Paul Cieslik: Hello, and welcome to the PracticeLab podcast, where we will talk to top advisors about what makes them successful, so that you can apply those lessons in your own business.
I'm your host, Paul Cieslik, and today we're joined by Kyle Weber and Nick John, who run Weber Wealth Advisors based in Yorba Linda, California. They're a top 10 firm within Woodbury Financial Services, which today has over 1,500 offices.
As you'll hear, the firm's founder (and Kyle's father), Mark, leads the organization. And they're fortunate to have had their longtime client relationship associate Jackie Lacy for now more than two decades, and as well Liz Almazon. They're also joined in the team by Reed Williams, who we will speak to in just a few minutes. I'm excited for you, as these two gentlemen will share unique perspective regarding succession planning, simplicity in running a business and the need to evolve.
The firm specializes in working with salt-of-the-earth, hardworking individuals within a large corporation. Because they know the benefits inside and out, Weber and John have built upon the legacy that Mark began. And you will soon hear how important maintaining their brand is and how their dedication has paid off. They do not have account minimums. Although their growth today is over 90% from referrals, their acquisition strategy is focused on other practices that would complement their approach, yet not too large to sink their team.
In this episode, we talked to Kyle and Nick about how they revenue share, apply a simple investment philosophy process across the firm, and how doing the right thing even if it costs you money has led to their success. Be ready to be challenged and reinvigorated, for these two are at the top of their game. So with that, let's jump into this episode of the PracticeLab podcast.
Paul Cieslik: All right, Nick and Kyle, welcome to PracticeLab.
Nick John: Thanks, Paul. Glad to be here.
Paul Cieslik: Let's start with an outline of your practice. How would you describe your practice and what you offer today?
Kyle Weber: Thanks Paul. It's an honor to be on this podcast. Our firm is made up of four advisors and two assistants. My dad, as you know, founded the firm. Nick and I are the long-term succession plan. As Reed has his own book, he's working hard to develop his own practice. He's ready to come on board when we acquire another book of business. Jackie has been our assistant for 20 years, and I'll tell you what, she's been my guiding light in the trenches when I first started out. Liz came on board about a year ago. We don't disclose our assets under management. But yes, as you said, we’re the top 10 firm in our broker-dealer based on our asset size and assets under management.
Nick John: Yeah, Liz joined us a year ago, but I actually met her right out of out of college. She was an assistant at the first firm I worked with. Luckily, I ran into her 14 years later, and she was available. So although she's new to our firm, we've known her for a long time.
Paul Cieslik: You all were nice enough to share with me how you joined. And it's an interesting story, if you will, in a little bit of history, would you mind walking the audience through how you both joined the organization?
Kyle Weber: Yeah, you know, I'll start with my dad. I was three years old when he started this practice. In 1991, he worked for a credit union that had access to a large corporation. Most of their employees did their banking with them. So he began hosting workshops, educating them about their pension and 401(k). We have people today calling, "Hey, I spoke to your dad 20 years ago, he told me to do this, this and this, hey, I'm ready to retire."
In 2008, my dad and his partner, Todd, left the credit union. They went independent, with our current broker-dealer today. In 2015, he asked me to come on board. And when Todd took off to retire, I took over Todd's practice.
Growing up, I didn't think my dad worked. He made it look so easy. He always took me to school, he was out playing hockey games, he always had time. And when I joined the firm, I realized the barriers to entry to get in and it ingrained a deep respect for other advisors and for what my dad has done in this practice over the years.
Nick John: Yeah, I guess I'll probably start with, I joined this business two weeks out of college, in 2005. I was working at a grocery store, put in my two weeks’ notice, was ready to make a lot of money. And then I learned very quickly that that doesn't happen so quick. So I struggled for the first two, three years. And then 2008 came along. And our office of five advisors was down to me and the owner within a few months, and I had to make a decision. Do I stick it out? Or do I find something else to do?
I knew I always wanted to be in this business. So I knew I was going to stick it out. But that's not always financially possible. But luckily, my girlfriend at the time had a job as a registered nurse. That is now my wife, and she was willing to pay the bills for a while while I built my business. So then I just started focusing on getting better. I got my CFP, and I started to go into all the regional meetings, talking to the top guys at each meeting, if they would take the time to meet with me.
