Nick Georgis, a vice president at Charles Schwab, hosted a panel of four award winners from past and present to share their best practices to one of the most well attended sessions of the entire Schwab conference.  Here are ten tips they gave:

Deb Wetherby, CEO, Wetherby Asset Management.  [2009 best-in-business award winner]

  • Define principals and values in written form.  This is important for the leadership of the firm, along with the interactions with clients, employees and the community.  “I am a real fan of the written word.  When you write it down, you stick to it.”
  • Write a business plan.  Every year we had a plan, even if some years it was just a list with ten things to accomplish to be a successful.  Deb paraphrased a Ben Stein quote, “the first thing to getting what you want out of life is to decide what you want.”  She also recommended asking for everyone’s point of view within the firm to help think ahead.
  • Approach every relationship as a partner.  Her firm provides clients, vendors and anyone else that they interact with the WAM fundamentals, which define the basic requirements of interacting with her firm (e.g. be organized.)  “If you are going to work with us, these are the things we expect of you and you can expect of us.”
  • Strive for success.  A motivational thought she had: “Push yourself to be better, or you will look up one day and be seeing your competitors’ backs, saying ‘Huh, how did that happen?’”

Keith McWilliams, CEO, Mt. Eden Investment Advisors  [2010 pacesetter award winner]

  • Adapt your business.  He saw himself in the business of “complexity and change management.”  Referring to his success, he openly shared, “We can’t pretend that we planned it.”
  • Think like a new business to grow big.  “We want to grow to a billion.  To do that we still need to act like entrepreneurs.”  He also fosters a culture that entertains disagreement. He believes there are lots of opportunities, so the question becomes ‘where do we take it from here?’

Donald King, CIO, JMG Financial Group, Ltd. [2010 best-in-tech award]

  • Take advantage of technology.  He discussed how something like his CRM capabilities helped his business become more successful.  More advisors should leverage the tools that are at their fingertips.
  • Prepare for the future.  What was most interesting out of all his advice was his look at what the future will bring.  Virtualization was one concept.  He wondered how will tablets (e.g. iPad) be used by advisors in the future.  “Security of our clients’ data” was also a concern of his, as technology continues to advance.  The final big question he had for the industry in the years to come, “are we going to market and deliver our services through social media?”

Tim Kochis, Chairman, Aspiriant  [2006 leadership award winner]

  • Plan for succession.  He advised that those that are principals need to wake up to the fact that “they are not going to live forever.  And at some point you may not be the best person for the job.”  Speaking about advisors, he said “We’re our planners.”  Still, as planners, many are not planning for their own future.
  • Transition your business successfully.  “I planned 6 years in advance that I was stepping down from my CEO role.”  He recommended telling stakeholders over time, starting with staff, then clients and finally the media.  It is also important to know “what your life, after that management transition, is going to look like.”  One point he was consistent in sharing is the difference between owning and managing.  For many it is “hard to distinguish equity from management.  They don’t have to equate.” 

For the independent advisors that attended the panel, they agreed it is always good to hear the advice from other successful advisors in the industry to either reinforce what they are doing or to give them new ideas to implement.
Mike Byrnes founded Byrnes Consulting to provide consulting services to help advisors become even more successful. His expertise is in business planning, marketing strategy, business development, client service and management effectiveness, along with several other areas. Read more at