them achieve their goals. It is very personal.

If you know someone you think could benefit from my services, I'd be happy to talk to them.


P.S. If you are interested in my woodturning you can follow my Instagram page here

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