Mark Tibergien is the only individual to have won a spot on the IA 25 for each of the 12 years that we’ve been publishing the list. Is there anything new to say about his influence on the overall industry, his personal accomplishments (and those whom he has mentored over his career) and his insights into the current state of the advisor business and its future? Turns out there’s plenty.
For one thing, he has a well-honed sense of humor. When he talks about his long-time effort to encourage advisors to build actual succession plans, he responds to the low adoption rate by saying he knows he hasn’t “turned the tide” and that he feels “like a missionary” preaching to deaf ears on the topic, “like Mitt Romney in Paris.” When speaking to a roomful of independent broker-dealer executives at the FSI OneVoice conference this past January, his topic was the future of the BD business. He chided them for pursuing a strategy of “serving the dead and dying,” suggesting that BDs should instead focus on reps who are growing their practices rather than fawning (my adjective, not his) over top producers who are on their way out of the business.
Musing on why it’s apparently difficult to attract younger people to the advisory profession, he likes to say that as an advisor you “profoundly impact the lives of other people. It’s financially rewarding. It’s intellectually stimulating. Throw in walks on the beach and it’s a pretty good personals ad.” Some years back, his stump speech for advisors who wanted to make their practices into businesses included a drawing he’d make on a whiteboard that showed a rounded “W” with a line underneath (W). What did that symbol suggest about the advisor’s role in the business? “That’s your butt on the line,” he’d say, always drawing laughter.
The humor is an effective (and clever) way to introduce topics that many advisors and BD execs would like to avoid addressing head on. Once listeners are thus softened up, they’re more likely to take to heart what Tibergien is suggesting. Which is what, exactly? Let’s start with the importance of human capital, including how to attract and motivate the next generation of advisors, talk about his personal accomplishments as CEO of Pershing Advisor Solutions and get his take on the future of the industry.
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From where, I asked in an April interview, did he come up with his focus on the importance of people to the business—from the benchmarking data and consulting he did so well as a partner at Moss Adams? From his personal experiences?
Tibergien’s focus on human capital comes, he replied, from three areas. First, from his experience as an employee: “If you’ve ever been mismanaged, you aspire to something greater.” Second, as a business leader at Moss Adams and Pershing, he saw “the value that an effective manager can bring to an organization.” The third source was a “combination of academic and professional studies that validated” what he already suspected.
Tibergien then segues into another of his trademark approaches: applying intellectual and process rigor to topics or beliefs that advisors and their partners like to say they already possess. “People tend to be somewhat superficial” about their management style, he said. “If you think the key to effective management is to say hello to employees in the elevator, you’ve missed the message.” He then moved on to another, related topic: that properly motivated (or not demotivated) members of your team can accomplish great things. “People are smarter than we give them credit for—they have good intuition on whether someone,” like their manager, “is being sincere.”
His mantra that “you can’t motivate people, you can only demotivate them” is related. “One of the worst things we can do is to underestimate people,” so when you do so as a manager, you “create ‘dissatisfiers’ that take them from being a self-driven person to someone who just wants to get the hell out.” To keep employees committed, they “have to believe, at their core, that they have an impact on the development of others and can support people to achieve their goals.” As a manager, you do have to “provide guardrails” to your reports, but you can then “get out of the way; if they go off the rails, help them out or show them the way out.”
The goal is to make them feel like a “stakeholder of the business” since “in the end, we’re just people. We want to be valued and respected—it’s no different than the playground in grade school.”