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RIA Leaders Must Ditch Firefighting to Protect their Culture

If RIA leaders can redirect their focus towards cultivating and maintaining a corporate culture that focuses on systematic issue resolution as opposed to mere crisis containment the prospect of emerging successfully from challenging circumstances becomes more promising.

The wealth management industry has a problem: we’ve fallen into a trap where we’re too short-term focused, when we should be long-term greedy. This mindset has trickled down into essential areas like business development and talent acquisition.

It’s keeping us up at night. A decreased demand for services, pipeline issues, and a cultural misalignment of advisors top the list of management problems to solve.

Yet there is something that is fully within our control. If RIA leaders can realign their focus on creating and sustaining a company culture that values problem solving over firefighting – one that leans into our bread and butter of creating long-term plans over quick fixes – we’ll make it out of the woods.

There is a path forward.


Don’t Gatekeep Your Strategic Plans

Generals would be remiss to send their soldiers into battle without the proper protections or communicating the plan of attack…yet, it happens every single day in our industry.

Having a true strategic plan that is clearly articulated to – and collaborated with – the whole firm is essential. Yet business leaders have fallen into a trap where their strategic plans are kept away from anyone outside of upper management … as if having everyone on the same page is detrimental to the plan’s success.

In fact, the opposite is true. Solid strategic plans built in the best of times should work in the worst of times. The tactics might (and perhaps, should) change, but working together through the crisis to reinvigorate a strategic plan has proven effective at the firm’s ability to meet the goals by year end. It’s shameful how so many advisors throw their plans out the door when a crisis hits.

In reality, these plans also need to be spread far and wide across the company. They should be measured against and reported on so all associates can see how they’re being executed against. Doing so will allow you to isolate the noise around your goals – making way for the “what can we do?” mantra, so a moratorium on in-person client dinners quickly converts into virtual happy hours which create the social bond you’ve been seeking.

Practicing this form of radical transparency will serve you for the times when the unforeseen happens like a market crash, or a global pandemic. A strategic plan is a North Star. Without it, you’ll float around without the proper navigation. RIA leaders must know their destination, and guide their employees and clients there, too.


Champion Communication, Collaboration and Transparency

The old saying that “management knows best” doesn’t fly anymore. RIA leaders need to be both in sync with their industry and in tune with their team.

Articulating the sightline of the firm’s journey is essential to building trust in a team. How does the view from the top look from their perspective? What are they hearing from clients? There’s no greater way to keep your team intact than to listen to their insights thereby ensuring true collaboration.

What makes the plan sustainable? Finding a way to break down the 10-year vision into bite sized goals at the one, three and five year markers, and getting buy-in in the process. Plotting those moments of measurement demonstrates the forethought and vision of the firm, and allows opportunities to level-set if things go awry.

As the expression goes, “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.”


Avoid Hiring Brilliant Jerks

I learned the phrase ‘brilliant jerks’ long ago, and I’ve avoided hiring that personality even longer before that. Our industry is full of very smart people who can sometimes come off as arrogant and smug, but I’ve always valued the professionals that are kind and have good values above those who simply read better on paper. The mark of a good advisor is if you would trust them to give advice to your own mom or grandma.

Instead of having a colleague who is bright, but I’d never trust with my family, I’d much prefer the reverse. Simon Sinek previously shared the idea that high performers with low trust are less desirable than lower performers with high trust, and I couldn’t agree more. Our industry can sometimes buy into brilliant jerks, but if you build a firm with those people, you’ll drive out the ones who make up the heart and soul of the company.


Fight Fire with Focus

Unifying measures like transparent strategic plans, open lines of communication, and championing the good people have the ability to keep teams aligned, in sync and feeling valued and appreciated. Strategic plans that are well executed, communicated and enforced by thoughtful, smart and kind colleagues will invigorate your company during the toughest times…rather than forcing them to abandon ship. Protect your culture at all costs. Build your plan of attack before the fire arrives at your front door, and then there will be nothing to fight.


JC Abusaid, CEO, Halbert Hargrove

JC headshot.pngAs CEO and President of Halbert Hargrove, JC is guiding the firm confidently into the future. Execution and operational excellence are his bywords; we consider him our glue. He formally took the helm of CEO in December 2021. For many years, working alongside Chairman and HH founder Russ Hill, JC has had the privilege to be involved in most facets of the firm, and has enjoyed being part of HH’s growth and success.

JC enjoys the dynamic nature of his role: “I like solving big challenges,” he says. He joined HH as Operations Manager in 1996 and was named President and Chief Operating Officer in 2010.

JC earned his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a Finance emphasis from the Colegio de Estudios Superiores de Administracion in Bogota, Colombia, and his MBA from University of Redlands School of Business. He was awarded the ACCREDITED INVESTMENT FIDUCIARY™ designation by the University of Pittsburgh-affiliated Center for Fiduciary Studies.

In 2016, JC was part of Stanford University’s pioneer cohort in earning a LEAD Certificate in Corporate Innovation from Stanford Graduate School of Business. In 2021, he was again part of an inaugural class, this time in taking part in BlackRock’s first Emerging Leader Lab.

Married to Ruth for more than 30 years, JC is dad to Nico and Isabella – and a Boston Terrier named Lola. After a decade-long odyssey of breaking ground and overcoming an absurd number of obstacles, JC is happy to report that the Abusaid family finally took up residence in their Laguna Beach home in 2021. JC’s commitment to exercising and eating healthy is legendary; call him a health freak, and he’ll take it as a compliment. Outside of the office, you’ll find him running, mountain biking, wakeboarding, and snowboarding.


JC Abusaid is a part of our exceptional speaker faculty that will be taking to the stage at RIA Edge West. Find out more >>


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