With our twentieth podcast in the books and a year and a half of consistent, monthly episodes, we’d like to once again thank everyone who has listened, subscribed, and given feedback on The COO Roundtable. We’ve enjoyed having these discussions and hearing your responses to them. Our interviews to date have included twenty-nine operations professionals at twenty-five multi-billion dollar RIAs across the country accounting for over $169 billion in client assets under management. Over the past five episodes we’ve featured a few different perspectives on the role of the COO from leaders of RIAs of all sizes. With so many unique topics discussed in the past few episodes, we felt it was the perfect time to recap the top five lessons we’ve learned from our most recent guests. You can also check out the top lessons from previous episodes here, here, and here. Read on for our highlights from episodes sixteen through twenty!
EP 16 featuring David Aaron & Jim Atkinson: How the RIA COO is Pivotal to Transitions
In Episode 16, David and Jim discuss the importance of the COO role in considering and maintaining culture through transitions — either to a work from home environment or during a merger. Jim had this to say about implementing the WFH model at his firm, “…Our compliance officer and business continuity leadership team got together a few weeks ago to discuss this possibility and we worked together to deploy a plan. We held meetings with the entire office to prep for deployment and stayed in constant communication, this helps to ensure we’re supporting one another and maintaining our standard [of excellence].” In the vein of maintaining standards and values, David covers the importance of sharing values with a potential merger partner, “If you’re contemplating doing a merger, really get together with your new colleagues before you close, many times, and in many different settings. Ask them how the firm is operated and speak to them about the pain points, speak to them about what they like about it; talk to other groups that have been merged in, make sure you understand how it went for them. Ask lots of questions and sort out the story. Do your homework, so you don’t get surprised. There can be many surprises.”
EP 17 featuring Vibhaw Arya & Brandon McKerney: How a COO Balances Morale & Maintains Productivity
Episode 17 features Vib and Brandon discussing the COO’s role in supporting a firm’s “people, culture, and vision.” Brandon believes that “[COOs are at their best] when we can get out of the spreadsheet and can get away from the budgets and the numbers and really start to focus on the employees and the culture of building that support network that the firm can thrive in. I think the COO’s job is to empower the employees, make sure that they have all the resources that they need, and make sure they can live their best lives outside of work. How do we empower them to do that and how do we weave that back into their role at the firm?” While Vib believes that, “Just taking that step back and thinking about, ‘How do we want to operate? How do we want to make doing business with us and within our walls as simple as possible?’ It’s very easy to fall in love with a piece of technology, but in reality, it goes back to the process. ‘How are we trying to make it easy for clients to open accounts? How do we operate in a simple, secure, efficient, and compliant way? How do we make things easy for us to operate?’”
EP 18 featuring Steven Beals & Eric Hehman: How a COO Can Develop the Future of Your Firm
In Episode 18, Steven and Eric discuss how COOs can ensure the sustainability and plan the future for their firms. In Steven’s words, “You don’t have to work for a company with tens of thousands of employees to have a career path and an opportunity to seek a job as somebody who oversees operations or a COO of an investment advisory firm. I don’t see a lot of obstacles at the firms that I look outside my window and see. They really do value really great talent and invest in them. Certainly, a thirst for knowledge and people who are innovative and looking to make positive change, enjoy communicating with people at all levels. Those are all important attributes of successful COOs in my experience.” Eric similarly believes that COOs, now more than ever, have a hand in changing the way their firms operate, “I think this is where the voice of someone who has an opinion about operations and productivity or practice management, I think you likely have as big of an audience as you want. You have a chance to impact the business in a bigger way than you could three months ago and when you’re able to implement whatever that idea is, you’ll probably be on a bigger platform than you were before. I think this is a huge positive for folks not necessarily in the conference room, advising clients, but in other parts of the firm where they keep the trains running on time and now, they’re really doing it.”
EP 19 featuring Mike Reed & Michelle Thetford: How a COO Builds & Strengthens Culture
With Episode 19, Mike and Michelle cover how to develop and maintain a strong working culture during a new remote only-environment. Mike says that he collaborated with his CEO, “[Peter Raimondi and I] both believe that our team members, our staff, our partners, they come first before our clients. I know that sounds strange and may rub people the wrong way, but we firmly believe that if our team members are getting everything that they need, if they’re jazzed every day that they come into the firm because their needs and expectations are being attended to, we’re sure by default that the clients are getting extraordinary service and that’s the way we’ve always run our firms.” With a similar emphasis on connecting with her employees, Michelle had this to say, “You have to really think through how to stay connected with your folks and one benefit, I will say of all this is, for me personally, with my direct reports, I talk to them more now than when they sat next door to me. We joke about that because we end every day in my team with a leadership team check-in and it’s just time for us to talk and get caught up on our day. That time we just didn’t take before. We always had as more of a staff meeting to talk about business items, but really that daily connectivity is something we all look forward to every day. The people aspect of this is more important than ever to keep people hopeful and keep them engaged. You really have to focus on it.”
EP 20 featuring Diane Gabianelli & Cecilia Williams: How COOs Encourage Diversity
In Episode 20, Diane and Cecilia cover myriad topics in a very short amount of time from career paths to diversity and inclusion, to getting back to work in the office. Two standout topics from this episode are strategic planning and time management. Diane had this to say on strategic planning, “What we do every year at a 3,000-foot level is our management team gets together and we have this annual practice of determining our strategic initiatives for the next three or five years. We bring those priorities to our shareholders for their input and then we announce them firm-wide every year. That’s really been a critical practice for us, so that helps me figure out how to prioritize all of the things that come across to my desk, my working toward those bigger goals. It also provides transparency so that everyone in the firm knows what the management team is working on. It really creates this level of clarity and communication throughout the firm.” And Cecilia shared how she tackles her To Do list, “I try to make sure that there’s dedicated time to focusing on true initiatives, whether it’s compliance issues (that I obviously can never drop) but there’s also the people issues and everything else that comes along with it that require a lot of focus. Shutting down email — as hard as that can be — or blocking off time on a calendar I think has been really helpful. My new goal is to try and get to one day where we don’t have internal meetings and allow that time for really valuable focused work. I think that is just immeasurable in how much you could get done there.”
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