For more than a century after Charles Darwin first introduced his theory of evolution, most scientists following in his footsteps mistakenly believed that evolution had always been a slow, steady process that occurred at the same barely noticeable pace over hundreds of millions of years.
Then, in the early 1970s, two paleontologists named Steven Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge introduced a new theory that turned that long-held understanding on its ear. Based on their study of the fossil record, Gould and Eldredge observed that species had indeed gone through extended periods of gradual change. But they also discovered something shocking – that periodically those periods of relative stasis had been interrupted by swift, explosive bouts of change. Afterwards, the transformed species returned to another long stretch of relative stability – until eventually undergoing yet another violent eruption of change. They named their new theory “punctuated equilibrium.” In my experience, it applies to a lot more than the evolution of species.
Disruption, transition and sudden change impact everyone. It’s part of life. We may not like it, but we should expect it. None of us is immune. The equilibrium we all get used to, even strive for, in our personal and professional lives suddenly disappears, and we’re thrown into a disconcerting period of turmoil and forced transformation. (One of our dear friends calls these “AFOGs” – Another Freaking Opportunity for Growth.) I’m sure you can point to examples in your past – perhaps even in your present. We’re seeing it happen right now on a global scale. It’s effecting entire countries, industries and businesses. It’s happening in society, in politics, in technology and in the environment. Even if you’re adaptable and prepared it can be breathtaking. For people who aren’t, it can quickly morph into fear, anger and panic. It’s why we focus so much attention on preparation.
Transformational change requires new perspective. How you train yourself to think and respond makes all the difference in how well you adapt to rapidly changing environments. Being open to different points of view is an advantage. President John F. Kennedy once pointed out in a speech that the written Chinese symbol for what English-speaking people call a “crisis” is comprised of two different symbols – one representing “danger”, the other “opportunity.” When I first heard this, I was struck by what a shift it provoked in my thought process. Since then, every event or situation I had previously perceived as negative suddenly took on new possibilities. If instead we could discipline ourselves to remain calm and train ourselves to look for the opportunity, perhaps a “crisis” could be a positive force.
Surrounding yourself with the right allies is crucial. Teams of people who are trustworthy, flexible, open-minded and capable of recognizing and tapping into each other’s unique talents and strengths are invaluable. If they have a history of honestly confronting their own personal challenges, it’s better still. They offer important perspective, resources and expertise. More importantly, they help generate courage. It’s these qualities that define this team. They’re a big part of our value to others.
Lucien, Stirling & Gray has been undergoing one of those “punctuated” periods ourselves lately. Some changes we’ve implemented purposefully. Others have come upon us without warning. The experience has been a poignant reminder of what it feels like to our clients when they’re facing sudden transitions and difficult decisions. It helps us be better advisors – and more empathetic responders.
Just to give you a taste, not quite two years ago we decided to close a brokerage business that we had run side-by-side with our Investment Advisory business since 1992. We wanted to focus our full attention on what we’re most passionate about – providing fiduciary advice, strategic financial planning and behavioral investment counselling to a limited number of ideal client households. It’s the best decision we’ve ever made. But seeing it through wasn’t easy. It took courage to part ways with hundreds of relationships we’d maintained for years, and plenty of hard work and special care to do it the right way. That change also resulted in the unexpected retirement of our long-time Chief Compliance Officer and Operations Manager, and then the departure of an employee he had been responsible for supervising. Along the way, Glenda Summers announced that she would retire at the end of this past May, after serving as an integral part of this team for its entire 27-year existence. If that weren’t enough challenge, our landlord passed away suddenly, and we learned this spring that our lease will not be renewed at the end of this coming October. Change happens – sometimes breathtakingly fast.
In response, this team has stepped up. They came together to meet the challenge, and then some. Mark Ward stepped in to help oversee Operations. He has supervised a successful reorganization of staff responsibilities, along with the launch of a new secure client portal and video-conferencing capabilities. Shelby Holt joined us this January. She has done a magnificent job in streamlining internal workflows and administrative systems. Chris Vasquez proved pivotal in assisting Glenda with her transition. After five years’ experience on this team, he has seamlessly assumed responsibility for serving many of the clients who relied on her sage advice. We also hired Anthony Guzman, a talented new client-service associate and para-planner who will join us at the end of July. Then we outsourced: we contracted with a major compliance consulting firm, and we hired leasing agents to look for new digs. I expect to announce very soon where we’ll be officing come November 1st. Stay tuned.
Despite the challenges, our business has never been stronger. We’re growing steadily as trusted clients and friends introduce us to new relationships. We’re investing in new technology, bringing new talent on board, improving our operational efficiency and expanding our skills to better serve you, and we’re looking forward to an exciting future.
As Charles Darwin once said: “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, or the fittest, but the one that is most adaptable to change.” Please let us know what we can do to help you. We’re ready.
Thank you again for your confidence and trust.
Thomas G. Twombly