Author’s note: Over the last couple of decades, I’ve written several articles about Ira Walker and his remarkable success. He’s No. 4 on the 2010 Barron’s 100 and appears on every other national list of top financial advisors that I’ve seen. I’ve been able to write these articles in a way others cannot because I’ve been Ira’s coach since October 1988.
Anyone seriously interested in taking his or her business to the end of the rainbow should study everything they can get their hands on by and about him. That’s why I have created a web page containing links to his website, articles others have written about him, articles I have written plus interview notes I did not have space to use here. As a bonus, I dug up a recording of a talk Ira attended some 25 years ago to which he attributes some of his success. Please visit www.billgood.com/Ira_Walker.
First let’s settle an issue. Is Ira Walker the top advisor on Wall Street? He ranked No. 4 on Barron’s 2010 top 100 and has been No. 1 two years in a row on Barron’s New Jersey list. But two of those ahead of him in the top 100 are multi-advisor teams. One has 10 advisors — they are an entire office. Another manages 30,000 clients, and hires advisors all over the company — basically, they are a company.
Since Ira is one advisor, not a partnership, branch or company — and since this is my article — if he’s not No. 1, he doesn’t miss by much. So according to me, Ira is the No. 1 advisor. He has the No. 1 team.
The one trick pony that drove Ira’s success does not exist. Success of this magnitude is not an ingredient; it’s a recipe. And while no one can exactly duplicate the success of another, one can and should study people who have achieved great success and do what is possible to emulate it. Success does breed success.
Let’s take a closer look at Ira’s success ingredients. How do you measure up?
Hard work/execution. Hard work alone doesn’t cut it. Hard work that gets things done is the key. This I will tell you about the 29-year-old Ira Walker and the 52-year-old: he works hard effectively. He gets the right things done. He may not keep the hours he did as a rookie, but I assure you: If he’s not with his kids, he’s networking, socializing in high-net-worth circles, playing a lot of golf with clients and prospects and focusing on how to get his business from $9 million a year to $12 million a year (which is his goal for 2011). His “model day” has changed from 1988 until now, but he still uses the model day concept I taught him in 1988 to make maximum use of his time.
Investing skill. Ira is a serious student of investing and investments. Back in the transaction days, it was not enough for him just to be a good salesperson. When he wasn’t prospecting or talking to clients, he spent countless hours talking to hundreds of money managers and hedge funds. Because of his vast knowledge of the industry and his ability to give them assets, he could convince them to spend time with him. His focus was to find out what they were doing that was working. He invested with some of these managers but learned from all, oftentimes about what not to do.
It paid off. As he put it in a telephone interview in preparation for this article, “That’s how I developed the ETF strategy I have today.” Today, Ira manages about a half billion in his ETF discretionary accounts and can proudly point to a nine-year investment track record. As Ira said, “Clients want performance.”
Leverage is and has been a major focus in my training and coaching sessions for 25 years. Of all the thousands of FAs I have trained or who read my books, Ira got and applied the concept of leverage better than anyone.
I first met him in October 1988. He bought into my marketing system and came to our campus in Utah for a week’s training. There he learned how to structure, train and manage a team. And he wasted no time. By January, he had taken out a $25,000 small business loan. Not only did he hire the 2 ½ person team I recommended, but he went one better and hired an additional four “connectors” whose job was getting decision makers to the phone for four hours a day. I learned very early, Ira does not just talk about things, he executes.
Team building is essential leverage in a financial services practice. Without it, your reach is extremely limited.
But once Ira had the leverage concept, he applied it throughout his business. In his own words, here are some thoughts on how leverage applies to investments, proposals and review:
“With all of the systems we have in place, it took me less than five minutes to customize a proposal for a new client. He immediately transferred in several million dollars.”
“I always start with the basics. Early on, I looked for clients who needed some fixed income and some equities.”
“When ETFs came along, they streamlined both the investment and proposal processes. With an ETF portfolio, people can have full diversification, worldwide, in all the asset classes. On one statement. And that, of course, speeded up the administration and review process.”
“Today people are getting into long-short funds and alternative investments that no one understands. I follow, ‘keep it simple, stupid.’”
“Leverage is all about repeatable, scalable processes to get the right things done.”
Marketing Action Plan
Ira Walker is one of a handful of great marketers of financial products and services that I have known and in many cases coached. But before getting into the breadth and depth of his skill, I want to say a few words about the relationship between marketing and investment skills.