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Advisor Study Group Formalizes Next-Gen Learning

Zero Alpha Group (ZAG), an alliance of independent advisory firms, is zeroing in on the next generation of members’ prospective leaders. The group has formed the Zero Leadership Institute (ZLI), hoping for positive results. ”We haven’t seen anything honed to the RIA space, in terms of leadership development,” Brent Brodeski, CEO of Savant Capital Management and a founding member of ZAG, said in an interview. Consequently, ZAG created ZLI.

ZAG is by no means a run-of-the-mill study group. It consists of seven member firms, which collectively manage over $8 billion for more than 5,800 clients. ZAG has its own website (“An International Study Group For Fiduciary Financial Advisors”) and has hired an executive director, Katie Cullen, who has more than 15 years of financial industry experience, to “run ZAG,” as she put it.

“ZAG started as an informal study group,” said Cullen, “but now it has become much more.” The firms in the group share resources, she said, and ZLI represents an effort to use those resources to ready replacements who can take over when today’s leaders step aside.

“The founders of the firms in ZAG were entrepreneurs,” Brodeski said. “We had a vision of serving clients with investment and financial planning advice. For us, the business side was often secondary.” The firms have grown in size and scope, with staffs of 20 more employees; “we are at a stage where we’re thinking about turning the reins over to people we’ve hired,” Brodeski said, “but there’s no textbook for founders of firms like ours to follow.”

That said, there is ample wisdom to tap, among the firms’ current heads. Jerry Foster, chairman of Foster Group, for example, is the author of Life Focus; Achieving a Life of Purpose and Influence. Foster will oversee ZLI’s training regimen.

Who will be the trainees? According to Brodeski, each ZAG member firm has selected a few people for the leadership training, to prepare them for more management responsibilities. Training will take place in centralized meetings and at various types of follow-up sessions. ZAG founders as well as outside experts will do the training. “The sessions will have a formal agenda,” Brodeski said, “focusing on specific topics such as Gallup’s StrengthFinder. As founders, we realize we need a deep bench at our firms. We don’t all have people who can take the ball and make the shots.”

Cullen said the training is limited to ZAG firms but other firms may join, if they fit in with the ZAG philosophy. Besides Foster Group and Savant Capital Management, other current members are Plancorp, Carlson Capital Management, Beaird Harris, Resource Consulting Group, and Petersen Hastings.

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