Duran Duran

Winning in a crowded field

What the Golden State Warriors' success can teach advisory firms

May 28, 2019 @ 3:55 pm

By Joe Duran

On May 16, we announced the sale of United Capital to Goldman Sachs. While I will one day write about what we learned in the process, and what we have in store for the future, it's prudent to wait until we have gone through the client consent process and regulatory approval before I do so.

Nonetheless, there are few insights that might prove helpful, which aren't necessarily specific to this event but were crucial to our team getting there.

One of my respites from trying to get this transaction over the finish line has been watching the NBA playoffs. While we were doing something quite rare, the Golden State Warriors have been doing something truly unique: building a dynasty. They are the first team to reach the NBA Finals five years in a row since Bill Russell's Boston Celtics decades ago.

The Warriors' NBA finals might turn out to be as disappointing as the Game of Thrones finale, but regardless they accomplished an incredibly rare feat. I saw in their team the four pillars of success we have tried to instill throughout our firm (albeit not quite as successfully), and these might help your firm to win in a crowded field:

1. The mission is bigger than any one person. After the Warriors swept Portland in the Western Conference Finals, Draymond Green talked about the importance of the team's mission for the players, coaches and owners, and their clarity on what needs to be accomplished. Players have had to sacrifice their playing time and adapt their style for the greater good.

A clearly articulated mission unites everyone, becomes the ethos of a team and can overcome the egos of every individual. In business, it can be easy to ignore the importance of mission because our game lasts longer than a couple of hours. However, establishing your purpose and clearly articulating the reason your firm exists in the world is the most important key to unifying your team and overcoming the invariable obstacles and challenges your business will face.

Golden State isn't unique because they want to be the best team in any one game or any one season; they are great because everyone wants to be a part of being the very best team they can be every day.

2. You only get as far as the talent on the team. Right at the start of the playoffs, one of the Warriors' starters, DeMarcus Cousins, went down with an injury. The Warriors kept winning. Then their superstar, Kevin Durant was injured and out for the final two games against Houston and the entire Portland series, and they kept winning.

Then in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, the team's Game 3 hero, Andre Iguodala, sat out with an injury; they won regardless. Many teams would have collapsed with the loss of that much talent, but the Warriors didn't, because they are united by mission and they have the depth of talent to keep winning.

As an industry, we often settle for good enough on our own teams and wonder why we aren't more successful. We are in the service business, which means we are only as good as the people we have on the team and the work that they do. Upgrade the team and you'll upgrade your results.

3. Adjust to the competition. Houston's coach said in an interview that his team didn't need to change their game plan to beat Golden State because they are what they are. That was a mistake. Golden State was a different team once Mr. Durant went down, but even without that shift you can bet that the Warriors would have adapted their game plan during the game and after every loss. Not unlike football's New England Patriots, winners adapt and change their strategy faster and more successfully than anyone else.

Many in wealth management spend too much time staring inward and ignore that the competition is improving. Every firm needs to adapt to the changes happening around them if it wants to win.

4. There aren't any shortcuts. If there's one thing to remember, it's that you almost never find a person or a team that succeeds in the long term without putting in the work. Discipline is the glue that keeps it all together. Everyone must be willing do the work, employing passion and energy.

All the best intentions, talent and good luck in the world will not help you become a champion if you don't put in the sweat.

What is winning anyway?

This is the second time I've been a part of building a business that was sold to a Dow Jones 30 company. As a consequence, I've been asked if there were any unifying factors between the two firms.

In both cases, we tried to do something we felt was important, we hired the best people we could find, we adapted to the unexpected twists in the road and we all created and worked with passion and enthusiasm.

No one gets a world's best trophy in our business, unlike the NBA championship, so we have to define victory in a different way.

Winning in business is like winning in life: How close did you get to what you wanted to become? Sometimes, with the right combination, and a little luck, you get further than you ever imagined.

(More: Growth is a must, but watch out for the trap)

Joe Duran is founder and CEO of United Capital. Follow him @DuranMoney.

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