Slideshow 7 Management Secrets From Successful Advisors

  • October 30 2014, 9:09am EDT

7 Management Secrets From Successful Advisors

To make meaningful gains in growth and efficiency, you need a vision, organizational alignment, and disciplined execution -- in other words, a strategic plan.

A simple strategic plan can help you stay focused and influence where your business ends up. This roadmap can also facilitate accountability: Give your staff members responsibility for implementing it, and evaluate them on their success.

Here are a few insights from leading advisors on setting strategic priorities, keeping initiatives on track, and getting staff engaged in the process.

Click through to see the list -- adapted from the book Be Greater: Why Being Good Enough is No Longer an Option, published by Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services -- or see a single-page version here.

Photos courtesy of Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services.


Russ Hill, chairman and CEO of Halbert Hargrove, conducts strategic planning in a similar way each year, so everyone knows what to expect. A highly disciplined approach to monitoring progress keeps the firm on point to meet its objectives, and active involvement of the entire staff creates a high level of enthusiasm for the process.

What Hill says:

"I got involved with strategic planning when I was doing volunteer work with a hospital and an aquarium in our area. I saw firsthand how their structured and disciplined approach made a difference, so I brought these ideas to our firm.

"We now have a formal planning process that involves all our employees. We use a pyramid to outline our major areas of focus, and a tracking spreadsheet to stay on top of everything we have decided to do.

"Our employees love how we do strategic planning. They know what's going on, what we are trying to do, and what they are supposed to do. They are fully engaged."

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Strategic planning at Sapient Private Wealth Management is a collaborative effort, says managing partner Greg Erwin. The executive team gathers input from people at all levels of the organization about what is and isn't working well, and uses this to help establish the firm's priorities.

What Erwin says:

"Every year, I have several review meetings with each person to discuss what we are trying to accomplish, and where there may be obstacles in our way. For example, people may have concerns that we can't meet our goals because we don't have the right technology tools in place, and that's really critical for me to know.

"We took steps to fine-tune our approach to strategic planning. Now there is more clarity and accountability for the entire team, and people are really connected to what we are trying to do."


The senior team at Buckingham Asset Management took time to identify what they saw as opportunities and challenges facing the business in the coming years, says CEO Adam Birenbaum. Now four overarching themes drive the firm's strategic initiatives.

What Birenbaum says:

"Our leadership team got together and listed all the things we could do to move our business forward — along with all the challenges we could see over the coming years. We had hundreds of bullet points, but started seeing trends. We realized everything fit nicely into four broad categories: (1) attracting and developing top talent, (2) having an unrivaled client experience, (3) developing a robust infrastructure, and (4) having financial strength. We agreed that if we concentrated on these four pillars, we would be one of the recognized leaders in the independent wealth management space.”


Michael Nathanson brought in a professional facilitator to get the executive team at The Colony Group brainstorming and sharing ideas about the company's future. Together, the executives wrote the firm's strategic plan, and are now actively involved in implementing it to drive change.

What Nathanson says:

"After our merger with Mintz Levin, our executive committee came together to discuss next steps and we brought in a professional facilitator to help us through the process. This person started by interviewing people at all levels within the firm to get a sense of what they thought our value proposition was, and how we were doing overall.

"When she met with the executive team for a brainstorming session, she had this as background information to make sure we were aligned with our staff."

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Colony Group's executives divided up responsibility after the brainstorming session: Each took ownership of an area and filled out that part of the strategic plan. Vice chairman Bob Glovsky notes that he took responsibility -- along with another colleague -- for overseeing the business development elements.

What Glovsky says:

"Investment performance was assigned to our chief investment officer, business development was assigned to me and a colleague, and accountability was assigned to Michael. For accountability, each partner has goals related to the plan that get reviewed annually.

"I don't know how an organization can maximize its potential and grow without a strategic plan that sets the direction and assigns responsibility for change."


Brinton Eaton Wealth Advisors joined Mariner Wealth Advisors to hand off time-consuming back-office functions to an array of specialists -- and to obtain access to financing the next generation of management needed to execute a succession plan, says firm CEO Bob DiQuollo.

What DiQuollo says:

"We had a succession plan in place, but after the financial crisis, our growth had slowed. This had implications for the finances the younger members of our team had available to buy out the older advisors who would be leaving the firm at some point.

"We had the right people on board who could take over management of the firm at some point — but they didn't have the buying power. Doing a deal with Mariner Wealth Advisors provided, and will provide, the necessary funds to help facilitate this transfer of ownership and any future transfers.

"Naturally, our staff was very pleased that current owners would still be partial owners and that there would be opportunities to potentially be a replacement for current people as they retired. When we told our clients what we were doing, they were also pleased to hear we were planning for the future."


When Brian Dombkowski joined Sand Hill Global Advisors as chief investment officer, the firm was just emerging from its relationship with a bank. It had a great brand, long history and critical mass, he explains, and the firm's chairwoman and co-founder, Jane Williams, was about to put ownership into the hands of its employees.

Dombkowski became president of the firm and then moved into his current position as CEO and chief investment officer, taking control of the operational aspects of the business.

What Dombkowski says:

"There is a saying, 'No one ever washes a rental car.' It's true -- ownership matters. [It] creates a wonderful economic incentive for everyone involved. It was a very attractive situation.

"A successful transition requires a founder ready to hand over responsibility, and a new leader who appreciates the opportunity in front of them."