The Intersection

The Intersection

Welcome to my blog!

I’m here to explore the intersection of innovation, strategy and leadership to improve financial services.

 

Innovation

I’ve been a fan and early adopter of technology for as long as I can remember, but technology is just a tool. I can barely a wire light switch and I have never written a line of code in my life. When I was in high school, my “Computer Math” class consisted of entering strings of arithmetic into what was essentially a programmable calculator with a paper tape. The only thing I remember from that class was that every string was supposed to start with “To (0): Load”, whatever that meant. That, and the time my friend Jim and I conspired to slow down the smartest guy in the class. We each occupied one of the two available “computers” while I switched the + and x keys and then volunteered my keyboard to our unwitting victim. It took him two days to debug his formula.

Computer classes in college consisted primarily of carefully rubber banding slippery stacks of IBM punch cards lest they get out of order and cause you to spend the night in the computer lab. At least, that’s how it appeared to me. I avoided computer classes like I avoided brussel sprouts. Even though my engineering major roommate was easily able to infect me with lustful desire for an Apple IIe (with pen plotter) or even a Tandy TRS-80, my main technology fix at that time came from synthesizers and audio and lighting equipment.

After college I discovered the IBM PCjr, with MS-DOS 2.0 and SuperCalc on 5 1/4″ floppies. My job at the time required me to do simple but repetitive arithmetic with pen and paper to calculate a payroll budget. The mere fact that my results were being printed in stunning dot matrix grey on green and white tractor-fed 14 7/8″ paper seemed to quadruple my credibility compared to the same numbers on the old handwritten sheets. I was forever hooked on the possibilities of technology to improve jobs and lives, and a lifetime of exploration lay ahead.

Strategy

Most of my professional life has been in the financial services industry, I have seen a lot of fads and trends pursued in the quest for growth and profit. Acquisition binges justified by “the need to diversify” followed by divestitures justified by “the need to focus on our core business”. An increased emphasis on variable advisor pay and commissions to “pay for performance” followed by flatter fee and pay structures to “better align interests” (or sometimes simply to “cut costs”). The optimistic splurges on technology to “revolutionize the client experience” (and/or “increase advisor productivity”) followed by the inevitable crash to the reality of disappointing ROIs. None of these strategies are necessarily misguided, but the key driver has to be advice.

Whether you are a bank teller suggesting that a customer might want to open a savings account to hold some of that excess cash in their checking account, or a superstar CFA portfolio manager recommending the latest structured hedged debt solution to improve alpha and reduce volatility, if the person on the other side of the desk from you doesn’t perceive you to be a trusted source of true advice that will solve their problem or achieve their goal, your personal success will be limited.

In my opinion, one of the leading authorities on the art and science of being a Trusted Advisor is one of the co-authors of the book by that very name, David H. Maister, and it seems like every financial firm I’m familiar with has had their advisors read the book. Not that it’s typically very apparent to their clients.  True Trusted Advisors remain as elusive as four leaf clovers in the vast meadows of financial services. Many advisors remain either salespeople or reactive servicers.

Leadership

Innovation and strategy don’t just happen on their own, they take a leader to make them happen. I am particularly fascinated with the research and writings of Marcus Buckingham who describes himself as dedicated to “…understanding what makes world-class managers tick, bottling it, and sharing it with the world.”  As the co-author of Now, Discover Your Strengths, he helped create StrengthsFinder to help people look deep within to find their unique combination of inherent talents.

(My Top Five:  Strategic | Achiever | Futuristic | Learner | Communication)

I have been lucky to work for, with and around some outstanding leaders (plus a few clunkers), and I’ve learned a lot from each of them. The best leaders know their strengths and leverage them to get outstanding results from themselves and from others, yet they know how to access different styles within themselves to provide the right leadership in the right situations. They harness the power of Strengths-Based Leadership and Situational Leadership. Regardless the industry, regardless the challenge, the need for effective leadership is always a critical ingredient for success.

 

About Me

I consider myself an “embedded entrepreneur” with a day job with a Fortune 150 financial services firm, but everything here is my own work and my own opinion. I have been an individual contributor, a manager and a senior leader, and I have always thought of myself as a serial intrapreneur. I love to build high performance teams to create and execute winning business plans. I’ll do my best to share the best thinking of those whom I feel are making important contributions to the intersection of innovation, strategy and leadership. I invite you to join the conversation.

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