From the April 2010 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

The Advantages of a Laggard

At only 37 years old, Jerry Padilla is already somewhat of a legend at Morgan Stanley and in the retirement community. Since he took on sales management responsibilities for annuity and insurance products at the firm in 2006, his territory quickly became No. 1 firm-wide. His hard work, deep product knowledge and relationship skills were key to his success (as detailed in Ellen Uzelac's cover story.) However, it is worth highlighting one other condition without which his achievement would have been far less remarkable. And that is its dismal starting point: his territory had been in the bottom decile back in 2006.

When a manager hands out assignments, people naturally clamor for the plum positions, the prestige territories, the coveted brands. While the desire for prestige and success are understandable, and the advantages they confer formidable, great accomplishments -- the storied kind for which Jerry Padilla is known -- generally share humble, even obscure, origins.

In fact, there are tremendous advantages to being a laggard. In trying to get ahead, you can compare the paths of different trailblazers, and pick and choose the best strategies from each. By way of analogy, an economically developing nation aspiring to first-world wealth could adopt some American-style approaches or possibly Asian alternatives. Nor need our fictitious country repeat America's experience digging a telecom infrastructure in the ground. It could go straight to the latest satellite-based mobile telephony and leapfrog other nations with antiquated legacy communications systems.

In 1957, Ghana and South Korea had nearly the same annual per capita GDP. Just three decades later, South Koreans were some 10 times wealthier. The variety of development models and the potential for growth are real and vast.

In business development, as in national economic development, ambitious financial advisors also have unlimited choices and potential for growth -- all the more so if they occupy those lower deciles where Jerry Padilla started. In fact, the pressure of success may be harder to cope with than the ignominy of failure. Look at the downfall of Tiger Woods -- or the U.S. economy for that matter. When you're the biggest and the best, you put pressure on yourself to perform, all eyes are constantly on you and there is no shortage of envious second-rankers who want you to fail.

None of this is meant to say that success is bad and failure good. Rather, the youthful Jerry Padilla's magnificent rise to the top is a fresh reminder that it's not where you start that counts but what you do with the resources given you; how you handle the ups and downs of business; and how much you've grown in the end. Setbacks, if they cause you to chart a new course, are a good thing indeed.

* * *

Research readers will be interested to know our veteran editor Gil Weinreich has got interests outside of finance. This month marks the publication of Who Really Wrote the Bible?, which Gil co-wrote with Eyal Rav-Noy. Their literary detective work rebuts centuries of scholarly consensus around the "documentary hypothesis." Check out www.WhoReallyWroteTheBible.com for more details.

Robert Tyndall
Publisher Emeritus
rtyndall@researchmag.com

Reprints Discuss this story
This is where the comments go.