May 6, 2013

Mark Tibergien: The 2013 IA 25 Extended Profile

CEO, Pershing Advisor Solutions

This is Mark Tibergien’s 11th appearance on the IA 25. Read his extended profiles from 2012 and 2011. Click here to view the complete list and Special Report schedule for extended profiles for each of the 2013 IA 25 honorees.

Mark Tibergien has been writing for Investment Advisor now for more than a decade. Not coincidentally, he is also the only person to appear on the IA 25 for all 11 years of its existence. But Tibergien’s influence on the industry started before his affiliation with us, and in the history of the independent advisory business, Tibergien’s influence will last far beyond 2013. That’s because almost single-handedly he has preached that to become a profession, advisors must be business people. In his writings and speeches, in his tenure at Moss Adams and as the CEO of Pershing Advisor Solutions, Tibergien has consistently raised thorny issues that some advisors would rather avoid and has used his bully pulpit to challenge advisors to be not only good business people but true leaders as well.

Take his October 2011 column on the dangers of a “cult of personality” at advisory firms. He wrote that “a strong personality is a great quality when beginning or rebuilding a company—but inevitably, a leader’s firm grasp of key issues becomes a grip of death for the business. Enterprises that are overly dependent on a single strong leader can rarely survive the end of that person’s tenure unless a proper transition plan is implemented early, communicated loudly and executed effectively. Business continuity issues are not solved by finding a buyer for the business, but rather by building a culture of courage, passion, accountability and confidence that allows others to step up when you ultimately step down.”

In a cover story earlier that year, we wrote about his emphasis on human capital, but concluded that “in good Pershing fashion, this focus on human capital doesn’t just place those leaders in the right spot, it then measures their effectiveness. People, people, people. Measure, measure, measure. There’s one other thing: Pershing Advisor Solutions is a place where the people share a vision that emanates from Tibergien, but is clearly internalized.”

Looking back at his very first column for Investment Advisor, in February 2003, Tibergien’s stated goal for his writings is as cogent now as it was then. “I've found that like most professionals, financial advisors are well-trained to help their clients, but receive no formal education about how to make a living doing it.” In his time researching the advisor industry at Moss Adams, his team “discovered a huge disparity between those few advisors who, through prior training outside the profession or natural business sense, have created financially successful practices and the majority of their peers.” His stated goal for his Formulas for Success column? “I'm going to explore what the most successful practices do to get that way, and what you can learn from them to increase the success of your own practice. After all, if you can't make a living as a financial advisor, you probably won't be very helpful to your clients, either.”

The coda in that quote is pure Tibergien as well. While he’s achieved appropriate fame for focusing on the business side of an advisory firm, the needs of the end client are always front of mind. That focus is behind his long-standing argument that having a formal succession plan is at least as morally imperative for an advisor’s clients as it is for successfully running an advisory firm now and making a liquidity event more likely for an advisory firm’s principals then.

His take on the fiduciary standard is similarly double-sided. While that standard might be the right and best approach for the client, it’s also the prism through which an advisory firm’s business practices should be measured.

Tibergien’s legacy is evident not only in his own leadership and unparalleled intellectual capital contributions to the profession, but in the loyalty and admiration of many of the other leaders of the profession. He’s not averse to taking risks, either, whether in taking the reins of Pershing’s RIA custody business or in his willingness to build and expand on the firm’s overseas advisor operations, notably in the U.K.

The Tibergien gospel? Be a good businessperson; be a good leader in your firm’s culture and even (as he writes this month) in the language you use in your firm; keep a firm watch on your day-to-day practices and the eventual future of your firm; and make sure you are exercising your own talents and building an environment where your employees can grow and prosper.

The profession is in a much better place because of Mark Tibergien, and is more likely to remain so in the future with his continued contributions.

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