Adviser shares secrets for running a successful business

Culture, planning and even mistakes help firms thrive

May 13, 2015 @ 1:41 pm

By Liz Skinner

A values-driven culture, written business plans and the room to make mistakes are important factors in an advisory business' success, said one founder of a thriving firm.

Advisers should figure out which goals are meaningful to them, and not let others' ideas about success take precedence, said Debra Wetherby, founder of Wetherby Asset Management, at the spring National Association of Personal Financial Advisors conference in San Diego.

(More: What was NAPFA thinking?)

"I don't believe that people can thrive unless they are operating in line with their values and beliefs," she said.

She described a realization after spending three years as a broker that she was miserable and could only be successful in that business if making money was her No. 1 goal. And it wasn't.

She founded Wetherby Asset Management, which manages about $4 billion in assets, 25 years ago.

"My aim was to do work I was proud of and work for and with people who I cared about," she said. "And along the way I achieved conventional commercial success."

About 450 advisers are attending the three-day event in San Diego to learn new strategies to make their registered investment advisory firms more profitable and sustainable.

Advisers seemed motivated to put some of her suggestions to work at their firms.

"She was very inspiring," said Carol Ringrose Alexander, executive vice president of Retirement Investment Advisors Inc. "She asked a lot of great questions for us to think about."

Ms. Wetherby also recommends having a written business plan every year, because people are more likely to accomplish what they take the time to put in writing. It also can help advisers accomplish tasks in the right order while reaching for a goal.

(More: Formal business plans portend adviser AUM growth, survey shows)

She's had written plans for Wetherby Asset Management every year since she founded the company in 1990.

"I look back through those plans and see how far we've come," she said.

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