In our work with breakaway advisors, who are venturing out on their own and leaving behind the branding and operational resources of a larger wirehouse or independent broker dealer, we find that the main driver is not extreme anger or a dramatic “straw that broke the camel’s back” moment with their current employer – it is simply a desire to run their own firm and push themselves out of their comfort zone and into the world of entrepreneurship.  A few years ago, I listened to a 45-minute debate between two business partners of a very successful wirehouse team as they discussed the pros and cons of starting their own firm.  One of them eventually stared off into the distance and with a slight grin on his face simply said, “We could stay here and collect our paycheck, that’s definitely the easier route…but it will just be more fun to run our own firm. This is the motivation I need for the next phase of our career, as I believe we’ve gotten comfortable and complacent in the past few years.  I’ll push harder every day, knowing it’s our name on the door.”  That was the winning argument – they launched their RIA about five months after that conversation.  We’ve found that advisors making this leap are always running to something, rather than running away from something…

In watching Wolfgang Van Halen, son of guitar-god Eddie Van Halen and actress Valerie Bertinelli, release his debut album last month to much success, I couldn’t help but think of the parallels of his journey and that of the successful breakaway advisors we’ve had the privilege to work with.  Wolfgang was the bass player for Van Halen’s final three tours in 2007, 2012, and 2015 and he performed on the band’s final studio album, A Different Kind of Truth, in 2012.  With his father’s passing on October 6th last year, no one would have blamed Wolfgang for concluding, “I was a member of Van Halen for three tours and an album, it’s just too painful to play music without my dad, I’m going to go do something else with my life.”  Wolfgang inherited the hugely successful EVH brand of guitars, amplifiers, and guitar accessories – he could easily go run that business and call it a career.  Or, he could just as easily go join another band – he toured with the hard rock band Tremonti in 2012 when their bass player was injured and couldn’t perform on their tour.  After the tour, Wolfgang recorded two albums as the bass player of Tremonti in 2015 and 2016. 

While joining another band was clearly an option for him, Wolfgang announced the month following his dad’s passing that he was starting his own band, Mammoth WVH, and would be releasing an album in which he wrote every song and played every instrument himself (drums, bass, guitars, and vocals).  Even though his music is a departure from the classic rock sound of Van Halen, the album immediately went to number one in all genres on iTunes and other digital platforms during the week of its release.  When he announced that he had landed a coveted spot opening for Guns N’ Roses this summer (with a supporting band, of course), everyone’s initial question was, “Will you be playing Van Halen cover songs as part of your set list?”  He has continued to push back on comparisons to his dad’s music and to the idea of covering Van Halen songs, saying, “My dad would be pissed at me if I did that – he wants me to be my own musician, with my own sound.”  In another interview he said, “My last name does open doors for me, but it doesn’t keep the door open. I think you have to prove yourself in order to keep that door open.”

Therein lies the similarities of Wolfgang’s story and that of the breakaway advisors who have built their reputation under a larger brand name, but then take a leap of faith that clients believe in the advisors’ ability to continue to serve the client’s family, with or without that larger brand behind them.  The breakaway advisor wants full control of the products and services they offer their clients and how they market those services to their target market, much the same way Wolfgang chose to play every instrument on his album – after learning from the experience of playing in other bands, he wanted complete control of his destiny.

Wolfgang was asked in an interview with The Washington Post, “What is the reason you didn’t bring in (a bunch of) celebrities or even just the guys who are in your band now and record (with) them? Why did you do it all on your own?” 

This is very similar to the question RIA owners receive all the time, “Why not just move from one wirehouse to another, receive a big check for doing it, and not have to worry about the hassles of being a business owner?”  Wolfgang’s answer to The Washington Post is very similar to the breakaway advisor’s response, he said, “I think it was more of a personal challenge. I wanted to see if I could do it. Since I could play every (instrument), I wanted to set that goal. It had always been a dream of mine to try and do something like that, and through the process, I found that it was very, very fun, and I had a really good time doing it, so I’m definitely going to keep doing it that way (recording all instruments on future albums).”

There is a lot to be said for the collaboration process with other musicians and the joy of bouncing ideas off one another, and each taking turns writing different songs.  It is a fantastic way to make music and is clearly the more conventional route to take when recording an album.  But for someone who has the ability to play every instrument (and in Wolfgang’s case, play them all very well!), why not challenge yourself and see what you can create?  As with everything in life, the more challenging a task, the more pride you have in successfully executing it.  Steve Baltin of Forbes asked Wolfgang, “When you go back and listen to this record as a complete work, what do you take from it?” to which Wolfgang replied, “”I’ve never been this proud of anything in my life. I’ve never worked harder on anything in my life and I’m very proud I was able to pull this off and make a cohesive thing, playing it all on my own.”

As Wolfgang’s famous dad once said, “I would rather bomb playing my own songs than be successful playing someone else’s music.” 


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