When Bob Dineen joined Lincoln Financial Network six years ago, the organization was losing huge money — up to $70 million a year. Not only was it unprofitable, the firm was so decentralized it had no corporate identity. As one veteran executive puts it: “Everybody was doing their own thing.” The only thing that was consistent was the name: Lincoln.

Dineen, a longtime senior executive with Merrill Lynch, has restored Lincoln’s luster through a restructuring process that has touched every piece of the organization. Notably, only one executive from the executive team Dineen inherited is still standing. The once decentralized advisory offices have been reconfigured into a national footprint supported by three resource and training centers. As part of the makeover, Lincoln Financial Network has also built a full-time recruiting operation, adding several thousand advisors to the group.

“When I did my due diligence I felt two things: I could get it back in shape to be financially profitable as well as grow. The key piece is creating the consistency of delivery,” says Dineen, 59. “Anybody can restructure. But if you can’t deliver a high-level consistent process and highly capable resources beyond software, you’re not going to be able to grow successfully and attract and retain the advisors we’ve attracted in the last four-plus years.”

Robert W. Dineen

CEO, LINCOLN FINANCIAL ADVISORS CORP. & LINCOLN FINANCIAL SECURITIES CORP., PHILADELPHIA, PA.

HIS VIEW FROM THE TOP: “You have to understand client profitability and advisor profitability as well as product profitability to run a company successfully and to do what’s right and fair. Everything has to be in balance.”

Today, Lincoln Financial Network has 7,300 independent agents, career agents and full-service financial planners — a network made more robust as a result of its merger with Jefferson Pilot three and a half years ago. Lincoln is perhaps best known for its fee-based financial planning model, Sagemark Consulting.

Coincidentally, Dineen’s first industry job in 1980 was with Connecticut General Brokerage, whose successor firm was purchased by Lincoln in the late 1990s. Before that, he worked five years as a U.S. Secret Service agent, working protection detail and in undercover counterfeiting. For a period, Dineen was assigned to Dr. Henry Kissinger, which in a convoluted way resulted in his jump to financial services.

“Quite honestly, it was a motivator. I used to go to the White House and he’d brief the president. He got around these politicians that I thought were generically different and smarter than many people. Up close, I realized they are not so different,” he says. “I realized you can virtually do anything you want in life.”

One day, a person he was protecting suggested Dineen consider financial services because he had an aptitude for it — an observation that was spot on. During his 22-year career with Merrill Lynch, Dineen held a variety of high-profile positions, at one point running retail distribution for one-third of the country.

When former Lincoln Financial Group chairman Jon Boscia recruited Dineen to overhaul the advisor network, he was, not surprisingly, met with some skepticism. “Imagine being in business for a lot of years; they bring in this very powerful guy from Merrill Lynch and all of a sudden he’s changing everything about your firm,” notes Sandy Axelroth, a Lincoln veteran who helped Dineen “nationalize” the firm. “We turned everything upside down from what people were used to.”

Dineen bore the brunt of the heat — a management characteristic Axelroth says is signature Dineen.

“He’s a remarkable team builder. He empowers his team and then he demands collaboration from that team. He has high expectations, and even higher loyalty,” he observes. “A guy like Bob empowers teams to make a decision but at the end of the day, if something goes wrong, he takes responsibility. When we stumble, he’ll say ‘this is something I did.’ When we excel, he’ll say ‘this is something they did.’ Bob is always saying it’s important to be good business people and it’s even more important to be good human beings. This is a guy who lives it.”

Given the market meltdown, Dineen says planning and process have never been more important to the client-advisor engagement. Also critical: communication. “Nobody has ever seen this before because it’s never happened before. One of the major advantages of having a quality financial advisor is that their single largest job is to control the emotions of their clients during up-periods and down-periods,” he adds. “And any advisor who says this hasn’t made them more nervous than ever before is either fibbing or just missing it.”

Last year, Lincoln Financial Network recruited 120 advisors with $25 million in GDC. During the last 12 to 15 months, Dineen has seen a notable uptick in the number of wirehouse advisors who are calling on Lincoln. As Wall Street continues to shake out, he expects the trend to escalate. “When I was with Merrill, one of the advantages was the brand. Today, many top practitioners have to defend the brand or brand dilution. As a result, he adds, “we’ve seen a significant amount of momentum in our channel.”

With its Lincoln Financial Advisors-Sagemark Consulting trademark and four independent affiliation options, Dineen believes his organization is poised to capitalize on the growth opportunity. As he puts it: “Obviously, we’re well positioned. But being well positioned and benefiting from it are two different things. You have to execute.”

PHOTO by MICHAEL PILLA/GETTY IMAGES