In­vest­ing in the fam­ily at­mos­phere

National Post - (Latest Edition) - - MOST ADMIRED CORPORATE CULTURES - Paul Brent

It was a lit­tle over five years ago that Ni­cola Wealth Man­age­ment achieved a goal of qua­dru­pling the size of its busi­ness.

For most com­pa­nies and man­age­ment teams, that would be a time to sit back and cel­e­brate. In­stead, the Van­cou­ver- based wealth man­age­ment c om­pany, which is deep in long- term plan­ning for its high- net­worth clients each and ev­ery day, de­cided to do some plan­ning for it­self and set out some au­da­cious goals.

“We hit our goals and said, ‘Great, where are we go­ing to go over the next five years? How do we quadru­ple again?’ ” says David Sung, Ni­cola’s pres­i­dent.

Among the trans­for­ma­tional steps it took, Ni­cola hired an out­side con­sul­tant who pro­vided com­pelling ev­i­dence that top per­form­ing com­pa­nies ( stock price and profit growth) also had su­pe­rior cor­po­rate cul­tures. Ni­cola, which al­ready was well known for its fam­ily feel, was fur­ther in­spired.

“A com­mon trait shared by some of the world’s most suc­cess­ful com­pa­nies is a world- class cul­ture. Many stud­ies have mea­sured the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the cul­ture of a busi­ness — that is the pas­sion, sat­is­fac­tion and hap­pi­ness of those who work there — and the l ong- t erm per­for­mance of the busi­ness,” Sung says. “There is no com­par­i­son: the per­for­mance of com­pa­nies with amaz­ing cul­tures far out­paces those that do not.”

As they did with their com­pany’s busi­ness plan, NWM looked at the cur­rent re­al­ity of their com­pany’s cul­ture, set a vi­sion of what they wanted their fu­ture cul­ture to look like, and put strate­gies in place for ev­ery­one at the firm to work col­lec­tively to­ward that fu­ture cul­ture. “A com­pany with a world-class cul­ture does not have a hard time find­ing the best tal­ent to work there, be­cause it will have a lineup of great tal­ent wait­ing to get in the door.”

The firm set out to cre­ate a world-class cul­ture and looks to have suc­ceeded. Ni­cola has been rec­og­nized by Water­stone Hu­man Cap­i­tal as hav­ing one of Canada’s 10 Most Ad­mired Cor­po­rate Cul­tures (Growth and Small Cap cat­e­gory). The pro­gram, pre­sented an­nu­ally by Water­stone Hu­man Cap­i­tal, dis­tin- guishes out­stand­ing work­places where cul­ture im­pacts per­for­mance.

One of the ways that the in­vest­ment and ad­vi­sory firm has set it­self apart from its com­peti­tors is how it pro­vides ser­vices and ad­vice to clients. Un­like many com­pa­nies in the fi­nan­cial ser­vices busi­ness, all of its fi­nan­cial ad­vis­ers work to­gether as a team, rather than in in­di­vid­ual si­los. It is a for­mat that en­sures ev­ery client ben­e­fits from the team’s col­lec­tive range of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence, says Sung.

That team ap­proach ex­tends far be­yond client ser­vice, how­ever. “That en­gage­ment is not just hap­pen­ing at the ad­viser team level but at all de­part­ments,” he notes. “Also within our tech­nol­ogy team, our ac­count­ing divi­sion and our port­fo­lio man­age­ment groups. We take a team­based ap­proach across the firm.”

For an in­vest­ment firm, where suc­cess is mea­sured on per­for­mance and re­turn on in­vest­ment, the re­sults of its cul­tural shift are easy to iden­tify: client re­ten­tion is run­ning at 99 per cent. Of equal im­por­tance: the gen­er­a­tor of in­creased busi­ness — new client re­fer­rals — cur­rently ac­count for four out of five new cus­tomers hir­ing Ni­cola to man­age their money.

Ni­cola has other num­bers to mea­sure its progress, in­clud­ing grow­ing from lo­ca­tions in Van­cou­ver and Kelowna, B.C., and open­ing new of­fices in Toronto and Rich­mond, B.C.

“We have dou­bled our of­fices, more than dou­bled the amount of peo­ple, but we have quadru­pled the as­sets that we man­age on be­half of our clients,” Sung says. To­day, Ni­cola man­ages nearly $4 bil­lion in as­sets for a client mix that in­cludes af­flu­ent fam­i­lies, in­sti­tu­tions and foun­da­tions across Canada.

Hu­man re­sources man­ager Amy Boyer is a rel­a­tive new­comer to Ni­cola, hav­ing joined the firm three years ago, but she has no dif­fi­culty ex­plain­ing how em­ploy­ees live and breathe the cul­ture ev­ery day. “Peo­ple here have an abun­dance mind­set,” she says. “They are high­per­form­ing, en­gaged and gen­er­ous.”

That shows up in the firm’s in­ter­ac­tions with its clients, the com­mu­nity, and the staff as well.

The cul­ture change has been driven by such ini­tia­tives as unique profit-shar­ing and own­er­ship plans as well as “Ni­cola Gives Back” char­i­ta­ble ef­forts.

“Peo­ple gen­uinely care here. Not just about each other, but also our clients. We are not do­ing it just to make money, we are do­ing it to ac­tu­ally help them with their lives,” she says. “We care about their fam­i­lies, we care about their sit­u­a­tions, and we care about how their lives are im­pacted by th­ese fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions.”

That gen­uine care ex­tends to profit- shar­ing in par­tic­u­lar, which is a key com­po­nent to keep­ing em­ploy­ees mo­ti­vated and en­gaged. “For the past five or six years, our em­ployee profit share has on av­er­age been over 25 per cent of an em­ployee’s base com­pen­sa­tion,” says Sung. “That is a very mean­ing­ful amount for most peo­ple, and when they see that their in­di­vid­ual ef­fort trans­lates into some­thing mean­ing­ful for them and their fam­ily, I think that helps mo­ti­vate the en­tire group.”

As well, key mem­bers of Ni­cola’s team are el­i­gi­ble to par­tic­i­pate in the com­pany’s share­holder plan through an op­tions pro­gram. Based on their on­go­ing con­tri­bu­tions to the growth of the com­pany, they can in­crease their own­er­ship po­si­tion in the com­pany over time. Cur­rently 25 in­di­vid­u­als are ei­ther share­hold­ers or op­tion hold­ers while all em­ploy­ees take part in the profit-shar­ing pro­gram.

“Both sys­tems that we run have, I be­lieve, con­trib­uted greatly to the en­gage­ment of all of the staff and stake­hold­ers of our firm,” says Sung.

PEO­PLE GEN­UINELY CARE HERE. NOT JUST ABOUT EACH OTHER, BUT ALSO OUR CLIENTS. WE ARE NOT DO­ING IT JUST TO MAKE MONEY, WE ARE DO­ING IT TO AC­TU­ALLY HELP THEM WITH THEIR LIVES. WE CARE ABOUT THEIR FAM­I­LIES, WE CARE ABOUT THEIR SIT­U­A­TIONS, AND WE CARE ABOUT HOW THEIR LIVES ARE IM­PACTED BY TH­ESE FI­NAN­CIAL DE­CI­SIONS — AMY BOYER, NI­COLA WEALTH MAN­AGE­MENT HU­MAN RE­SOURCES MAN­AGER

PHO­TO­GRAPHS COUR­TESY OF NI­COLA WEALTH MAN­AGE­MENT

Ni­cola Wealth staff reg­u­larly vol­un­teer their time and ath­letic tal­ents to civic and char­i­ta­ble events such as the

Canuck Place Ad­ven­ture Race.

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