As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Art Haws.
C. Arthur Haws, CPWA®, CFP® is the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Partner of HawsGoodwin Wealth, located in Nashville. Art and his business partner launched their wealth management firm the month before the financial crisis of 2008/2009 reached its peak. Through an unprecedented recession and a major distrust in financial executives, the former Merrill Lynch alums have since then grown the business to the point of national recognition on the Financial Times 300 Top Registered Investment Advisers (RIA) list in 2019 and 2020, and the number two position on RIA Channel®’s 2020 Top 50 Emerging RIA List. Art accesses deep experience in both asset and wealth management in order to help high net-worth business executives and families navigate financial complexities to achieve their lifetime goals.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was in middle school my father started investing in the market primarily through mutual funds. He used to read the paper each morning, starting with the sports section and then checking quotes in the business section. It’s inconceivable today, but once upon a time you looked at day-old quotes in a newspaper instead of just looking at your phone to get up-to-the-second information. I asked Dad to explain what all the numbers meant and I guess it kind of stuck. This was in the late 70s/early 80s, so I was getting interested just as a major bull market was about to begin.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Before starting our business, we utilized scenario analysis to plan meticulously. As any good financial professional would do, we planned for good and bad-case scenarios for just about everything that could impact the success of our new business — especially market variations. We modeled for an average market performance, a good market performance and what we considered at the time to be a bad market performance. What we did not anticipate, was a 48 percent market drop. However, that is exactly what happened. We launched our independent wealth management firm just months before the worst U.S. economic disaster since the Great Depression.
Not only were we — and by “we” I mean our team, our clients and our country — experiencing a shocking economic crisis, we were also facing a lack of trust in financial institutions and confronting an emergence of conspiracy theories. I actually had a client forward to me an article that claimed to explain why the US government was intentionally allowing the economy to fail in order to convert the dollar to the paso. This was certainly not a time of business-as-usual, but we had a new company to lift off the ground. So, we pivoted where need, and held true to core principals in order to persevere.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I always had an entrepreneurial spirit and knew that someday, when I had acquired enough experience and the time was right, I would run my own business the way I believed it should be run. When Cam Goodwin and I left Merrill Lynch to start HawsGoodwin, we were determined to create an environment that was laser-focused on the clients. We weren’t just going to do the “right thing.” Every person on our team was always going to do what was right for each individual or family we worked for. We eliminated opportunities for conflicts of interest. We established methods of “extreme transparency” so clients had access to any information regarding their money that they wanted, whenever they wanted it. And we achieved certifications that demonstrated our industry knowledge and commitment to a specific code of ethics and practice standards.
So, when we were faced not only with a national financial crisis, but a crisis of trust in financial institutions as well, failure was simply not an option in our mind. In fact, I think more than ever people needed us and our mission of independence, transparency and client-focused advice.
The lack of purpose can cause people to disengage or even quit when problems appear insurmountable. Having built a business that put our clients at the forefront of all our decisions, I knew we had a bigger calling. I had a purpose for pushing through these problems and making sure we not only succeeded, but thrived. Of course, all service-oriented businesses are technically about serving clients or customers, but we believe it down to your core and that provided the drive to push on.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Today, HawsGoodwin is doing very good. Our assets under management have grown in excess of 20 percent since last year, and we’re focused on sustaining that growth. We actually grew in 2020 despite working remoting. In fact, we gained some new clients who we have yet to meet in person, but are looking forward to the day when the pandemic eases so we can greet them with a warm handshake. Client referrals during the current economic upheaval has led to our current increase of new clients, which is particularly meaningful. The fact that our clients trust us enough to recommend us to their family and friends is the greatest reward in our book.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
During our second year in business, we thought it was time to give our 1100 square foot office more polished appearance. But we are money guys. We don’t know anything about interior design. So, we hired a professional and set her free to do her thing without any real input on our part. She came in over a weekend while we were out and refreshed the space with a new vision — her vision. She had been particularly excited about the look of our very tiny conference room, so that’s where I headed when I arrived Monday morning. She had set up a library theme complete with a filled bookcase. Curious about the type of books she had chosen for us, I pulled one out. I discover that all of the books in the case were fake! Well, I knew for a fact that one of our best clients would do exactly what I did — peruse the books during his next visit. The last thing we wanted was for him or any of our clients to see fake books and wonder what else about us was not as it appears! The decorator quickly redesigned the room based on input we should have provided from the beginning. This was such a little thing, but we learned a couple of lessons. The first is one we all know, but frequently forget: you get what you pay for. Our budget apparently didn’t include real books. The second lesson was a reminder that communication is imperative, not matter the topic. We believe we are in a partnership with our clients that requires communications and clear understanding on everyone’s part. It must be the same with anyone we work with. I can just imagine the type of expressive language we would have heard from that client if he had discovered a fake book on our shelf!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I can tell you that our company stands out because we are genuinely a group of caring, ethical people. I know it to be true, but our clients believe this when they experience it for themselves. We make sure that everyone who works with us has the opportunity to develop a relationship with the entire service team. This way, there is always someone available who knows them and their situation on a personal level. Through relationship and service, people have discovered that we are a team of caring individuals who make sure their best interest is absolute. Every client gets the same level of service from every member of our team.
