It has been two years since the change of control of the J. F. Williams Co., Inc. In December of 2017, Matt and I completed a transaction which resulted in Matt owning the majority interest in the firm. In the two years as well as before, we have maintained a stability of firm values and character while making significant progress in improving systems and processes.
The transition did not start in December of 2017. It started in 2008 when Matt started with the firm, and the process stepped up in earnest in 2013 when Matt bought his first block of shares. That purchase was followed by a series of restricted stock grants and bonus shares to bring Matt's ownership up to 15% of the firm by mid-2017. As we contemplated the way forward, I was struggling with how to cross over the 50% ownership threshold. Matt offered to buy 50%. That would bring his ownership to 65% and leave me with a 35% interest. Problem solved. I am quite comfortable being the minority owner/employee.
Matt was named the CEO of the firm in mid-year 2017. At that time, Matt assumed the leadership role for the firm. He hit the ground running and his leadership skills showed forth immediately. Matt's focus on positioning the firm for scalable growth came to the forefront. One of the most gratifying elements of the entire transition process has been to observe the teamwork and focus on process. We all agree that will be a major component of the firm's ability to grow.
A key component of our growth capacity was a team of people to take on significant areas of responsibility. In October of 2010, Amy Nankervis joined the firm as Administrative Assistant just in time to enjoy the chore of getting us moved from South Bellaire to South Cherry and secure the honorific of Office Ninja. Amy is now the Operations Manager for the Firm. In June of 2014, Eva Hallenbeck joined us as Client Services Specialist/Portfolio Administrator. Juan Guevara joined us in January 2016 as Associate Financial Planner and now has the title of Financial Planner. Our newest addition is Adam Van Wert who joined us in March of 2019 as Associate Financial Planner. I am constantly and continuously amazed at the strength of this group, their capacity for cooperation and teamwork, and their growth as individuals and as a unit.
A fairly significant issue for both Matt and me to overcome (mostly me) is that Matt is not another Jim. We both needed to recognize and accept that fact. Matt is his own person with different strengths and weaknesses than I have. So much the better. It was important for both of us to recognize how Matt has different chores now than I did at the start and early growth of the firm. While I had to set up basic systems and find clients, Matt has to refine and position systems for growth, and maintain and nurture the client relationships we have, manage and motivate staff, and keep his head above water. Matt is a better leader of people than I ever was.
As for table stakes, the financial planning skills and knowledge, Matt was solid as a financial planner when he started at the firm in 2008. Early on in his tenure here, Matt buttressed his knowledge and skill with a Master’s degree in Financial Planning from Golden Gate University. All of us at the firm are committed to continuous learning and improvement. This is permanent and ongoing.
Last year, I worked 4 days per week with Fridays off. This year I am working 3 days per week with Fridays and Mondays off. I am still feeling my way along this path. The increased personal time is quite nice, and my wife Kathleen and I plan to do more travel and other recreation. The three-day workweek has its challenges, partly due to the fact that the workweek goes by so quickly. The balance to find is kind of three-cornered: keep engaged at the office on things I find satisfying and challenging; find those personal activities, some of which Kathleen and I share, and some of which I do on my own or with others; and find the way and the time to just enjoy life without the pressure of having to be "busy" all the time. I have not declared a firm retirement date. I’ll continue with the firm as long as it is in everyone’s best interests.
My work in helping others with transitions has informed me that all transitions, even favorable ones, are difficult. With my training and experience with transitions, I kind of figured it ought to be easier for me than for a person with less of that knowledge and experience. Well, maybe it has and maybe not. One of the great ironies of this type of transition, particularly from the perspective of the Founder, is you work to make yourself irrelevant. Then, when you are successful, you are, indeed irrelevant. What I find the most challenging of all, is that the very thing I love most about this business, which is sitting in the room with clients helping with their financial matters, is the most important thing to turn over to Matt and the new planners. It is what they want, and what they have prepared for. To enable them to continue their growth professionally, they need to be in the hot seat, face to face with clients. It is no less important for our clients to establish trust relationships with our younger team members.
You may have noticed that my direct interactions with clients have winnowed down over the last year. This winnowing will continue. This is because it must be so. It will happen whether by purposeful planning, or by accident. Better it is done on purpose.
This transition has gone quite well for us. This is the consequence of several factors. It has been underway for a long time, we've been opportunistic in our decisions, and we've all communicated well with each other. Most of all, we all have a commitment to the continuation of the firm and the firm culture. I feel so grateful and so fortunate to have this team in place to see this organization and our precious client relationships into the future.
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The table below shows the returns through December 31, 2019 for selected investment asset classes. In most cases, the results below are appropriate benchmarks for the related mutual funds in your investment portfolio.