What does it take to go from being a good advisor to a great one? For Don Leitzell, it was the ability to combine art and business science.

Don became an independent financial advisor in 1987. Twenty years later, his financial advisory firm, Diversified Asset Planners, has four partners and five planners in two offices. Assets under management total approximately $250 million, of which 60 percent is fixed annuities and 38 percent is mutual funds. The firm’s revenue this year will be close to $2,500,000. The firm’s primary office is in State College, Pa., just down the road from Penn State, where Don earned a BA and MA in economics.

For much of his career, what made Don a good advisor and his firm successful was his ability to provide leadership, in addition to being an income producer in the firm. Don was also responsible for delegating work to other advisors and staff and evaluating everyone’s performance. Marketing was done almost entirely by referrals.

While Don is very bright and has a capable team, the business operated without a clear vision, and strategy was developed as needed. However, there were a number of success factors that allowed the firm to perform at a high level without a vision or a clearly articulated strategy. The people in the firm have great skills. They were able to apply their knowledge and skills to attract and retain clients. Don and his partners recognized the importance of a qualified and committed staff. The firm’s biggest expense is staff compensation. As a result, they have loyal clients who do not hesitate to refer. Relationship management is a real strength of DAP.

In spite of their success, Don recognized that the firm faced a number of issues and challenges. The firm had no written strategy. They needed a well-thought-out business plan to take the business to the next level. There was also a need to implement a number of robust marketing activities to maintain growth and lessen the singular dependence on referrals. Don is 58 and looking to slow down in the next few years. Other partners must take a leadership role and his son, Chris — a partner in the firm — must begin to consider DAP as his business. From a personal perspective, Don wanted more quality time and more leisure time.

For the last year, Don has been involved in the Covenant Group’s Practice Development Program. In that time, Don has defined a vision and developed a strategy for DAP. The structure of the firm has been redefined with new accountabilities and authorities. They have implemented new systems, including a client management system, and there is more emphasis on staff training and accountability. They established a new mentoring system to foster the development of younger partners and associates and to create career planning.

Don also moved the equity transfer to his son Chris, three years earlier than the original 2012 plan. In addition, Chris and another younger partner, Ted, are involved in practice development and now working on the business. They have also implemented several marketing strategies, in addition to referrals, such as the use of a baseball suite for introductions, periodic reviews with clients and a quarterly brochure sent to clients.

One of Don’s great strengths is that he is open-minded. He is always looking to learn and grow. Don realized that his firm was successful because they were hard-working artists with good skills. The difference now is that they have the business science to assure the firm’s sustainability and successful transition to the next generation. They have gone from good to great.

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