I believe, as individuals, we end up surrounding ourselves with those who are similar to us in character and values. That has proven to be true with our team and with our clients, as well. We may have different personalities and separate skills, but at the core we all just want to be the best we can be for others — our clients, our families and our communities.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Personally, I can’t image burning out in this field, because I think burnout comes from boredom or a lack of purpose. In this business, there is constant change to manage and that keeps things fresh. But working with a deeper purpose can go a long way towards avoiding burnout. I believe wealth managers who focus solely on investment performance or increasing their assets under management are missing the big picture — not only to understand their true value but also to garner a purpose for making a meaningful contribution to lives of other people.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
What a difficult question to answer when there have been so many people who positively impacted my life and career — friends, mentors, professional peers, family and of course Cam Goodwin. But I own the greatest gratitude to my parents for helping me get to this place in my life.
Mom was a positive, loving person who delt with very tough issues in her life, long before I was even born. From those difficulties she developed in herself, and transferred to me, a strength of character, resiliency and compassion for others. Each of those traits have served me well throughout my career. Dad was a physical therapist and basketball coach with a talent for knowing when to be tough and when to be gentle. He could motivate people in just a few words. His one-liners are legendary, and I find myself repeating them often.
Every semester following a school break, the last words I heard before heading back to college were, “Finish strong.” Enough said. I knew exactly what he meant. Never a stickler about grades, he always emphasized the effort and progress over perfection. I knew he meant it at the end of the first semester my junior year of college. I had dropped a few classes and the remaining grades, you could say, were less than stellar. Holding my grade report in his hands, Dad looked as if he couldn’t quite comprehend what he was seeing. “If this is what you are doing at school, you can come home and I’ll put you to work. You will learn a hell of a lot more than you evidently did this semester.” Well, the next three semesters before graduation were either a perfect 4.0 or close to it, and Dad’s reaction was equally simple. “I’m proud of you, but not surprised.”
No matter what I faced, my parents were such good listeners. They were compassionate and believed I could handle any situation. With that kind of support throughout my life, how could I go wrong?
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I participate in a fair amount of philanthropically that is sponsored by our firm. But more importantly, I believe the success of our business has provided me and the entire team so many opportunities to support people during the darkest periods of their life. This is not just about doing a job and checking off tasks to be handled for a client when tragedy strikes. To me, the “goodness” comes by just being present for the person who is struggling. It means listening, comforting, commiserating, supporting and easing some of their burden. Goodness in the world can come from anyone who is simply available to the person who is in mourning over a death; in shock following a diagnosis; enraged during a divorce; anxious after a layoff; or suffering from insomnia due to a personal or national crisis.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before launching my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Looking in the rear-view mirror, the idea of starting a new financial company in 2008 might appear disastrous. But it turned out well for us, and I learned a few lessons along the way. Here are five considerations I wish I had known before starting to lead HawsGoodwin Wealth.
1. Be ready to adjust and adapt.
You got to be ready to pivot when the unexpected happens. And it will happen. We spent over a year, meticulously planning every detail of our business before launch, then practically threw it all out the window when the financial crisis hit. It won’t always be something as devastating as near collapse of the global financial system. But there are countless unexpected situations that can make or break a business. So, you need enough flexibility to address the circumstances of your situation, no what gets thrown your way.
2. Skate to where the puck is going, not where it is.
Base your benchmarking, planning and decision-making on where you want your company to be in three years. Don’t compare yourself to other firms that are like you right now. Seek out and study the firms that already on the next rung. Those are the companies to benchmark yourself against in terms of profitability, growth, staff size, service options, etc. Then start conducting your business as if that is where you are, today.
