25 MIN PODCAST
How do you grow a practice to 160 people in nine offices managing around $4.5 billion* in less than 20 years? For Jeff Dobyns, founder of the Southwestern Investment Group in Franklin, Tennessee, it boils down to advice he heard years ago from success guru Tom Gau: “You make money by being in front of clients.”
While he admits this is easier said than done, the notion drove Dobyns to do the difficult work of client segmentation and tenacious team building. He’s turned his formula into a mentorship program designed to support young talent in the industry while providing top advisors more face time with clients. “You really can create this culture and teach people what you think is best for them to excel,” Dobyns says.
Mentorship and overcoming “belief barriers”
Dobyns recalls summers in college spent selling books door to door. Eventually, during his third summer of long, hot workdays, he followed a fellow salesman who was known for breaking all kinds of records. Dobyns was not impressed. “I was really kind of embarrassed for him, because he was not that good. But he sold five times more than I did.”
The experience of working shoulder-to-shoulder with another person had an immediate impact. Dobyns realized there was no magic formula for success, that simply doing the work could lead to sales. And it did. “One part of watching people, mentoring, is to obviously train and teach and educate. But the other component of it is just to say, ‘Hey, you know what, if you work hard, you're talented, you can accomplish a lot.’”
The four stages of development
Like many advisors, Dobyns found that, as his business succeeded, it was harder to focus on what made him so successful to begin with. He looked at the business as a spectrum of tasks, with opening the mail and answering phones at one end, and spending time with clients at the other. He realized he was covering more of the middle ground than he needed to.
“After a few years, I said we've really got to get better at having somebody to do the paperwork and scheduling appointments and doing those things,” Dobyns says. “So, we developed some people in that middle bracket.” His two-year mentorship program brings in junior advisors to work alongside and support more seasoned veterans, while gaining experience, building skills and becoming more familiar with clients.
Many practices can follow this same trajectory, which Dobyns calls the four stages of development:
Stage one: Do everything.
Stage two: Controlled chaos.
Stage three: Develop and reward the team.
Stage four: Become irrelevant.
Even mid-career, Dobyns is aiming for irrelevancy. He reasons it can only help his practice. “I would just encourage people that are developing their practices to consider implementing some processes to become irrelevant much more early in their career than they might otherwise,” he says.
Finding meaning in charity work and donor-advised funds
As someone who works with charitable groups such as Prison Ministry and the Signatry, Dobyns is particularly excited about the opportunities to be found in donor-advised funds. “If we can gift appreciated assets and be a little smarter, there's a massive amount of money that we can give to the charity that's not going to the IRS,” he says.
Favorite productivity tip?
Dobyns has strategically reserved his Mondays as a meeting-free day for himself, so his team can prepare for the week independently. “They have a huddle meeting, they go through all the preparation that they need to do for that week. And I just try to stay out of that. I think that's really helped them take responsibility and ownership and develop.” That makes Monday his day to catch up on reading, thinking and getting rejuvenated for the week ahead.
“Our firm has a commitment: We want to be at $10 billion in AUM and $100 million in revenue in 2027. We have plan to do that,” Dobyns says. The plan includes growing his advisors’ current production and helping them succeed at scale, allowing more people to enter the mentorship program. “So, we have an opportunity for a lot of young people to get started and have a very high probability of being successful for the next 40 years.”
The other part of the plan is partnering with independents looking for scale, mentorship or succession planning. For those advisors who have worked in the profession for decades and don’t want new responsibilities that can come with acquisition or succession, Dobyns wants to be part of the solution. “We've been plugging them into our model, helping them by providing a mentee … that they train the way that their clients want over a few years. And then, by the time that person is ready to scale back, it's been just as seamless as it's been with my practice.”