Bill Hamm was facing some difficult news a year ago for Independent Financial Partners, the company of which he was CEO and had launched in 2000. It was not on how to deal with the explosive 1,000 percent growth the company had experienced the year before, but an internal issue.

He had to terminate his chief operating and chief compliance officers.

“We had one employee who took some liberties with some forms that they created, and it created a compliance issue,” Hamm says. “It had nothing to do with client money or anything like that. As a result — to a certain degree — the CCO and the COO were terminated because of that oversight.”

The situation gave Hamm a golden opportunity to take a step back and review if there needed to be other changes within the company.

“We had independent auditors come in,” Hamm says. “We checked everything from start to finish just to make sure that there were no systemic problems, which there weren’t. It was just a one-off situation that created this challenge, but we decided to take it and turn it into something that we could really work with.

“We took it as an opportunity to relook at everything. We revamped our staff, we revamped our technology, and we revamped our value proposition. Between the three of us executives, we have put together some additional team members who enable us to raise the level of service and items that we provide to our advisers to include additional value-added programs.”

Hamm follows the approach in his company of treating others as he would like to be treated himself.

“When we built this thing, it was built with the idea of me as an adviser — what kind of organization would I like to affiliate with, for me to service my clients?” he says. “That is how we’ve gone about creating the vision or the concept, and I think that is one of the reasons why we have had such good growth over the last three or four years, especially just because of that one philosophy. We are pretty proud of that.”

Here’s how Hamm seized the opportunity to set things right in the wealth management company from Tampa and bring improvements while driving 2013 revenue of $110 million, up from $82.79 million in 2012 for both commission-based business through LPL Financial and fees through IFP.

Look at your end goals

One of the first steps you may want to undertake when considering if you should revamp your business is to look at your end goals and determine if your business model has the ability to reach those objectives.

“Because we had some rapid growth in the last three or four years, it was probably a good time to re-evaluate, relook and focus on if where we were going was where we wanted to go,” Hamm says.

Once he realized it was a good time to assemble the ideas he had been forming into self-examination, he started to see where alignment could be improved.

“Make sure you are going into the direction that you want to go,” Hamm says. “Make sure that the things that you have done to date were what you wanted to do, and identify any changes that you want to make and decide if you are confident in what you want to do.”

Confidence and belief in the direction you are about to go is critical. Belief in your ability and capacity to undertake and complete a mission will help ensure a successful performance more than any other factor.

“The worst thing somebody can do is start down a road where he or she is not confident going down,” he says. “If the people who are following you, and the people you hired to help you get there — if they don’t see that confidence in you, then it’s going to be a long road to go.

“Make sure you know where you’re going.”

Crystallize your dream team

Revitalization is often not complete without a shake-up in personnel. For some organizations, it offers the chance to reassess your team before any changes are made. For Hamm, it was a case of having to replace executives who left rather suddenly. However, in a way, it gave him a jump on how to decide what qualifications were needed for his new executive team members.

“I knew pretty much where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to do, but there was still some technical things, some different technologies that we needed that obviously I’m not an expert at,” Hamm says. “There were some compliance requirements that we would now need to make because of a larger size and other things. That’s why I hired them, I will be the first to tell you I don’t know everything.

“I needed someone who had more experience supervising a larger number of employees,” he says. “A number of years ago, we had only six or seven employees. And at that point everybody wore a number of different hats and performed different functions. So it was a little bit easier from a corporate structure perspective.”

But in the last three years, the company has gone from six employees to 34, and almost 500 advisers.

“While we’re still not a big firm, growth brings additional challenges of dealing with those employees and their needs and putting more structure in place,” Hamm says.

He needed someone who had experience managing larger numbers of people before and someone else who had experience in both the compliance and the operations field.

His approach was to conduct a search not through a recruiter but via referral.

“This is a large industry but yet it is small to the extent that a lot of people know each other, especially if you have been in the business for 30 years like I have,” he says. “You develop a network of people who from time to time become very beneficial to you in filling these types of positions.”

A local securities attorney that Hamm had worked with had a network of prospects. He knew two well-qualified candidates that he told Hamm about.

“When I reached out to him for thought, he actually recommended these two gentlemen,” he says. “They came in, we interviewed them, we talked and we went back and forth. And we finally put it together.

“We’ve used other programs like LinkedIn and some of the more common lists for other employees in different departments. But for this I wanted to go with somebody who knew somebody, who had somebody in the know.”

