By Thomas Twombly, President
On Friday June 24, 2016, at an awards luncheon hosted by The Austin Business Journal, the Lucien, Stirling & Gray team was invited up to the podium to receive an award in front of about 700 other people. After an impressive countdown of some of the most admired large, medium, small and micro companies in Central Texas, all of whom were being recognized as finalists in the ABJ’s annual “Best Places to Work” survey, it was finally revealed that our team of professionals and staff at Lucien, Stirling & Gray Advisory Group was the winner in our category – #1 in Central Texas for companies with 10-20 employees. What a proud moment it was for our team, and definitely for me personally.
But why should you care? What possible benefit might that recognition offer to anyone other than the thirteen individuals that make up this firm? What could it possibly mean to one of our clients, strategic partners, vendors, professional contacts or friends? Permit me to share my thoughts, because I believe it’s meaningful to all of us.
As a professional service firm that embraces a fiduciary responsibility for acting in the best interests of our clients, our entire business rests on trust. But trust is hard to come by nowadays. For many companies, “trust” has become a marketing buzzword rather than a principle on which to build a reputation.
We are living in an age of profound skepticism, even cynicism, towards the traditional institutions that undergird our society. Trust in almost everything is at a low point. Congress is dysfunctional. Political polarization is more extreme than at any period in most of our lifetimes. The growing sense of gridlock and social tension is palpable. Our once-vaunted higher education system has become bloated. It’s breathtakingly expensive, and many are outwardly and vociferously questioning its purpose and value. Our largest corporations, so-called “Big Business”, are mistrusted to the point of vilification and derision. The list goes on and on.
All around us there are tectonic shifts taking place in our lives. Those changes lead to a sense of turmoil and anxiety. Technology is giving us new capacities that we couldn’t even imagine a decade ago, but it’s also upending entire industries – and the jobs and capital investments that go with them. Rapidly changing laws and regulations are also threatening old regimes. There are clear winners and new fortunes being made, but there are also clear losers and other fortunes being destroyed as we continuously innovate and try to do more with less, or as the regulatory playing field shifts. Amazon is threatening the entire retail industry. Facebook is providing a grave challenge to traditional media and advertising companies. Home Away is snatching huge revenues from the hotel industry. Netflix is killing network TV and traditional movie distribution channels. And Uber is turning the traditional transportation industry on its ear. Again, the list goes on and on.
These same forces of disruption are coming after the financial business at this very moment. High-speed computers, algorithms, and so-called robo-advisors are threatening the traditional money management profession. Upstart on-line and cloud-based technologies are providing direct-to-consumer services that once were the sole purview of huge financial services companies. And the Department of Labor is aggressively advocating for a new fiduciary standard that will soon apply to all people offering products or services to retirement plans. Major brokerage and insurance firms are fighting this legislation, but that only adds to the frustration of the general public – and has led to the deep cynicism expressed in John Oliver’s recent widely quoted rant against the industry.
In this environment trust is at a premium – precisely because it is so rare. Close, safe, personal relationships have great value. The confidence that one has others constantly looking out for one’s best interests – alerting, protecting, encouraging and stretching you – is highly prized. I often reference Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous quote, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” At Lucien, Stirling & Gray, trust is more than just a spoken marketable quality – it is an action. Trust truly is a core value here.
I’ve always believed that an advisor or an advisory team cannot offer a true level of fiduciary relationship to clients unless they are getting it themselves. And the degree to which they are getting it, plus the quality and longevity of the professional relationships they have around them directly impact what they are able to offer to clients. At Lucien, Stirling & Gray, we spend a significant amount of time on our internal relationships because we believe that if we operate with trust and confidence in each other, it will radiate out to our clients and be the cornerstone of our external relationships as well.
This is why it’s so significant to me that the members of this team have recognized Lucien, Stirling & Gray as one of Austin’s Best Places to Work for the last seven years, and why it’s thrilling to finally win this year. Not only does it signify that everyone on this team continually feels a deep sense of trust for this firm – that their personal interests are protected by their leaders and colleagues – but that that sense of confidence will continue to be extended outwards – to clients, strategic partners, vendors and other important stakeholders. Because in a true fiduciary relationship, when you succeed we succeed. Thank you for your confidence and trust.