What does it take to build a sustainable business? For Don Leitzell, it was the ability to combine the art and science of business building. Don started his financial services career in 1984. He became an independent financial advisor in 1987. Now, years later, his firm, Diversified Asset Planners (DAP), has four partners and six planners in two offices 30 miles apart and assets under management (AUM) of approximately $500M. There are three full-time and three part-time staff. The firm generates a multi-million dollar revenue stream.
Don is a Pennsylvania native and a graduate of Penn State with a BA and MA in Economics. The firm’s primary office is in State College, just down the road from Penn State University. For much of Don’s career, what made him a good advisor and his firm successful was his ability to provide leadership in addition to being an income producer in the firm.
Don was also responsible for delegating work to other advisors and staff and evaluating everyone’s performance. Marketing was done almost entirely through referrals. While Don is very bright and has a capable team, the business operated without a clear vision and strategy was developed as needed. However, there were a number of success factors that allowed Don and the firm to perform at a high level without a vision and clearly articulated strategy.
The people in the firm have great skills. They were able to apply their knowledge and skills to attract and retain clients. The partners recognized the importance of qualified and committed staff. The firm’s biggest expense is staff compensation. Their assistants are devoted and loyal. Everyone in the firm is committed to creating client capital. As a result, they have loyal clients who do not hesitate to provide introductions. Relationship management is a real strength of DAP.
In spite of their success, Don recognized that the firm faced a number of challenges. The firm had no written strategy. They needed a well thought out Business Plan to take their business to the next level. There was also a need to implement a number of robust marketing activities to maintain growth and lessen the singular dependence on referrals.
When we started to work together, Don was looking to slow down in the next few years. Other partners had to take a leadership role and his son, Chris, a partner in the firm, must consider DAP as his business.
From a personal perspective, Don wanted more quality time and more leisure time. For the last number of years, Don has been involved in The Covenant Group’s Business Builder Program. In that time, Don has clarified his vision and developed a strategy for DAP. The Structure of the firm has been re-defined with new accountabilities and authorities. They have implemented new systems including a client management system and there is more emphasis on staff training and accountability.
The firm established a new mentoring system to foster the development of younger partners and associates and to facilitate career planning. Don also transferred his equity interest in the firm to his son, Chris, three years earlier than the original plan. In addition, Don’s son Chris, another younger partner Ted Oyler and a newer associate, Bob Thompson, are involved in The Covenant Group’s Business Builder Program to be more proactive in working ON the business.
In addition, Don and his team have implemented several marketing strategies to supplement referrals such as the use of a baseball suite for introductions, The Covenant Group’s Periodic Review Process with clients and a quarterly newsletter sent to clients, etc.
One of Don’s great strengths is that he is a lifelong learner. He is always looking to learn and grow. Don realized that his firm was successful because they were hard-working artists with good skills. The difference now is that they have combined art and science to assure the firm’s sustainability and successful transition to the next generation.