Launch your plan and watch it

If you’ve done your due diligence on your candidates, and thought out every scenario possible about how your future executive might fit in, it’s time to decide and get your revitalization underway and realize your achievements.

The first matter at hand is to observe how well the new executive’s personality fits in with your company culture. The better the chemistry, the better the fit, Hamm says.

The second point is to discern how well an experienced and qualified candidate will be accepted — and whether the skill set and background make an impression on fellow workers.

“With our internal employees, just the resumes, credentials and their background gave them instant credibility,” Hamm says. “For our advisers, when I published their resumes and they had a chance to speak with them, it was instant credibility because, again, if you reviewed the resumes, you would understand that it was kind of a ‘wow’ factor, which was what we were looking for and what we needed.”

For Hamm, accepting the challenge of a leadership shake-up and addressing what needed to be improved was like hitting a home run.

“Well, we did, and I think we are blessed to have them here, and as part of that process, my son Chris also came back from New York to work with us in a number of different capacities that we needed,” he says. “Since then, we added five or six new people in different positions to improve our value proposition to our advisers and our clients as well as strengthen some of the internal mechanisms that we put in place to surveil all this business.

“Our new COO has a resume that is probably as long as your arm, and we were quite blessed to get him,” Hamm says. “Actually, he commutes from New York every week. He comes in on Monday morning and flies home every Friday night. He had expertise in a number of areas that I thought we needed to help set the foundation and take us to the next level.”
In 2011, IFP had $25.1 million in revenue, as compared to $1.2 million in 2009.

“I can safely say a year later on the anniversary of the change and also after investing a fair amount of money, I think we have probably one of the strongest compliance platforms out there as well as one of the strongest value propositions that anybody in our business would find,” Hamm says.

Takeaways

  • Review your end goals.
  • Decide on your dream team members.
  • Launch your plan and observe how it goes.

The Hamm File:

Name: Bill Hamm
Title: CEO
Company: Independent Financial Partners

Birthplace: Orlando, Fla. But I was raised in North Florida/South Georgia so that’s where my accent comes from.

Education: I got my bachelor’s degree in agriculture and economics from the University of Florida. I’ve got a master’s degree from the American College in Pennsylvania. I went back to school to the University of South Florida and got a co-degree in accounting and finance in the late 1980s after I was out in the workforce for a while. I have all the C’s: CFA, CFP, CLU and CHFC. But I’m done with school. I’m not done learning, but I’m done with school.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? Besides cutting a lawn or two, the first job I had was, every summer from the time I was 8 on, I would go work on our family farm in South Georgia. My grandparents and aunts and uncles grew corn, raised hogs, cattle, hay, everything. About the middle of June when school was out, I would go up there for about a month or month and a half. It was physical labor, throwing hay bales, cropping tobacco, working in the hog pens. It was very, very, very hard physical labor in the middle of the summer in South Georgia.
But what that made me feel was it made me appreciate the type of job I have now. That being said, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world. A lot of the values that I espouse now come from my parents and my grandparents.

Who do you admire in business? I don’t know if there is any specific individual; obviously there are the giants like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. I just admire most anybody who is self-made, who created something from nothing, who has created jobs — some of those people make a difference for other people. Having gone through that process myself I know how hard that is for anybody to do that on whatever scale. I think is pretty amazing.

What is the best business advice you ever received? Probably from my granddad, Frank Morgan. He told me, “Bill, you damn well better do what you say you are going to do because when everything is said and done, your reputation is the only thing you’ve got left.” And we try to adhere to that, and I think that has served us well.

What is your definition of business success? Success is measured by if you have been able to do what you wanted to do. I don’t think it necessarily is measured as much by money, although I think money is important because it enables you to continue doing the vision that you have. But I think if you are in a business, and you are truly making a difference and you are able to take part of that and contribute back, then to me that is a success. You are providing jobs for other people, or you are providing services for other people that again make a difference ... to me, that is successful.
I could probably point to a number of individuals I won’t name who somebody outwardly may think are successful but when you look underneath the hood, they paid for what they are doing, their family life is a mess, what they are doing is not really making a contribution. But they make a lot of money. I don’t necessarily think that makes you a success.

Learn more about Independent Financial Partners at:

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How to reach: Independent Financial Partners, (813) 341-0960 or www.ifpartners.com

Published in Florida