From the July 2014 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Are You the Star or the Coach?

If you're not sure whether your firm can succeed without you, you may need to reevaluate your goals

Does your business revolve around you or are you part of a team? Does your business revolve around you or are you part of a team?

Just as those who’ve experienced combat tend to be the ones who are most hesitant to declare war, it seems to me that the best money managers tend to be modest folks. That has certainly been my experience over the past month in speaking with the portfolio managers of the 2014 SMA Managers of the Year, whom we feature in this month's cover story and whom we announced in May during the Envestnet Advisor Summit.

While a number of the lead managers of these SMA portfolios are undeniably brilliant in their own right, they all wanted to ensure that the other members of their teams were recognized for their contributions to these portfolios’ success. Not only is that kind of attitude valuable for those asset management firms’ overall morale, it's also critical to the continued success of those specific portfolios.

That's why those of us in the selection committee for these 10th annual awards—including our partners from Envestnet | PMC, notably Tim Clift and Gib Watson and their analysts—ensure that each winner has a clear, sustainable and repeatable investment process and alpha thesis. Our profiles of the winners in the magazine, and video interviews with them that are on ThinkAdvisor.com, are meant to give you insights into those processes and the leaders guiding those processes. We also look closely at their firms, including their ownership structure and the tenure of the lead managers, since we want to feel confident that those firms can continue to operate successfully in the future.

So if we were considering your advisory firm as a possible award winner, would you pass that same test? Is the success of your firm based on your own brilliance? Does your ownership structure make it more or less likely that your firm—not you—can continue to be successful?

If you as an owner-advisor can't answer those questions in the affirmative, if you’re unsure whether your firm could succeed without you, I suggest you read Angie Herbers’ column this month, “The Death of the Rainmaker.”

She argues that the “business of advice has undergone a dramatic evolution over the past five years,” which has led to an epidemic of low client closing ratios. Why? That's the “death” of the rainmaker that she references in her title. To simplify her argument: As advisory firms grow and client referrals become a bigger source of new clients, “the importance of ‘rainmaking’ decreases, and the importance of great client service increases.” That's because great client service—usually provided not by the owner-advisor, but by his or her staff—is what prompts clients to refer their friends and relations to the advisory firm.

That's why great client service, not rainmaking, will improve the closing ratio on prospective new clients. That's also why the criticism leveled by many owner-advisors about the next generation of advisors—that they don't know how to sell—is misplaced. What older owner-advisors need to keep their firm successful now and in the future, like after they initiate a succession plan, are advisors who know how to provide good service. That's why having a process (and the right technology) to market, to onboard and to serve good clients is more important now than rainmaking.

In a blog last November, Herbers put it succinctly: “For firm owners who do want to build a business larger than themselves […] think about employees not as support staff, but as team members who can each make substantial contributions to the success—and growth—of the firm. The owner-advisor's role, then, shifts away from being the star, to being the team owner and coach.”

Learn from the SMA Managers of the Year, and listen to Angie Herbers.

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