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The Exhilaration of Learning from the Best


18Feb 2009

This week I have had the privilege of participating in a summit meeting of advisors who work with some of the most successful individuals and families in our country (and even the world). Approximately twenty-five professionals from a variety of disciplines gathered to learn from one another and discuss how they can best work together to serve their clients. Clients of the advisors present include royalty of countries around the world, former Presidents of the United States, top entertainers and sports figures in the U.S., leaders and innovators in the field of technology, “household names” of financially successful families, and generally very successful business families from various industries.

It was a fascinating two days of listening to presentations from the professional participants — who shared the latest advances in their field of service, and then to hear the team members discuss together the implications of the advances and how they can be utilized to help the families we serve. The areas of expertise included:

*investment advisory professionals (one of the leading theorists in the field whose firm has outperformed the S&P 500 every year for the past 10 years)

*open architecture financial reporting (being able to report all of a family’s assets in one report — from multiple investment firms to including non-traditional asset classes)

*risk management (an independent consultant who advises clients in assessing the various types of risks associated with their holdings and businesses and helps clients find the best provider for each type of risk)

*security of family members (a former intelligence agent whose firm provided security at the last World Cup games and who has successfully returned every kidnap victim safely)

*life insurance professionals (the ex-chief underwriter of one of the top five life insurance companies in the world)

*estate and tax planning attorneys (a team of attorneys who together train estate planning attorneys across the country and some of whom are involved in framing state laws in the area)

*business valuation and business succession experts (individuals who have been involved in helping transfer billions of dollars of business value from one generation to the next)

and more.

What was fascinating to me was to observe the following characteristics of these individuals:

  • Humble. Although each person was a leader in the own field, to a person they were not proud, arrogant nor self-promoting.
  • A learner. Each person was there to learn from others and people repeatedly commented on the privilege to learn from one another.
  • Service-orientation. These professionals saw their role as to serve their clients to the best of their ability. Although everyone is also professionally successful, they were not focused on image or making a lot of money — they knew that if they served their clients well they would be fairly compensated.
  • Collegial. Although there were professionals from the same fields (e.g. accounting, tax law) as well as a variety of areas, there was no sense of “turf wars” or trying to take over areas. Rather, these professionals see and know the value of working together with others who are also competent.
  • Integrity. Repeatedly the issue came up that “we are not willing to do [x, y, or z] just to make money. We will only do what is best for our client.”
  • Enjoyable to be around. We laughed a lot. The group was positive, caring for one another, and respectful. I did not hear one cutting or sarcastic remark during the whole event. And people genuinely expressed their appreciation to one another in numerous ways.

The group reminded me of an old proverb I have tried to pursue in my life:

“Do you see people skilled in their work? They will work for kings, not for ordinary people.”

The lesson for all of us is this — do whatever you do well, learn and keep learning from others, and take the initiative to do what you can to be around those who are the best in their field.

A practical example: one of the participants who was younger (early 40s), but already extremely successful in his own field [he serves royal families in the Middle East], sought out one of the older participants and asked to be mentored by him stating “I’ll do whatever you need — carry your bags, sit in the corner and be quiet — I just want to be there, observe and learn from you.”

Share that perspective with your kids and junior managers.

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