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How to Quietly Achieve Excellence

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Recently, a recruiter who spends lots of time in the offices of financial advisors told me he has consistently found Research magazine on his prospects’ desks. There are other magazines most advisors receive, but Research is the one they read, he told me. My interlocutor’s compliment was sincerely stated, and was very pleasing to hear, but I confess I took it with a grain of salt. Maybe his impression was biased in some way unbeknownst to him. And besides, anything that might induce us to rest on our laurels would be injurious to the future success of the magazine.

Even more recently, I met with a wholesaler who also spends lots of time in the offices of financial advisors and he told me the same thing. Even though, as a journalist, I take great comfort in getting a second source backing up a claim, I still resisted the flattering information.

In fact, we joked about the dangers of thinking too well of oneself. He mentioned a friend who worked hard to make it in Hollywood, waiting tables and the like, who finally achieved some moderate success. When the film production paused, a supervisor would command an underling to bring the actor some coffee. The actor thought, “Wait a minute. I can get my own coffee. I used to wait tables.” But they wouldn’t allow him to. Day after day a gopher would attend to his needs until one day, off the set, the actor wanted a drink and instinctively looked around, wondering: “Hey, where’s my coffee?”

This is why, show biz types, politicians and rock stars are so often caught acting boorishly in their brushes with the masses: They’re treated like royalty and come to expect it. So at the risk that in my next hotel stay I might trash my room if service is a little slow, I do want to acknowledge a third recent praise for Research that I do find particularly meaningful.

This month, at a banquet at New York’s Yale Club, Research will receive its seventh consecutive award for Excellence in Financial Journalism. It’s easier to dismiss laudatory statements from two unconnected industry insiders, people who are sincere, but who may nevertheless have a personal desire to offer a compliment. I don’t think that can be said of the New York State Society of CPAs, which sponsors the award. They’re probably sick of seeing me each year by now. In fact, last year one of the competition’s judges said he was very uncomfortable with the idea and appearance of giving another award to us, but was ordered to lay aside this discomfort and choose on merit alone.

And that’s the thing of it. This year’s award goes to our senior editor Kenneth Silber who was hired specifically to do something that was not regularly or well addressed in the industry magazines: to cover market history as it bears on issues of current economic concern. There is wisdom in historical knowledge that financial advisors need, and which Ken provides month in and month out. His research and writing is of the highest caliber, and consistently so.

Consistency may be the most unappreciated virtue. It doesn’t inspire headlines or poetry, and by its very nature it is not usually noticed. But it is how good journalists or financial advisors get to be the best.

Gil Weinreich
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