Why Bench Depth AND Leadership Matter

  • September 20, 2018

BY: DAVID RUSSELL, CFP®, CSA®
Vice President & Trust Officer
(6115) 385-2345  |  drussell@argenttrust.com 

Say what you want about Nick Saban. Love him or hate him (unless your team doesn’t play him, it’s difficult to be neutral), but you’d better respect him because he has arguably built one of the most enduring dynasties in the modern college sports era.

What’s his secret? Critics say he runs a “pay-to-play” system, that Alabama has an unfair recruiting advantage, or that anyone could do what he has done with the money he has at his disposal to do it with.

To even the playing field (pun intended), let’s acknowledge that every Division I team is probably guilty of giving perks to players. As to recruiting bias, there were 335 four and five-star rated prospects in the 2017 high school graduating class. Alabama, while having the #1 rated recruiting class in the nation, still could only sign 24 of them, followed by Michigan’s 21.

Is it unfair that you can attract 7% of the top-tier talent in the nation? It must be the money. Turns out that Texas and Texas A&M are the #1 and #2 most expensive football programs in the country, outspending #6 Alabama by nearly $50 Million in 2017. However, Texas has had losing seasons in four of the last five years, has had three coaching changes, and hasn’t had a one-loss season since 2009. Texas A&M hasn’t matched their 11-2 record since 2012.

So what is it that makes Alabama and Nick Saban such a winning combination? The answer is multi-factored but I’ll offer two observations – and I’ll apply these observations to successful wealth management firms, and specifically how these same factors influenced my decision to join Argent earlier this year.

Bench Depth

I am no football expert, but even I know that bench depth is important both during a grueling game as well as over the course of a season.

Bench depth is the ability to place several skill positions on the playing field at any time under different circumstances. It’s having backup players who can play the same position, as well as specialty backups who can be inserted for specific offensive or defensive schemes.

If you’ve ever watched a team like Alabama play over the course of a season, you’ll notice they have extensive bench depth. If one guy goes out with an injury, his backup is rarely some walk-on wannabe who has not been game tested. At worst, it’s a three or four-star guy who has been coached up to five-star quality. Knowing that he could be called in on a moment’s notice, he is expected to be as mentally in the game as his starter is physically.

Bench depth is important to the success of wealth management firms as well. I recall one of my largest clients telling me that while I was the reason he was with my firm, my firm was the reason he was with me. In other words, he wanted to know that someone on the sideline was paying as much attention to his game plan as I was so that if I got blindsided and taken out of action, my replacement could step in and continue advising him without having to study the playbook.

Bench depth in a wealth management firm is also a recognition that there is a limit to one person’s ability. In middle-school and perhaps some small high-school football programs you may find guys who play both offense and defense. But by college, and especially in Division I programs, players are single position players who receive specific coaching and strength training tailored for their role.

A wealth management firm with bench depth will have specialty advisors who can wade neck-deep into chest-deep issues and supplement the skills of the quarterback advisor with a narrower set of skills that will more likely result in reaching the goal line for the client than if the quarterback advisor tries to play other specialty positions outside his or her skill set.

Ultimately bench depth means having both backups and specialty skill positions that can be inserted into any given life and wealth situation so that the client is served by the skill of a team, all working toward the same goal.

Leadership

I’m using Leadership interchangeably with Coaching here, but the principle is the same.

A roster of fifty 5-star players by themselves would be no more able to assemble themselves into cohesive units of Offense and Defense than a box of airplane parts could assemble itself into an F-14 fighter jet.  And it is here where Nick Saban separates himself from the rest of the pack.

Much has been written about Saban’s leadership principles – most recently in this Newsweek article. Saban cannot be accused of having a ton of charisma. He doesn’t inspire so much by his personality as by his extreme focus on process. Nick Saban understands the process of discipline and the discipline of process. In fact, Saban’s core coaching philosophy has been appropriately named “The Process” and because of his insistence on it, his teams have dominated. Saban summarizes it this way:

  • We decided to use the approach that we’re not going to focus on the outcome. We were just going to focus on the process of what it took to play the best football you could play, which was to focus on that particular play as if it had a history and life of its own.
  • Don’t look at the scoreboard, don’t look at any external factors, just all your focus and all your concentration, all your effort, all your toughness, all your discipline to execute went into that particular play. Regardless of what happened on that play, success or failure, you would move on to the next play and have the same focus to do that on the next play, and you’d then do that for 60 minutes in a game and then you’d be able to live with the results regardless of what those results were.

Secondly, Saban demands buy-in from all his coaching staff and players on The Process. In doing so, he has created a sustainable system that will outlast his tenure as coach. In a wealth management firm, a leader sets the standard of process excellence that might sound something like this:

  • Don’t focus on making a sale or closing a prospect; focus all of your efforts, knowledge, skill, and concentration into understanding what the client’s need is and how you can help them meet that need. If you focus on the person you are trying to serve, then you’ll be able to live with the results regardless of what those results are.

Leaders within wealth management firms (or any company for that matter) who set that standard, and then demand that managers and rank and file follow that Process, will have also created a sustainable culture that will outlast the current leadership team.

Why Argent?

This brings me to my final point of why I joined Argent this April after spending nearly 18 years with another firm.

Before I knew about Argent’s bench depth, I recognized the special quality of its leadership. When I first met CEO Kyle McDonald and heard about the incredible growth of Argent over the past five years, I knew that it would take herculean leadership to build a unified culture from all the acquired entities that make up Argent Financial Group. There were acquisitions with legacies of their own, each with their own leadership who would have to buy into his vision of One Argent.

Kyle would be the first to tell you that Argent is bigger than he is. However, the company’s core value of humble confidence – a set of commitments articulated by him that every employee is challenged to adhere to – defines not just his leadership character, but also creates a framework for a sustainable process of working with clients that will outlast his tenure as Argent’s chief executive.

As to bench depth, just like Nick Saban attracts 5-star talent, Argent has also attracted top-tier talent. In my five short months with the company, I have been impressed with the quality of the bench at Argent.

In my role as relationship manager, trust officer, or wealth advisor, I am only as good as the team surrounding me and the specialists that I can call on in unique situations. There was a time in my career when I felt it incumbent on me to be the investment expert, but it is very reassuring to have an investment unit of over a dozen professionals, including several CFAs, whose full-time job is to manage my clients’ portfolios. I’ve had experience working with Argent’s Mineral Management team and knowing that we have these specialty players to call in to the game when needed is invaluable and reassuring to clients.

I’ve been able to tap into the knowledge of those on the team with law degrees, CPAs with special knowledge of ERISA plans, and learn from those whose experience exceeds my own thirty-five years. Then there are those whose work is behind the scenes; administrators and operations specialists among others, without whom nothing would get done correctly. In short, there’s not a life/wealth situation that a client may face where the right skill positions can’t be called upon.

Nick Saban has created a sustainable process for getting championships out of his team. As another great leader and athlete, Michael Jordan, has said: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”  The same is true in business and I believe the same is true for Argent.

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David W. Russell, CFP®, CSA® is Vice President and Trust Officer with Argent Trust in Nashville, TN. He is founder and editor of Wealth and Honor, an educational website offering community and resources to families in age transitions. His book, What You Need to Know: The Adult Child’s Guide to Becoming an Effective Financial Caregiver is available on Amazon.