And in 2011, I ran into Mark at a meeting here in Irvine and liked what he had to say. His message really resonated with me you know? “Educate first. There's no point in selling. Just tell them what they need to know, and the sale will happen. Do the right thing.” And so, at the end of the meeting, I walked up to him and said, “Hey, can we grab lunch sometime?” I knew he was in the area. And he said, “Yeah, no problem.” And what I didn’t know was that lunch would turn into quarterly meetings for the next six years. And there was really nothing in it for him, other than helping me out.
So it was really refreshing. And he, and he helped me a lot. He really helped me build a business. It took time but made a huge difference. But probably about two years after I started meeting with Mark quarterly, I decide to play a round of golf on my birthday, because it was free. And I get paired up with two guys, and one of them says, "Hey, I'm Kyle Weber." And I said, "Oh, I know someone by the last name, Weber. His name's Mark Weber." And he was like, "Yep, that's my dad."
And so we had a good time. Halfway through the round, I'm talking to Kyle, you know, "What do you think about doing?" He's like, "I'm not really sure. My dad asked me to join the practice. But I don't know if that's what I want to do." And at this point, I'm like eight years into, like, grinding it out, desperate for business. And I looked at him like, "You're crazy, if you don't take this opportunity!” And thank God, he did choose to go forward with it. So now we're here today.
Kyle Weber: You know, I'll add on that my dad will say that I've been interviewing for my whole life for this position. And Nick's been interviewing for the last seven years for this position. He didn't even know it. And then what most people don't know, behind closed doors, my dad says, “I don't care if you're my son. I'll still let you go.”
Paul Cieslik: I'm not surprised by that (laughs). Kyle, back to you for just a second. We talked about joining and then Nick was nice enough to talk about how the practice went from four or five down to two. Could you just walk through, you know, some of the challenges that you all faced with either retirees or even a passing of an advisor as you join the organization? What did that look like? Were you trying to reinvent the wheel you two, as you came into this practice? What was your mindset, you know, looking towards Mark as a mentor, and a little bit of the process, you know, just the simplicity of his approach and where that success came from?
Kyle Weber: You know, my dad's been in this practice for 30 years, and I'm not in any way shape or form trying to reinvent the wheel. You know, what's been working for him, it's been working for decades.
So it's some of our biggest challenges and how we overcame them. One is revenue sharing, and how we overcame that is, when we came on board, my dad took care of us really well. So when we walk into a meeting, we don't have "commission breath." We can educate the client, give them information, and do the right thing for them no matter what.
And then another thing is our same investment philosophy. In the event my dad passes away, I can look into his book of business and know exactly the rationale and why he did these investments for this client or put them in this certain product. I'll know exactly what's going on.
And I think one of the most important aspects of this transition and our succession plan is we hired an outside business coach that has no skin in the game. He kind of worked as a liaison for my dad. My dad has all the information in his head. And he told me straight out, “I don't have the skill set to train you to be a better advisor, to be an owner-to-be.” First of all, his time is all tied up, building the practice, taking care of clients. He's our visionary. He knows where the direction is. He's seeing around corners and anticipating change, not waiting for that change to happen. So we hired a business coach to help us strengthen and sharpen our skills to be owners and advisors, and how to unpack our thoughts, personally and professionally.
Paul Cieslik: Well, there's a few big topics there, and I can't thank you enough for kind of making a transition to what we did chat about, which was succession planning. You had shared a phrase with the audience, the “commission breath.” Could you just walk through maybe in a little bit more detail as much as you're comfortable? What does that mean, you know, from a compensation standpoint, bringing in maybe a junior partner, or a junior owner? How was that structured? What did it look like at a high level to, you know, to allow you to focus on the things that really mattered to build a business?
Kyle Weber: You know, the commission breath aspect of things is: We don't have to make a sale to pay our bills. And most people starting out, my dad never expected us to start out how he started out, making cold calls, and you have to make five sales a month in order to stay on board and get full pay.
And he saw other people do their succession planning the wrong way. He's been planning this for 20 years, and he's seen it go wrong for 20 years. So how can you change that mindset is, if we revenue share, then we can take care of the client. And we know that our bills are paid. And we know that we can give them information without worrying about business, and we can pick who we're going to do business with, because not all money is good money.
Paul Cieslik: And how about you touch on maybe at a high level, again, if you don't mind, for the benefit of the audience here, the equity side kind of walking in? What was the vision, I guess, coming into the firm, specific to equity? And then maybe second to that, you talk about taking care of clients. And that's obviously, you know, goes without saying that that's what we should be doing. But you also mentioned that taking care of one another. So what does that look like in case a team member, you know, unfortunately, passes? Walk us through functionally, you know, the equity side as to how maybe you started off in the right way. And then maybe even if something doesn't go well, from a team perspective, how that spouse might be taken care of, just share that if you don’t mind with the audience.
