Wealth management executives hire coaches, participate in focus groups, and join clubs like company leaders in other industries. But a simple email chain that began in March is achieving something many of those things have failed to.
“This has filled a void for me,” said Doug De Groote, the managing director of De Groote Financial Group, an RIA in Westlake Village, Calif. that manages $319 million for high-net-worth families.
Since 2000, De Groote has worked with business coaches, including a stint when he hired two at once to focus on different things. They have helped him and he plans to keep using them. But an email De Groote received in March, and the rolling replies, is offering something new: Advice from fellow working executives willing to fully share secrets to their success, free from judgment and additional cost.
“I’m a big believer that the more charitably inclined you are, the more you’re going to receive. Whether it’s advice or treasure, whatever you want to call it. It goes a long way,” he told RIA Intel.
De Groote is also the founder of Lunch With 4 Interesting People, a platform to help arrange meals with strangers to facilitate the “free flow of information and ideas that drive our economy, encourage freedom of information and the expression of thought.”
The financial advisor was one of 45 chief executives who received the email that started it all last month from Shirl Penney, the president and CEO of Dynasty Financial Partners, a service provider to a network of independent RIAs that manage an aggregate of more than $40 billion in client assets.
Penney sent the note only to the CEOs within Dynasty’s network, asking them to share the three most meaningful things they had learned while heading an RIA during the pandemic. No other Dynasty employees participate, he said.
From there, the chain took on a life of its own where advisors began sharing how their firms were responding to both a healthcare crisis and an economic one. Most of the conversation has centered around how to lead under novel circumstances, manage employees working remotely, and improve or grow their businesses. It’s also a place where CEOs can confide in others.
“It’s a safe place you can talk to your peers and get better together,” Penney said.
“It’s lonely at the top and I think sometimes, as leaders, rightly and wrongly, we think that we need to be out front and lead and show strength in times like these. But I think it's important to also be vulnerable,” Penney said.
Advisors have worked exceptionally long days in March and April, as equities plummeted into the fastest-ever bear market, whole sectors of the economy have effectively screeched to a halt, and clients — some suddenly out of work or owners of affected businesses — fear for their portfolios and well-being. De Groote was one of those advisors and the email conversation among CEOs served as a much-welcomed pep talk, as well as source of ideation and affirmation for his own RIA.
“Because everybody in this group is quite successful, you’re talking about a group that, I believe, is at the forefront of the industry,” De Groote said about the suggestions executives have made to one another.
Now, about five new emails are contributed to the thread each day. An untold number of side conversations and phone calls have come from it, according to Penney and other CEOs.
Michelle Smith, the CEO of Source Financial Advisors, a New York City-based RIA that manages about $500 million, has worked in financial services for almost 30 years. She’s attended countless conferences and company events seeking what she’s found in the email chain, absent the “one-upping and gender bias” she’s experienced in her career.
“It’s just authentic. It’s sharing genuine things without this fear of someone stealing your good idea. It’s giving everyone, I call it, a sanctuary to share,” Smith said. She called it “the RIA leader’s MasterClass,” in reference to the online learning platform with classes led by experts in their respective fields. For example, for $180 per year, MasterClass students can learn acting from Natalie Portman, or get a lesson in cooking by Gordon Ramsay.
Although, like the reemergence of recipe chains has reminded anyone with an email address recently, having a few dozen voices in one thread can get overwhelming. Especially for time-strapped CEOs.
“There’s a lot. I read, or tried to read, a lot of them,” De Groote said.
“When you’re talking about 45 [people] emailing back and forth, the chain gets really big, really fast. You can’t spend all day navigating emails. But there were some incredible exchanges that came about.”