3. Hire for learning and growth.
When building your team, once again consider how you want the business to grow. Then, rather than hiring someone to fill a position, hire the person who has the capability to grow within and beyond their job.
Every company is going to experience change at some point. Perhaps it will be to keep up with technology or customer expectations or new service lines. Staff willing and able to continually learn will help you successfully manage the company’s evolution. There are some people who may be very good at what they are initially hired to do but do not have the capacity, for one reason or another, to reach a level where you ultimately want them to be. Therefore, looking ahead at your business growth plan before hiring will help you better identify a right-fit for a long-term team.
4. Don’t clone yourself.
I remember when I was in business school, I had a professor who once said, “if you form a partnership with someone who is exactly like you in personality and skillset, at any given time one of you is useless.”
Common goals and principles are great qualities to share, but having different strengths helps you reduce gaps in necessary knowledge and capabilities. I’ve found that a good, solid decision is one where Cam and I arrive at the same point from very different perspectives. This isn’t uncommon because we each have distinct abilities that build on what we need.
For example, Cam and I are both very good at visualizing the big picture. However, when we outline specific steps to accomplish a new goal, he is the real task-master. He is much better than I am at checking off steps to get a job done in an effective, orderly manner. Last year, we promoted to partner someone who brings her own qualities to the table and is helping making real inroads in terms of the direction we want to take our company.
5. Treat everyone fairly, but not necessarily the same.
As a leader, you have to determine what each person needs in order to do their best. What is their motivator? The easiest answer is financial motivation. But for many people it’s something entirely different like flexibility, responsibility or status. Once you figure out what matters to people you can structure that into their job so that they are successful and enjoy what they do.
This strategy works with clients, as well as staff. Once you know what button lights up a person, you know how to lead and coach them towards what they consider a successful outcome.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If I could start a movement, it would be a campaign to teach parents to let their children make decisions on their own, allow the inevitable mistakes that will occasionally happen, and have them experience the consequences of their decisions. Don’t always rush in and cover young people with bubble wrap, thus depriving them of the valuable lessons learned from making mistakes.
The best advice I was ever given as a new parent was that “the greatest gift you can give to your children is their independence.” I tried to follow this advice, but honestly it could be difficult during an era of “helicopter parenting.” Too often we parents measure our success by the degree of perfection our children exhibit. Our ability to shield them from feeling an ounce of judgement or disappointment was to result in self-confidant, high-achievers. In reality, we’re robbing them from developing the grit and resilience that comes from experiencing natural consequences of their own choices and actions.
We often forget there is no such thing as the “perfect parent.” Our job is to help advise and navigate our children into becoming the version of themselves that they admire. Teach them that the best way to achieve success is by learning and growing from mistakes. Every one fails, even our idols. And as a business owner, I’ve been more impressed with those who have course-corrected, overcome and shown they can learn and do better after a setback.
What I find most special about parenting is our continual learning from each other. We learn just as much from our children as they learn from us. When my daughter was 16, I gifted her the car I had been driving. It had some miles on it, but in good condition and maintained its value. Most importantly it was reliable and safe. She enjoyed it, drove it around for a while. But being a 16-year-old, at some point the car wasn’t cool enough anymore. I told her that the car was hers and that she could do what she wanted with it — she would just have to do all the work; and, she did — she researched The Blue Book value, took it to three different dealerships, and accepted the best offer. With the money she bought a sports car from Craigslist. This “cooler” car came with a lot of great perks like high mileage and fast deterioration, not to mention the interior that was actually zip tied together. She drove it for about two years. Prior to leaving for college, she had the car towed to Carmax and the infamous hot rod sold for a whopping $100. We joke about this moment now because she has become one of the most conscientious consumers I know. I have to say she learned her lesson well. She moved to Manhattan and hasn’t bought a car since. Every time we are together and see a car that looks like the car which I originally gave her, we bust out laughing while remembering this learning milestone in her life.
I just want to shed light on the value to be gained when parents normalize making mistakes. It is okay for children to fail occasionally or be disappointed by the outcomes of their choices. It is more important for us, as parents, to be there for them when it happens — giving them the confidence to know that everyone makes mistakes, they can survive consequences and learn how to avoid similar mistakes in the future, all while still having the love and support of their family.
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