Jim Wyland, founder and president of WealthStone, was lucky to find his life’s work at age 21. He’s even luckier that more than 40 years later, he loves it even more.
“I think God’s hand has been on WealthStone and my life for a long time,” he says.
He’s so thankful, he doesn’t plan to retire. He wants to follow in the footsteps of Billy Graham, where you keep doing what you love and just scale it back as you get older.
“Why would you retire when you’re pretty good at doing what you’re doing? You’re getting better at it as time goes on. It energizes you. You love it. It fits your natural gifts,” Wyland says.
It was the influence of a few mentors that got him started on the journey to wealth management and business planning strategy. His next-door neighbor in Indianapolis, L.H. Bailey, who loaned Wyland his Cadillac to take to the senior prom, was an investment adviser who recommended a college major in finance and accounting.
“I was one of the rare people that came to college knowing what I was going to major in, knowing what I was going to be — and all because I had a really good mentor,” Wyland says.
As an athlete at The Ohio State University who played lacrosse, Wyland was introduced to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes by all-American quarterback Rex Kern, who was an older fraternity brother.
“That changed my paradigm to ‘I want to do well for Jim’ to ‘I want to do well for others. I want to make a difference.’ So, I caught this vision combination of ‘I want to be a wealth adviser, but also, I really want to do it as kind of a ministry, as a way to touch lives, make a difference,’” he says.
Wyland started in his professional career thanks to another mentor, George McCloy, who was a wealth adviser with an insurance focus and a fraternity alumnus.
“I really started my company my senior year of college and worked underneath George’s umbrella, we’ll call it, for a couple years and then just went on my own. So, I’ve always worked for myself; never worked for anybody else,” Wyland says.
Incorporated in 1977, the company was called Professional Planning Consultants. Wyland rebranded to WealthStone a decade ago, taking inspiration from its office — a stone mansion in Upper Arlington formerly owned by landlord Albert J. DeSantis.
Wyland started working with entrepreneurs who needed some basic planning and insurance. He stayed with many of those clients — and their families — as they built their wealth to also help them with their taxes, investments and more.
Relationships got Wyland started, and it’s been the key to both WealthStone’s success and some of its biggest mistakes.
Invest in the due diligence
Wyland says working with the right people has been critical, whether those were internal hires — the average tenure of WealthStone’s 25 employees is about 20 years — or outside alliances. He’s worked with partners like Valmark Financial Group, which provides insurance back office, underwriting and other resources, for nearly 40 years, or Charles Schwab, which became the firm’s custodian in the mid ’80s, the first year it took on independent registered investment advisers.
“Picking the right partners has been the best thing we’ve ever done,” he says.
And picking the wrong partners has led to the biggest regrets.
“You trust somebody. You believe in them. You form an alliance, thinking it’s the right synergy, and it doesn’t work out,” he says.
Take the analogy of marriage: you start out as friends, get to know each other and slowly become committed, taking time to build the relationship. But, Wyland says, in business, you often don’t have the luxury. Everyone puts their best foot forward and suddenly, they are part of your organization.
“You really don’t know somebody until you live with them for a while,” he says.
If you’re going to bring someone into your inner circle and team or trust them as a partner, slow down and put in the work getting to know them first, Wyland says.
“It’s about people and it’s about picking the right partners. If there’s one message, it’s really, really get to know the people you’re working with,” he says.
Luckily, there are more resources today to help you do that. You can work with consultants or a coach who specializes in recruiting and vetting, while utilizing things like screening tests.
“My biggest mistakes were moving too fast, trusting too much and then finding out later I could have probably figured out that that was the wrong company or the wrong person to trust. I just didn’t do my job well enough,” Wyland says.
Partners can be either someone who is equal, where you both co-own something, or it can be an alliance partner who brings something you don’t. You trust them to add that value to whatever you’re doing. But what a partner isn’t, Wyland says, is the guy you met on the golf course or the lady you met at a party.
“Do the due diligence. Talk to their clients. Get multiple people that do what they do and pick the best and brightest,” he says. “It takes a lot of time to do that, but it’s the best time you’ll ever invest.”
Working with the right partners is just one piece of the puzzle, although admittedly a big piece. Proper due diligence is even larger than that.
For example, Wyland says, a real estate venture needs four components to be successful. And like four legs to a chair, if you’re missing one, it will fall over.
It has to be a viable service or asset that will succeed in the marketplace because there’s a demand. It needs the right team who can build it, lead it, market it and service it. It needs capital, whether that’s equity or debt. And it needs the right structure, which considers the ownership, compensation, how taxes are allocated, and preferences for things like capital versus sweat equity.
When speed is a factor, Wyland says it’s time to trust your gut, faith or heart. It’s not a matter of whether you like the person; it’s a matter of how does this feel?
It’s normal that sometimes partners outgrow each other. You may need to raise the bar, or you may have different needs. But, again, relationships fuel everything. You may need help, while being a source of connections to someone else.
If you’re looking to make more connections, Wyland says be proactive and ask people who you trust. People love it when you say, “Can you help me figure this out?”
“The greatest privilege in life is helping someone succeed,” he says. “A lot of times that means you’ve introduced them to and basically made it easier for them to avoid bad decisions and find people that can align to help them get to their greatest potential.”
WealthStone and its team have mentored a lot of young entrepreneurs. The company also helps select startups.
“Part of our ministry is to help startups. We think it’s really interesting to add wisdom to guys in their 20s and 30s and do it very inexpensively, so that they can get the benefit of a WealthStone without having to, quote, pay what a fully mature company would pay,” he says.
However, one of the company’s imperatives is that the people it works with — startups or otherwise — have to be coachable, Wyland says. They have to be willing to take time to listen, accept advice and actually implement it.
“No coach wants to coach an athlete where the athlete won’t follow, ‘you’ve got to work on this and improve that,’ and they come back a week later and they’ve done no exercise and no practice,” he says.
Just like a coach might tell an athlete he or she is off the team because they didn’t study the film, WealthStone has fired clients. Wyland says some people pretend, but if they’re too busy to listen, it’s not going to work out. And sometimes, those people will come back later and say, “I really should have taken the time …”
Wyland also has learned how important it is to say no. He knows WealthStone’s ideal client, someone with complex operations who can take advantage of all the firm’s capacities.
“Then we know who to say no to that doesn’t really fit that, and who to embrace and really pursue because we know we can make a big difference or bigger differences in that space,” he says. “We’ve done that OK. We haven’t been fabulous at that. But we have really benefitted from keeping our capacity available, by not having it taken up by clients that we really can’t serve completely or fully.”
- Do the due diligence before you partner with someone.
- Connections matter. Slow down and really get to know people.
- You can be both a mentor and mentee.