Nick John: I’ll start with, kind of, the revenue sharing, what that actually means. What that means is that we all work with a group of clients throughout our book, but our compensation gets pulled into one giant pool, and then we get our cut out of that pool of money. And what that does is it allows us to take care of everyone equally. If, when Kyle's clients call in, I'm incentivized to make sure everything gets handled correctly. But it also really levels our compensation. So it's not such wild swings. I mean, when you go from a small book, it's like a little ship that's moving around. And you join, you know, a cruise ship, it's going to take a lot to really make that income fluctuate. So it really leveled things out, gave us peace of mind, and then allowed us to know that if I don't make the sale, it's OK, I can do the right thing.
As far as a catastrophe … is that what you're asking? You know, what happens if Mark dies? We do have a buy-sell agreement in place where it's spelled out: how that's going to play out, who owns what percentage, and how we're going to compensate Mark's estate if he were not around, and vice versa. We all own life insurance policies on each other. So if the time comes, the business will have the funds to buy out a buyout our shares, and we're hoping that day never comes. But we're ready for it.
Paul Cieslik: You mentioned your investment process being similar, or even the same, across the organization. That's intriguing. And that kind of draws to our attention a little bit about roles and responsibilities, you know, the process of actually running a business. So again, whether you're serving, you know, one of Mark's clients, or whether you're serving one of Nick's clients, how important has it been for you to be laser-focused on the investment manager selection and having that be the same across the business?
Kyle Weber: It's monumental in our practice. We got, we've had the, the ability to work with the CFAs at Capital Group to help design these portfolios based off your risk tolerance needs in every aspect. We're in conference calls and all together see what's going on in the external environment and how what, what it means to you and your risk. We know exactly what's happening in everyone's portfolio.
So my dad's biggest motivation is providing continuity to the client. And that really, the only way to provide continuity is if everyone knows exactly what's going on with the family. So that's why we keep really, really detailed notes. So I can look in the notes and say, “Hey, Nick talked to you here, here and here. And this is what this is, how it can provide continuity to you.”
Paul Cieslik: I'm going to come back to that CRM comment in just a second, Kyle, if you don't mind. But you all mentioned that you were trying some new approaches with personalized marketing. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Kyle Weber: Yeah, you know, there's nothing worse than getting a robo signature in the mail saying, “Happy birthday,” or any kind of robo anything from your advisor or dentist or, you name it, lawyer. So I really want to make sure that my clients are heard. I do personalized cards to them with their name on it and add my signature, it's in our birthday card, so it's, it makes them feel heard, and that our conversations don't fall on deaf ears.
Paul Cieslik: Anything to add, Nick, on the marketing side? Whether it be the personalization that Kyle opened the door to, or is there anything else that jumps in the mind on the marketing side?
Nick John: I mean, each one of us, our primary role here is be good stewards of what we already have. So that's our main focus: Take care of your clients. But each one of us has, like, a unique secondary role. Mark’s the vision of the firm, the face, decides the direction and looks for books of business to acquire. That's kind of his unique role. My job is more of client engagement. So how do we engage with the clients we already have? The Elite Engagement program forced me to think about how you generate referrals. Not every client is going to refer you. It's not in their nature. They don't like it. So why force it on them? So what I did after our module was went through my book and really found there are certain clients that will refer you, like to refer you, and are more social, really. And so I identified them, and once a week, part of my process is to do something with one of them — gFo grab lunch, have a long conversation about whatever they want to talk about. We host client events, and usually we'll offer up an entire table to one of them to fill it up with whoever they like. Always trying to come up with new ideas. So if anyone out there has an idea for me, please reach out and let me know. But that's my unique role is trying to engage with these people who are more likely to refer us.
Kyle Weber: I always think of the quote, “When you realize you need shade, it's too late to plant the tree.” And when clients, when our, when our very wealthy clients asked me, “Hey, can you deal with my kid? Can you help my kid out? They don't have very much money. They haven't started a 401(k)?” Absolutely. Because in my head, that kid is a million-dollar client. You know, if I don't take care of them when they don't have anything, what makes me think they'll come to me when they have something? So that's why we don't have minimums. We want to just help you guys. So it's like I take care of the beneficiary and take it no matter what. I take care of anyone at any dollar amount.
