Evolution – The Key to success in a changing industry

By J.C. Abusaid, AIF®, President/COO of Halbert Hargrove.

In order to succeed, companies must be open to the idea of evolution. I recently had the opportunity to attend a CNBC Summit entitled EVOLVE, filled with panels of CEOs from companies big and small. Thinking back to the insights shared from these companies, I created a list of several things Halbert Hargrove has in common with these companies, which I believe has allowed us to continue to thrive in this evolving and highly-competitive landscape of financial advisors.

Here’s how it all started:

In October, CNBC named Halbert Hargrove one of the top 100 FA firms in the country. They began with an initial list of 35,511 registered investment advisors (RIAs) and narrowed that number down to 100 standout firms, utilizing methodology that included size, AUM, longevity, and depth of advisory teams. Needless to say, we were gratified to get this recognition. The last time CNBC did an evaluation like this was back in 2015, and we made the top-100 list then, too.

This time around, as HH’s President, I was invited to attend EVOLVE, a CNBC-sponsored event last month in LA. The theme:

In an era of rapid technological advances and demographic change, how do legacy companies adapt, innovate and evolve?

Scheduled to speak were leaders of iconic companies like Walmart and Levi Strauss. I signed up.

Unafraid to embrace change

CNBC presented a superb lineup. Every person on the stage had a story to tell about their need to evolve and make critical changes—to enable their businesses to grow and flourish.

These companies are all radically different in terms of markets, products and services, and delivery. Some leaders needed to redefine their business model and the ways they served their customers. For others, a bone-deep re-evaluation of their brand. What they all shared was being unafraid to embrace change.

From the very first presentation, the gongs were going off in my head. Like any leader of a thriving business who’s determined to keep it that way, I’m perpetually looking out for innovative ways to grow smartly and provide the best services to our clients and associates. And when I see confirmation that we’re doing things right, I’m delighted to see that, too. These leaders’ stories checked all the boxes.

Here are a few examples:

When he took over as Walmart’s CEO five years ago, Doug McMillon was told Walmart’s best days were over. Supposedly, the grocery business had no place in Walmart, and they had to be strategic about how to deal with major competitors. This CEO had to announce he was increasing wages and benefits, which Wall Street received with a hit of more than $20 billion in market cap in 2015.

Fast forward to today: Walmart has experienced 21 quarters of continuous growth, and foot traffic in its stores continues to grow—bucking the idea that brick and mortar retail is over. The company now has people delivering stuff to your home and putting it in your refrigerator. (And guess what? McMillon started at Walmart as a teenaged summer associate! Notice any parallels to some HH associates?)

Chip Burgh, President and CEO of Levi Strauss & Co., took over the company in 2011. Revenue had dropped from a peak of 7 billion in 1996 to the 4 billion range in the decade prior to his leadership. Since then, he’s revived the brand and revenues are growing. He’s building on Levi’s progressive legacy by taking stands on controversial issues and making a commitment to social responsibility and shifting sales from wholesale to direct-to-consumer and digital.

Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol has helped raise his company’s stock price over 90% (as of late November) this year while refusing to abandon its obsession with fresh. He took over in 2018 after the company’s storied issues with food contamination. Now, Chipotle is raging booming: Online ordering for curb pickup in “Chipotolanes” takes just 12 seconds to pick up and go, and they’re continuing to expand throughout 2020.

Stemming from the CNBC Summit, I have learned that in order to continue to thrive and evolve, companies must:

  • Have a strong culture
  • Take a stand and have a strong belief system.
  • Be authentic: The consumer in this day and age can see BS from a mile away.
  • Evolve continuously in order to adapt to the consumer and their needs. If you stop evolving, it’s game over.
  • Be focused on quality. Quality is key. A zero-defect policy rules.
  • Focus

For those of you reading this familiar with Halbert Hargrove, I hope you’ll recognize us in many of these six attributes. We’ve always strived to be ahead of the curve in seeking out innovations that can serve our clients’ interests, while also remaining true to our governing principles. We encourage—in fact, require—our associates to continue to grow and evolve in their profession.

Steady and committed

Disruption has been a favorite theme of the financial press for some time now. We all get it: A big technology conglomerate reveals a new, awesome idea and … BOOM …  it captures imaginations and (when business gears are engaged properly) huge market share.

But for most successful organizations, that isn’t how the story goes. There’s far more evolution than disruption going on. Change and growth need to happen, of course. More than anything else, it’s all about a steady, committed (brick by brick!) shaping of principled imperatives to continue to evolve and get it all right. CNBC’s EVOLVE Summit’s executive presentations and its recognition of Halbert Hargrove as a Top 100 FA offered compelling affirmations that we’re on the right track.

For more information or questions, please contact Halbert Hargrove at hhteam@halberthargrove.com