Aspen current thinking column


Spring 2013

December Current Thinking Column

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Musings from 35 Years

by William E. Roberts, CLU, ChFC    

Our company recently celebrated its 35th year in business.  We had a wonderful event at the Donald Seawell Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Denver.  Our guest performer from Australia, Van-Anh, mesmerized the audience with her marvelous renditions of classics from Chopin and Ennio Morricone, as well as her original works.  She also captivated us with her descriptions of her family’s history.  Her parents were boat people who escaped from Vietnam when the Communists overran Saigon.  They spent five days at sea before being picked up and deposited in a refugee camp where they spent several months before immigrating to Australia.  Both are professional musicians—he a concert guitarist and her mother a professional opera singer.

She shared stories of how her parents overcame the difficulties of starting over, raising their children in a new homeland, and beginning Van-Anh’s musical training on the piano at 13 months of age.  Her parents’ relentless desire to see her succeed was heartwarming and brought many of us to tears.

In many ways, it reminded us of the difficulties we have listened to clients describe as they tell us the stories of their entrepreneurial start and the challenges that kept them awake at night—wondering where they would get the capital to survive the start-up days, paying payroll on their credit cards, following up accounts receivable to collect checks to cover bills long overdue.  Her stories resonated because they mirrored similar difficult experiences others in the room had overcome.  It was an incredible evening.

Preparing for this event was a time of reflection.  We thought back on our beginnings, the lessons learned, the mentors who came alongside to lend a hand and teach us valuable lessons, the principles that governed us from the very beginning and the strategies that became foundational in the way we conduct our business provided a remarkable tapestry to view.  The power of this reflection for us was the humbling effect of knowing that so many good things had affected us and brought us to the celebration that wonderful evening.

In listening to families tell the stories of their beginnings, the pain of the start-up years, the courage to persist in the face of sometimes insurmountable difficulties attests to the power of the human spirit.  This indomitable drive to succeed—a relentless drive to overcome—seems to be characteristic of entrepreneurs who just never hear the word “quit.”  There were sleepless nights in our first years and voices of friends discouraging us of ever succeeding.  Somehow though, those of the partners who stayed simply pulled down their siege helmets and proceeded to prove the naysayers wrong.  

There was also a sense of fierce independence that permeated through the organization.  We see that same sense of independence in every client we encounter.  While beholden to a strong set of morals and values, there is a deep-seated desire to not be under the thumb of a company or “a boss” but instead serve their client with an unbiased view driven only by the client's values and objectives.  

We identified early in our business life the importance of the team we work with and the corporate culture permeating our office, one of teamwork and caring for each other.  We made a few hiring mistakes, but the corporate culture weeded them out when it became evident that despite talent, their self-interest was not a fit for us and they needed to be elsewhere.  We are far more cognizant of involving our team in the vetting process as we consider additional staff and it has limited our hiring mistakes.

As we begin our next 35 years, the lessons learned and the values and principles that are part of who we are will help guide our future direction and decisions.  We feel a real kinship with the families that have experienced their own travails and have come through better for the adversity they experienced.  We hope you can have your own “35th anniversary experience” as you enjoy reminiscing over your experiences and the wisdom gained from them.  It is a rewarding journey.

We wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season and a healthy and happy new year.


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