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High Performance Fiduciary Creates Wealth

Aug 17, 2007
A recent survey suggests that advisory principals may, in fact, be savvier about the importance of succession planning than other businesspeople. In the survey, 33% of advisors said they have a written succession plan; only 8% of other business leaders say they have such a plan.

Some advisory firms have a succession plan that was passed down to their leadership as part of the company culture. Based on the experiences of several advisory firms, the succession plan has the added value of reassuring the staff and clients about a stable future of the firm.

But do not look for a succession cookie cutter. Advisors, principals, and partners have numerous options. Over half the advisors opt for the orderly transition to junior partners. Alternatively, firms with over $1 billion under advisement are more easily sold than smaller ones. Sometimes a merger or direct sale, sometimes called a consolidation, constitutes a viable solution. In a family business, ownership, control and distribution of the business assets tend to be the focus.

The advisory business tends to be more complex because the skills that make it work today are highly specialized, says Dan Smith, a Connecticut based attorney specializing in helping maximizing business value. "Defining who's going to run the firm and who is going to be the rainmaker help significantly in the creation and enforcement of a succession plan," he says.

Smith questions whether the key manager can also be the firms rainmaker. While this arrangement may work on a day-to-day basis, the acquirer, Smith adds, wants to know if the firm has the ability to continue what used to happen. A single multi-talented individual may sharply affect the firms valuation. Transition to fee-based compensation is helpful, says Smith, because ongoing profits are more accurately projected than with asset-based compensation.

Former Evaluation Associates (EAI) President Jeff Van Orden embraces the concept of transferring the firm from one generation to the next inside the firm, part of the company's culture since its founding in 1947. You need to find people willing to embrace the risks of ownership and entrepreneurship,he says.

When a process is in place and understood, it tends to provide the principals, senior advisors, advisors and the associates, and management, the added level of stability and consistency they desire, says Van Orden.

Still, it's advisable to consider carefully the impact of the top executive's decision. Wealth adviser Arthur Bavelas says the principal's considerations will have far-reaching impact. Running the business is one thing, handing it over and expecting to bring in the same money when you are no longer actively engaged is a different matter, says Bavelas. That is not to say it can't work. Among other assignments from his wealthy clientele, Bavelas works with the principals of firms wanting to make a successful transition out of a business. It usually comes after some serious soul-searching,says Bavelas.

There are a number of questions for someone preparing for his departure from his source of livelihood, notes Bavelas. Does he care about the people? Is he communicating sufficiently with the junior members of the firm? How long will his alternative to working, say worldwide travel, hold his attention? If the principal has a unique ability, can he be replaced? How fungible is the client list -- especially if it's a relationship driven business? The success of the plan depends on his knowing the right answers to these types of questions.

Bottom line,Bavelas says, a succession plan is about core values.

Such values are inherently anticipated where turnover involves a family member. You don't hear about successful family transitions -- only the failures, says family business advisor Jane Zalman. Considering the slim odds of success, the turning over of control of a family business is a critical moment. Says Zalman, 80 to 90% of all U.S. businesses are family businesses and of those, 70% do not make the transition to the second-generation. "The numbers are pretty bleak," she says. This most frequently occurs because family members have expectations that are almost always in conflict.

Ideally, a family member works inside the business for a period of years and established relationships with clients over time. And, though it may seem a bit romantic, he or she can also maintain a sense of the heritage of the firm. The reigns of control are able to be passed better when they're passed more gradually, with each family member taking on more responsibility, and slowly increasing the operating responsibilities, and before long, resuming the firm's growth.
About the Author
Robert Bailey is the founder of TrustedAdvisory.com
which shares strategies and information for protecting
and managing wealth.

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