School is back in session, so time for a POP QUIZ – identify three factors contributing to long-term business success, starting … NOW!
Todd Herman Associates (THA) turned 33 this August! And as with every anniversary, I relish the opportunity to look back and also to look ahead.
This year, I was struck by how many years I've been self-employed – or, as my wife, Lindy, famously quipped in August 1989, "unemployed." A topic related to longevity was already on my mind for this month’s newsletter, yet I lacked a clear picture of how this could be developed. Fortunately, I already had a prior meeting on the calendar with two associates, so I asked them to stay for another half hour to brainstorm ideas. Because kids are going back to school, the long-time associate mentioned the 3 Rs of education. The newer associate chimed in with two R words, and I added a third R word.
Believe it or not, the three of us developed the skeleton of this newsletter in only 30 minutes, leaving me to explain why THA's Longevity comes from the 3 Rs – Relationships, Reputation, and Resilience.
The first associate is actually my Coach and, while she's not technically an "associate" (she's always been an independent contractor), she and I have worked together for over 16 years! She pointed out how many associates (15 out of a little over 100) have had tenures of 5 or more years, with 6 having 10 years or more, including one current associate approaching 18 years.
As we discussed this, we boiled Relationships down to two key attributes:
- Choosing People Well – By and large, the people I've hired have been very talented and also very good fits for THA's culture. I especially enjoy finding and hiring "diamonds in the rough" - people having the talent to go beyond their current position, yet lacking an opportunity to do so.
- Treating People Well – Once they're on board, I like to help my people develop and grow by both mentoring them and challenging them. This is especially true of the Accounting Associate position, where an accounting student gets to actually DO accounting before going on to a CPA firm or industry. We also talked about how I've been consistently flexible (perhaps a little TOO flexible at times ... ) with work schedules and locations. Of course, my counter-point is that allowing flexibility promotes loyalty to THA and to me.
Choosing and treating people well also extends to our clients and vendors, many who have had relationships of 20+ years with THA. Without strong relationships, Longevity is all but impossible.
My second associate has only been with THA for 6 months, yet she's the kind of person I like to find, develop, challenge, and retain – a smart, hard-working, nice reliable person who is willing to learn new things. Even though she only works part-time, she handles THA's Business Development functions as well as anyone ever sitting in that chair – and she is the BEST researcher and idea generator I've ever seen. In fact, she recommended we focus our August Marketing activities on "Reputation."
Here are two excellent quotes she found on Reputation, both from legendary investor Warren Buffett:
- "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.”
- "Lose money for the firm, and I will be understanding. Lose a shred of reputation for the firm, and I will be ruthless.”
THA's Longevity has certainly depended on me working hard to maintain an excellent personal and professional reputation for 33 years, yet also on me insisting that anyone representing THA commit to similarly high standards. As my Coach will attest, the times I've been most upset with an associate has not been when they made a mistake – rather, it's when they fail to represent the firm, and themselves, well.
Since its inception, THA has helped clients achieve better business results by using technology and improving processes. Over these 33 years, technology has changed many times – and THA and every firm member, especially me, has had to adapt to these changes. Couple re-inventing myself and the firm numerous times with navigating the unprecedented challenges wrought by COVID-19, and it's easy to see why Resilience – the ability "to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions" – is a key to Longevity.
The More Things Change ...
With changes in attitudes among generations in the workplace and changes brought by technology, you might think nothing is stable. Even so, it seems people still want to be treated like ... well, people!
Whether the people are associates, clients, business colleagues, or vendors, people still value long-standing Relationships with people and companies that have a solid Reputation and the proven Resilience to change when needed. Those 3 Rs got THA to its 33rd anniversary – and I am confident they’ll keep it going for many years to come.
Todd L. Herman