Paul Cieslik: That goes back to that 20-year sales cycle that you mentioned. You folks are OK with that. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s best for them, and it’s best for the business, which is really encouraging. And kudos to you for that focus, you both mentioned a little bit.
You know, Nick, you used the phrase “client engagement.” And I know, Kyle, you talked about CRM. And I know having had spoken to you in the past that that is a big bonus to the firm and a big focus. Just walk us through how detailed those notes are, and how quite seamless the client experiences are as a result of you being so focused on taking those detailed notes.
Kyle Weber: Yeah, so it's very, very detailed notes, down to the detail of their life of what's going on in their life personally. So it's, I can log in anytime if Nick's out of town. Something happens to my dad, he's out of town. And a client calls, “Hey, I've been dealing with your dad on this. I need to talk to him.” Well, I can see that you guys talked about this, this, and this, and this. Is there anything that I can help with? And Jackie can do that; Liz can do that. And it's proven very, very helpful in our communication method to provide continuity to the client. So, they know that we're organized right away. Hey, you talked to him last year, in July, about this. Is that the same conversation we're having today? They're blown away.
Nick John: Yeah, I would like to add that, as part of this client engagement, really our best two salespeople are Liz and Jackie. They are the first impression; they set the tone. They determine the day-to-day client experience, and they're in charge of making sure something gets done. And I think those things are more important when it comes to referring someone. Clients want to know what their friends’ and family’s experience is going to be like. So having detailed notes in our CRM allows them to improve the experience with clients. They know what we talked about, what the client, so they're not having to force them. “Wait, what do you talk about? Please repeat yourself. I'm not sure what you're working on.” We tend to over-communicate, attaching everyone possible to a task so they know what's going on, but it's better to over-communicate than under-communicate.
Paul Cieslik: It's something that I think is unique about what you've shared is that, when somebody comes into your office, and they have an appointment with Nick, who do they meet? Just Nick, or do they meet everybody?
Kyle Weber: My dad makes it a point that when everyone walks into our office, we meet everyone. The client meets everyone. And we talk for a little bit and we hang out, so they are familiar with us. They're familiar with who we are; they know our faces. So, and when we answer the phone or when my dad's not there, they know exactly who they're talking to.
Paul Cieslik: And that goes back to that seamless experience that you've shared with me more than a few times, which is really encouraging. So, kudos to both of you.
Let me switch gears if you're OK. You did mention a few times that you've engaged the organization, and I know that you've worked with our Advisor Practice Management Group, which I'm a part of, on what we call our Elite Engagement series. It's a consulting program designed to help top-performing advisors like you consider their acquisition strategies, growth objectives and opportunities to build scale into their business. Having gone through that, and given what you know, what advice would you give fellow advisors for top things they can do to improve their business? And maybe what specifically did you change as a result of that engagement with Capital Group?
Kyle Weber: Yeah, you know, I'll start off with what we changed. Elite Engagement really forced us to take a scrambled and unclear process and organize it. So if you go on our website, you'll see “diligent, simple, informative.” Paul, you really challenged us to apply that to every aspect of our business. And if it doesn't funnel into diligent, informative, simple, then we can't do it in any aspect.
Nick John: Yeah, I guess, originally, we came up with those words to say, like, why would a client choose us? You know, OK, we're diligent, were informative, we’re simple. But then you were like, “Well, why not apply that to everything?” And so that has become our filter for most of our business decisions. You know, is it in alignment with those three words?
Paul Cieslik: So the structure, I guess, thinking about your internal brand, has a real external benefit to folks that you're choosing to do business with and that are a good fit based on your competencies. It just seems like you brought organizational thought to the business, which is not always easy. I think back, Kyle, to your comment earlier. You look inward, right? To your dad, when you're a kid, you're like, “Oh, this isn't so hard. He's coming to all my ballgames.” This is a tough business. And I appreciate that insight. What other insights would you share, because I do think the simplicity of your approach is a real benefit to some folks that are listening in?
Nick John: You know, I don't think we ever talked about what sparked me joining the firm, and that kind of leads into what I'm talking about. But Mark was my mentor, six years. Then on December 15, of 2017, I got a call from Mark. And he said that a good friend of ours, and another advisor within our broker-dealer, died after a battle with cancer. And he had been asked to take care of his clients and be his succession plan. And at that point, Mark's partner had retired, retired three months before then. So that's when Kyle took over. And Kyle was quite busy making sure those clients were happy and taken care of. So it was down to just Mark and a book of business in the nine figures that he had to run. And so, he called me and said, “Hey, I need you to come on Monday and be ready to start calling these people and take over.”
