From the March 2008 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

March 1, 2008

Big Ideas for Small Businesses

Financial advisors were stunned last fall when industry consultant Mark Tibergien, who enjoys near celebrity status in his field, left Moss Adams for a new job with Pershing.

Behind the scenes, the surprise move set in motion a long-held succession plan that brought Tibergien's associate, Rebecca Pomering, front and center as the head of the firm's highly-regarded business consulting group. What still isn't widely known: Pomering had been scheduled to take over the group in January anyway, as Tibergien handed off his management duties to spend more time with clients.

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WHO: Rebecca Pomering, Principal and Practice leader, Business Consulting Group, Moss Adams, Seattle

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The process was textbook succession planning -- not surprising since it's a cornerstone of the duo's work with financial advisors.

"It's part of our culture here. One of the factors that impacts even partner compensation is whether you've developed your successor. When I made partner at 29, the question was asked: Have you identified your successor? At that point, I'm thinking, my successor is still in high school," says Pomering, now 33. "But seriously, we've been grooming our succession plan here for a long time. This had been in the works; it just accelerated it by a few months. Only I thought Mark would be working for me. I was excited about bossing him around."

In her new role, Pomering oversees 50 consultants who work in a variety of industry niches ranging from financial services to construction to apparel. She and a group of 18 consultants will continue to personally provide services to financial advisors, Pomering's longtime core constituency.

Up next for the financial services consulting group? First, Pomering will reduce her number of speaking engagements to 15 to 25 a year so that she can spend more time running the business and developing her team. "You won't see us on every stage this year," she says. Upcoming venues include this month's FPA Business Solutions conference in Chicago, a National Advisors Trust meeting in Hilton Head, S.C., in April, and the annual conference of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors in Long Beach, Calif., in May. She's also creating a study group format for small advisory firms with up to $2 million in revenue that will launch in April or June. Classes, limited to 20 advisors, will meet four times a year and concentrate on topics such as business management, strategy, human capital, compensation, financial management, succession planning and mergers and acquisitions.

"We need to find more ways to provide advice to more clients who might not be at speaking events or might not be able to work one-on-one with us," says Pomering. "Larger advisory firms can hire someone to come in, talk to staff, make recommendations and coach on implementation. We want smaller firms to have access to the same advice -- but they need to do it in a more economical way. This will involve the core things we consult on with the ability to do some in-depth work."

Pomering -- who with husband, Grant, has a year-and-a-half-old son -- has spent practically her entire career at Moss Adams. She joined the firm in 1997 after working six months as a controller of a family-owned root beer microbrewery in Seattle. It was that exposure to small business that led her to Moss Adams.

"I realized that I wanted to consult with the family-owned small or middle market. It all goes back to getting that little taste of working in a small family-held business where every decision you make is important," says Pomering, who has a finance and accounting degree from the University of Illinois. "These people aren't just invested, they're vested in everything they are doing."

Tibergien, now the CEO of Pershing's advisor solutions unit, says that from the start Pomering proved to be a quick study. As he puts it, "She has a great combination of vision and practical application. She can see things at 30,000 feet and bring it down to ground quickly...She is recognized by both RIAs and registered reps as a thoughtful voice. No doubt, she has a large following." Ultimately, Tibergien predicts that Pomering, who has keen entrepreneurial instincts, will run her own business.

The succession strategy that played out with Pomering and Tibergien last year should deliver a strong message to financial advisors.

"With the aging of clients and the aging of advisors, you're going to see what happened to us happen in lots of advisory practices. Advisors are going to have to think differently about how they get work done, how they grow their organizations," according to Pomering, who says the opportunity is ripe for outsourcing and recruiting people from other industries. "You can't just hire from one another."

Overall, she says, advisory firms have gotten bigger, more sophisticated and their client offerings more complicated. As a result, she says the successful ones have been forced to become nimble, establishing compensation and succession strategies that are meaningful. "They're dealing with real business issues as real business people," she adds.

Meanwhile, she notes: "It really is hard to find good people and the competition is only going to get steeper. Get prepared. Guess what? It wasn't just a soundbite."

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Freelance writer Ellen Uzelac is based in Chestertown, Md.; the former West Coast bureau chief and national correspondent for The Baltimore Sun, can be reached at ellenuzelac@msn.com.

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