Lessons Learned From 100 Years of Success and Stability
September 4, 2012
Time can erode the values and principles on which a company is founded. It’s inevitable that leadership will change, employees come and go, and external pressures will wear away at the original mission and vision. However, a firm or company can survive the test of time by maintaining a culture that truly benefits all employees – not just a select few. Holding fast to this culture creates incredible stability that allows a company to weather constant changes in the economy, the needs of clients and customers, and the integration of new people who must not only join the company, but embrace the culture as well.
Today, at Wolf, we have practices that came from lessons learned over the last century that are the basis of our culture, which has brought us stability and success. Those practices are:
- Developing our people to be the best in their profession, to make a positive difference in our clients’ success
- Creating greater stability through strong succession planning
- Fostering trust and commitment of our employees by providing them with a sound retirement plan
- Utilizing a distributed leadership model that empowers people at all levels within the firm
- Focusing on core competencies to develop in-depth skills to be the best at what we do for our clients
Helping your people become the best they can be benefits the entire company
We, at Wolf, know that our reputation is our only product. That hard-earned reputation comes not only from our client service, but from the skill and expertise of our people. It is essential for the success and continuity of any company to invest in the professional development of its people and help them become the best in their field.
We’ve invested heavily in systems and processes to provide timely feedback, training, and coaching that help our people execute their own individual development plan and empower them to reach their fullest potential. Wolf believes strongly in supporting our employees’ desire to serve their clients at the highest level and compete with their peers at other firms. That is why we invest in the latest technology that facilities research and virtual team collaboration to efficiently and competitively fulfill our clients’ needs. Our leadership and development program is designed and implemented by a team of professionals who are dedicated solely to helping our employees attain both technical and leadership skills that will allow them to achieve their own professional goals while continuing to enhance their contributions to the firm.
Lesson learned: Investing in the professional development of your people is essential to building the best team possible and maintaining competitiveness.
Creating greater stability through strong succession planning
Being established for more than a century means several generations of people have passed through Wolf. Our clients, some of whom have been with us for many decades truly appreciate the responsive, individual working relationships with our people. More importantly, these clients know that our values and expertise are consistent, transcend the individual, and are rooted in the firm itself, instilling continued confidence, even when our people change.
Sound succession planning creates stability in the firm, consistency in the quality of service, and continuity in the level of expertise of the teams we assemble for clients. Our senior management team continually assesses the bench strength of every department in the firm. They approach this assessment aware of the skills needed today as well as what will be needed from our next generation of leaders, which guides our succession planning. This creates a seamless transition for our clients and our people when senior leaders retire, which promotes stability and continuity in the quality of service and expertise we provide.
Lesson learned: Strategic and strong succession planning creates stability and success through the ability to deliver consistent, high-quality client service.
Building trust with your employees by helping them build their future
A major benefit of having a stable succession plan is attracting and retaining the best people in your field. Your employees may love their profession and the workplace you create, but what helps build continued loyalty and trust is what you provide them when they retire.
Thirty years ago, the owner’s group at Wolf– from the youngest to the oldest member- all agreed that we wanted to create a strong future for our people which could not be achieved by an unfunded retirement plan. We decided then to commit considerable resources to build a strong defined benefit plan that today is the lynchpin to our strategy of caretaker-owners and our ability to create a legacy of excellent client service. Having a secure retirement strategy such as a defined benefit plan enhances employee retention, which facilitates strong succession planning while doing the right thing by our employees.
A stable retirement plan creates stability and goodwill into the future by not placing an unfunded mandate on leadership and employees in the years ahead. A financially sound retirement plan will preserve the culture and independence of your company by eliminating the need for a liquidity event, merger, or acquisition.
Lesson learned: Having a secure retirement plan builds trust, loyalty, and stability in your company.
Distributed leadership creates a stronger team and perpetuates your culture
Companies work best when everyone rows together in the same direction with equal commitment. When leadership is executed only from the top, and the mission and values of the company are not reiterated at all levels, it can cause a loss of direction and dilution of culture.
At Wolf, we follow a distributed leadership model that encourages and builds leadership at all levels in the firm. We provide a supportive environment in which we help team members and managers in different phases of their growth take on more leadership responsibility that will make them stronger, more effective leaders as they move up in the ranks. Developing and encouraging leadership at these many different levels not only fortifies our succession planning, it reinforces our values and best practices through continued guidance and mentoring.
To execute a successful distributed leadership model, there must be buy-in of the company’s strategic direction and related initiatives as well as a set of clearly articulated core values that can be passed on through the leadership at all levels. By following this practice, we have been able to sustain the culture and values that have brought us success and impart them to the next generation of leadership.
Lesson learned: Distributed leadership reinforces your core values throughout the company and creates a consistent level of quality and success that carries forward into the future.
Focusing on core competencies creates sustained success
It’s always tempting, especially in the current economy, to move beyond your core competencies into new lines of service. Deciding to make this move requires a lot of honest self-assessment, and a significant amount of investment to build the core competencies in this new line, to ensure success.
It may sound counterintuitive to some, but defining your core competencies and sticking to them may be the best path to sustained steady growth and success. When your reputation is built on a certain set of skills, deliverables, or products, the most productive investment could well be developing deeper capabilities in your core competencies rather than attempting to establish new abilities outside of those core strengths. Quite frankly, moving outside of your core competencies can result in greater risk to your company’s reputation of delivering the level of quality for which you worked so hard to achieve.
That is not to say that a company should not seek opportunities or be innovative. We at Wolf have always been at the cutting edge of our field and adapt quickly to the external challenges facing our clients and adopt the latest technology to provide the highest level of service possible. But, we have always focused on being true to ourselves and our core strengths, and not be all things to many.
Lesson learned: Sticking to what you what you know best creates sustained success.
Wolf & Company has navigated through major changes over the last century and we’ve been able to guide our clients through both calm and rough waters. We’ve learned some very important lessons over the last 100 years that have allowed us to grow, provide a stable environment for our clients and our employees, and remain independently owned.
We are always open to learning new lessons in the face of new challenges that may come before us, but we will always remain true to the culture and core values that have made us successful.
Mark O’Connell serves as Wolf & Company’s President and Chief Executive Officer, and is responsible for the strategic direction of the Firm. Additionally, Mark provides audit and advisory services to financial institutions. Mark joined the Firm in 1997 and has over thirty years of experience providing audit and financial reporting services to both privately-held and publicly-traded financial institutions and holding companies across New England, including community banks and mortgage banking institutions.