And so I guess what that means is that at some point, Kyle and I are going to be in charge of a book of business that used to have four advisors running it. So Mark, his partner, I had my own book that I came with, and then the advisor who had passed away. And what that means is that we have to be quite efficient with our time. And so, part of this Elite Engagement really forces us to define our roles, and what we're responsible for, and then kind of outsource everything else, which is going to be really important. And honestly, I had to go back and look at what we talked about, because I’d kind of forgotten. And I realized that a lot of the ideas that I've had since that were not my ideas at all, just things that you had told us, and that we had implemented. So you know, you kind of take some time to step back and figure out, you know, what you will learn and, and I think defining those roles is a big one.
Paul Cieslik: Well, I can tell that, you know, Kyle alluded to “diligent, informative and simple.” And I've obviously noticed that on your website as well. And I think that's just provided wonderful framework for you all to think about, you know, where you're all heading and that's just awesome. So, kudos to you two. Let's kind of think about the audience and, you know, how we bring this home. What are two or three key messages that you want to leave the group today?
Nick John: Yeah so, I was a basically a one-man shop. I joined that firm in 2005, and 2010, I went out on my own. And I was working alone for six or seven years. And what I learned is that when you join a team, it's really easy to recognize and overvalue your own contributions, and to kind of overlook and undervalue what everyone else brings. And we mentioned our sales coach, Steve, he really helped us put that in perspective, that we're all going to add value in different ways at different times. And the minute you think you're the most important person in the organization, you're going to be humbled.
So, I think the only thing we really measure on each other is behaviors. Are you showing up? Are you doing the behaviors every day? Are you sticking to the basics? Obviously, we want to grow, but we think that's going to be a result of behaviors and not the main goal.
Also, I think, if you're a younger advisor, like Kyle and I are, you know, this is an aging business. We keep being told that advisors are going to retire. It doesn't seem to be happening, but we're told it's coming. But it's never been a better time to be young advisor in the business. And if you find yourself in a position to join an established firm, I think it's really important to stand out. You know, with Mark, joining his, I learned that I need to do things his way first, and to prove myself and demonstrate value. You know: Show up early, stay late, work on side projects, come up with new ideas. And the minute I displayed value, he was open to hear anything I had to say. So kind of do it their way first, learn how they're doing it, wait, and then your opportunity will present itself.
Paul Cieslik: Those are great takeaways.
Nick John: Can I touch on something on succession planning?
Paul Cieslik: Of course!
Nick John: You know, Mark’s in his early 60s. And I think if you would have asked him five or 10 years ago, he would have told you for sure he would have been retired by now.
Kyle Weber: 10 years ago, yeah (laughs).
Nick John: But obviously, that's evolved. And it's changed. And I think Kyle and I would both agree that we hope he never retires. Having him around, you know, as our mentor, as the face of the organization, his reputation, his network, it helps all of us. It lifts us all up. So I think we see our main job here as doing whatever it takes to free up his time. That's our main focus. And if it takes us two hours to save him 30 minutes, then that's what we're going to do. You know, we keep it from going to him. We're kind of the first line of defense.
Kyle Weber: Yeah, I told him, like, “I don't think he should retire at all. Stay on board indefinitely, because I know you, you're going to get bored. And plus, if you're on vacation, anywhere in the world, I'm still calling you if I have if I have an investment question. If I don't know what to do with the client, I'm still calling you. So, in essence, you're still on board. So why leave?” Right?
Paul Cieslik: Well, that's great. I want to thank you individually, you know, Kyle and Nick, for talking to me and spending time. It's been a ton of fun for me. I hope it's been a ton of fun for you. It's been great, and thank you. I thank you for joining us on PracticeLab, Kyle. Thank you, Nick. Thank you.
Kyle Weber: Thank you, Paul.
Nick John: Thank you.
Paul Cieslik: OK, so that wraps up this episode of PracticeLab, our podcast. Again, special thanks to Nick John and Kyle Weber for coming on the show. And thanks also to my colleague, John Sulzicki, for making the introduction to Weber Wealth Advisors.
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PracticeLab is brought to you by Capital Group. You can find all of our episodes and more at PracticeLab.com. I hope you enjoyed what you heard today. And I look forward to joining you on the next episode of the PracticeLab podcast.