July 8, 2011

Cheryl Holland: Creating a Culture of Authenticity—Top Women Extended Profile

Mentoring team members and influencing peers help the president of Abacus Planning make her mark

Cheryl Holland, owner and president of Abacus Planning Group, was a pioneer in fee-only planning, though she began as a stockbroker in a field that at the time had few women. She launched herself into the fee-only world in 1983 and is now head of a business that manages more than $550 million. There she influences team members and peers alike.

(Holland is one of AdvisorOne's 50 Top Women in Wealth for 2011)

A recent NAPFA Step Forward preconference panel for women addressed the topic of how hard it is to find and retain women in the business. “I didn’t realize how fortunate we were,” she adds, to have so many women at Abacus.

Her teCheryl Holland of Abacus Planning Groupam is made up of at least 50% women, she says, with the firm itself “probably closer to 70% women.” While she mentions that she didn’t set out to attract such a high concentration of women to Abacus, she adds that it’s not a struggle to keep them.

Holland cites her mother as a mentor; a librarian, she says, who was “very influential and dedicated, passionate about what she did.” Both her business and management coaches are women as well. So are many of the professionals she recommends to clients. “One of my clients said to me, 'Do you ever hire men?’” she says. “To him it was so odd that all my recommendations were women.”

Holland is very conscious that the younger women who seek her out at speaking engagements view her as a role model. “When I give a talk,” she explains, “the younger women, especially, will come up and talk to me; not so much to me, but to a woman who is powerful and has a family and thinks about all the ways we balance these issues. There’s not a space to have these conversations every day.”

She talks, too, about the influence her firm has had on its peers. “I recently gave a talk on mentoring team members in a much more purposeful way,” she says, “and can’t tell you how many e-mails and phone calls I got. People know they can reach out to us.” What strikes her is that the callers are “peers, and peers’ key next-generation leaders. . . . That’s probably why it feels more influential.”

Her advice? “You need to be the planner or wealth manager or investment advisor that you are going to be, as opposed to adopting a mode of being or doing or presenting that is appropriate to another person or gender or age. . . . It’s so easy in our profession to be influenced by jargon, and power, and more traditional models of delivering your advice . . . more traditional models of leadership. Women need to listen, and take what works for them from all that, and walk their own path.”

See the lead news article on the 2011 50 Top Women in Wealth.

See the profiles of all the 50 Top Women in Wealth.

See the article on the process for choosing the 2011 50 Top Women in Wealth.

See the 2010 50 Top Women in Wealth.

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