Don Trone is back on the Movers and Shakers list-and on the cover of this magazine-soon after his first appearance, in 2007. And why not: his signature issue, the fiduciary standard, is this year's hot topic. Yes, we all know that the harmonization of practice standards is coming; and yes, everyone agrees that the standard should include-or at least pay obeisance to-the idea that the client comes first. But it's also worth remembering that Trone was an advocate for fiduciary standards long before it was fashionable, and labored to create ways for advisors to systemetize the application of those standards to their practices.
Today, Trone has taken his ideas about practice standards to the next level. After founding and then leaving fi360, the Pennsylvania-based organization that offers training, web-based tools and other resources for investment fiduciaries, he became director the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Institute for Leadership in Mystic, Connecticut. Trone was tasked with analyzing why the Coast Guard had outperformed other uniformed services after Hurricane Katrina. He realized that the differentiating quality was that Coast Guard officers shared a well-defined ethos-they knew how to behave, what their goals were, and how to achieve them. That gave them freedom to respond to the urgent needs of the moment.
Trone's brainstorm was that every leader, whether a financial advisor or the pilot of a rescue helicopter, needs a well-defined ethos. Individuals who have a strong core definition of effective leadership can inspire others to learn, to risk and to grow. He teamed up with organ-izational experts to create a systematic, teachable set of leadership qualities, akin to the system of fiduciary steps he had developed before. Strategic Ethos, a new company that teaches advisors and others how to develop a standard of excellence based on guiding beliefs, leadership characteristics and a defined decision-making process, was born.
The market turmoil of 2008 and 2009 proved the enduring value of leadership, Trone says. Those advisors who were comfortable navigating uncertainty and who believed in their process were able to inspire confidence and trust from their clients. During the market meltdown, their client lists grew.
Building and maintaining an ethos of leadership requires much more than charisma. Ethical leadership stems from a strong moral core, and comprises competence, courage and creativity. Skills and character work together, Trone believes. He's mapping financial planning's next practice management frontier. Having done so with fiduciary processes before, there's no reason not to believe that Trone will redefine excellence for advisors once again.
Founder and Chief Ethos Officer, Strategic Ethos
Years in industry: 22
Designations: Founded the Center for Fiduciary Studies, which awards the AIF and AIFA designations.
First job: Pumped gas in West Chester, Penn. I befriended a baby raccoon who would climb on my shoulders.
Best career decision: To stay focused and centered on what you're passionate about -for me, that was fiduciary responsibility.
Worst career misstep: Mistaken trust.
Favorite way to relax: Walks along the ocean. We moved to Mystic two years ago. The surf seems to erode whatever problems I bring along.
Most important thing I learned this year: The grandparent thing is really as cool as everyone says it is.
Your wish for the year ahead: That we finally get legislation requiring a fiduciary standard for anyone providing advice on financial products, be they investments, insurance or mortgages.
Your worst fear for the year ahead: Re-recession. Economists have jumped the gun on announcing a recovery. I don't think we'll see one until the average small business owner, retiree and homeowner feels financially secure.