It’s been a year of uncertainty and volatility, yet valuable lessons have been learned along the way. And while business may never quite be the same again, there are many positive changes that have come about. Craig Featherby, founder and CEO of Carrick reflects on 2020.
What are the most valuable lessons you have taken out of 2020?
What I learned from the year is fourfold. The first one is clarity of purpose and clarity in communication. When COVID hit, people didn’t know what was going on, they were concerned about losing their jobs. We needed to communicate with clarity and even when we thought we had done it, we needed to do it again. It’s like writing in the snow – the snow melts, and you have to write the message again. As an organisation, we were not going to wrap ourselves in cotton wool. We adopted a clear communication plan: what we were going to do and how were we going to do it. We had to make big, bold and calculated decisions.
Secondly, we learned to be extremely agile. Things were changing on a daily basis and we had to manoeuvre the business while keeping our client’s best interests at heart.
Thirdly, I learned the importance of scalability which links to the concept of repeatability: find something that works, show proof of concept and then repeat it. The pressure on small to medium businesses has increased. For us that meant scaling up to stand a chance of succeeding amid all the issues that we’re facing as an economy and a country. This year we launched Carrick Property and a franchise, Carrick Partners. We are in the process of applying for further licenses throughout Africa. In order to scale, however, you’ve got to embrace technology. In a normal situation, you could probably see two, maybe three clients a day. Utilising technology, there’s no reason why you can’t see eight clients a day. We need to be trying to have 300% more conversations with clients at 50% of the cost.
Finally – and definitely the most important – was to remain humble in our purpose and to empathise with what people were going through, clients and employees.
How has COVID driven change in your business?
We’ve developed a lot of new ways of doing business. We adopted a digital signature system which has taught us that we can have a conversation with a client sitting anywhere in the world without having to physically see them or send them any paperwork. We also spent a lot of time on employee engagement. We’ve tried to create an environment in which our employees feel really happy, knowing that they’re in the best possible position. The last thing that I ever want is for anyone to leave the office at the end of the day feeling stressed. I’ve actually got a policy that if you’re just not in the zone, for whatever reason, you must leave for the day. Just tell your manager, “I need to walk on the beach”. And that seems to work quite well.
Amid uncertainty, strong leadership and trusted advice is more important than ever. Did you have to do anything differently to reassure clients?
The message that I constantly pushed with the team was to communicate. Yes, markets have dropped by 25%, portfolios are down by 25%, but don’t put your head in the sand. Now is the time for clients to be told that things are okay. Many clients trust advisors to make decisions or give them sufficient information to make a decision, however when a client sees their R100 000 investment is down to R75 000, panic sets in and 50% of the time clients want to cut their losses. That’s the worst thing that anybody can possibly do. So we instituted monthly servicing visits and conversations (instead of quarterly). We really just tried to be there and reassure clients that it’s going to get better. And it has. Fortunately, we haven’t lost a single client during the course of this year.
Carrick Wealth has received some major accolades in one of the toughest years yet. What is the secret behind this remarkable feat?
Being the CEO, people think it’s down to me, but it’s far from that. I’ve surrounded myself with people that are far cleverer than me – it was one of the lessons my dad taught me. I’ve got a phenomenal leadership team that understands the destination, the journey and the vision. To be voted Top Wealth Manager for Wealthy Executives was important to us. We were up against companies who’ve been in business for 25 years. Winning Best Adviser Firm in SA in the International Adviser Best Practice Adviser Awards 2020 recognises excellence in investment planning and business strategy, and shows that we got the fundamentals right. I’m proud of this because I believe we’re exceptional at planning for our clients. The awards, and to be recognised by two very well-established advisory boards, is incredible for the team, because from the executive office right through to the ladies that make the tea, everybody puts in so much effort. We’ve also got amazing talent and people that are prepared to work hard.
What are the most important lessons that you would share with the next generation?
One: if you want to do anything in life, you’ve got to work hard. If you want to lose weight, get fit, build a successful business, you’ve just got to work harder than anyone else. Elon Musk says if your competitors are working 50 hours a week, you should work 80 to 100 hours a week. Tesla’s now moved into the sixth biggest company in the world and it’s through sheer hard work.
Number two, know your weaknesses. By recognising your weaknesses, you better understand your strengths. And if you’re weak at something, don’t waste time trying to get better at it; get someone else to do that job. Focus on training around your strengths.
Number three: be patient. If you’re going to succeed, you’ve got to be patient in business and in life.