As a part of my series about the “How to Navigate and Succeed in the Modern World of Finance,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Bradley Atkins, CEO of Modern Capital
Bradley Atkins founded Modern Capital with a bold vision for financial services solutions. Mr. Atkins has over 20 years of experience in investment strategy and wealth management in retail and institutional sectors. As a serial entrepreneur in the financial services industry, Bradley has created Modern Capital to envision a company in which multi-generational wealth creation opportunities expand beyond the mega-wealthy to become accessible to the everyday retail investor. Prior to founding the firm, Bradley acquired Liberty Partners Financial Services, LLC, a comprehensive financial services firm offering broker-dealer, investment advisory and practice management services. Prior to this, Mr. Atkins built and lead the South Carolina Office of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance as President and General Agent.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Sure, I actually started as a retail broker at American Express Financial Advisors in Atlanta. I then found myself spending nearly a decade at MassMutual where I worked as what they call a General Agent, which is basically the head of a local office, mine was (luckily) in Charleston, SC. I eventually left and began my own firm which eventually led to the purchase of Liberty Partners, a FINRA registered broker-dealer, SEC-registered investment advisor and a retail insurance agency. I eventually fell in love with the idea that if I started from scratch building these businesses myself, that I could create what I thought was an ideal world for an advisor. This led to me creating evolving the business and creating Modern Capital; I now own and operate both companies out of Charleston SC. I’ve lived here for twelve years with my wife and two daughters.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
There is no space for mistakes in finance. That said, I keep compliance and consultants near at all times to ensure this. Everyone makes mistakes, but our company culture is about supporting each other for the greater good in everything we do. It’s a great lesson to learn in advance if you’re entering the finance sector.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
How the Best Get Better by Dan Sullivan. He suggests a slew of mind shifts to thinking differently as an entrepreneur as it comes to time management, assessing opportunities, focusing on what you’re best at and having a growth mentality. The book had such an impact on me that I spent close to ten years as a client of his coaching company.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now at Modern Capital Inc.? How do you think that will help people?
Our focus at the moment is building out a technology platform that will allow advisors to include alternative investments in their client’s portfolios. For decades the ultra-affluent and large institutions have allocated portions of their portfolios and endowments to alternative investments; unfortunately, it’s pretty difficult for a teacher married to a firefighter to do the same. So, we’re looking at a technology solution to bring that possibility to market.
Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the central focus of our discussion. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Absolutely. Our business is all about our team of employees, they are our greatest asset. My responsibility to recognize that goes well beyond their comp plan. I need to be their greatest asset too. We strive to do that through a goal setting exercise which identifies the areas our company can help our teammates achieve their personal and self-development goals though their relationship with us. Each year we identify each team member’s business metric, self-improvement and personal goals, and build the company’s support infrastructure around that. In our world, the most important cultural initiative is that each team member’s individual purpose aligns with their role at the company.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Greatness does not happen on a straight line. In order to have the high peaks, you have to sign up for some pretty low lows. But the valleys are where the learning is most intense, that’s where you can really work hard and inspire others, and at the end of the day, making it through those rough spots is one of the few times as an entrepreneur that you can be proud of yourself.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
I think the tech industry really gets it right in this area. They fill a huge funnel with leads from multiple sources of automation then filter them down through a team of salespeople with increasing levels of selectivity and skillset. By the time a lead gets to a salesperson, it’s vetted for decision making, budget, and timeframe. Because of process automation, they can dial up or down lead flow at a moment’s notice. Mimicking their process has been the single biggest contributor to our firm’s growth in the past three years.
If a fellow CEO would ask you for advice about whether to bootstrap or to look for VC capital, how would you help them weigh the pros and cons of that decision?
I’ve pitched more than a few VC firms over the past several years, mainly as a member of other firms’ advisory boards. My observation is that many entrepreneurs look for VC capital far before they’re ready. Any reputable VC firm is going to look for a business that has been funded extensively by the owner, likely has raised an A Round of investment capital in addition to bootstrapping and is a real company with revenue and a growth trajectory. To get a VC’s interest, you’re going to have to make a compelling argument that their funding is the only variable to huge success. Plus, if you spend the time you would have spent chasing VC on growing your business, you may be able to minimize your dilution.
What measure do you use to determine the value of a company? What advice would you give to other leaders about how to get an optimal evaluation of their business?
I know where my competency ends, and it definitely does not include a valuation or due diligence. One of my key learnings over the years was to build a strong team around your weaknesses. The trick there is taking the leap of faith to invest in good people. My first big leap was paying my first CFO more that I had made the previous year. He’s the one who knows how to value a company…hiring him panned out fantastically.
What would you advise to a founder who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill? From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
I would bet they now find themselves doing all the things a business owner has to do to be successful: financials, operations, technology, HR, regulatory compliance, etc. I’d also bet during the early years of successive growth they spend their days doing exactly the one or two things they were absolute geniuses at, likely building their product and selling a vision to either a prospect or their team. My advice would be to think through that and brainstorm on what the best use of their time is. I’d then do a time/task log of how I spend a week. If the two align then it’s something else, I’d bet it’s not though.
What are the most common finance mistakes you have seen other businesses make? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Thinking that bookkeeping is financial management. If the only investment you can make is subscribing to QuickBooks or Xero and watching YouTube to learn how to do your own books, that’s fine, but find a seasoned financial pro to help you figure out what you should be paying attention to and where the little financial time bombs are hiding down the road.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to succeed in the modern finance industry? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Develop a dogged determination to succeed regardless of any obstacle that gets in your way. I have more than one or two friends who have had the six-figure insurance commission reversal, lost their biggest producer to the competition or compliance, had their three biggest clients leave at the same time, or, literally, had their company go out of business while they were out on disability. Now, I’m sure there are hundreds or thousands of examples of folks that hung it up and called it a day, but I can’t think of one wild success story that didn’t have a heart-breaking event along the way.
2. Work hard and inspire others. It’s amazing what happens when your team sees you organized, on point, and working hard. It all starts from the top, and hard, effective work is contagious. I have a friend with a company in Washington, DC whose sales head complimented him on his car. His response was classic, “don’t you know that they give one of those to everyone who’s in the garage by 6:00 in the morning?”
3. Find the question behind the question. When an employee asks, “what is our policy on paid family leave” I’m pretty sure there’s more to the question than understanding our benefits package. When a customer says, “how long will it take to process this unplanned distribution” there’s a story behind the question. Ask a few follow-up questions instead of simply answering them. It gives you an opportunity to go above and beyond their expectations and build a relationship you wouldn’t otherwise have known could be developed. This habit is how I’ve built many personal relationships at work.
4. Take care of yourself. Between your formal education, self-development, licensing, wardrobe and business, you’ve made quite an investment in yourself. If you spent that same money on a racehorse, you’d make sure it was well-fed, well-rested, efficiently trained and maybe treated to a massage every once and a while. You should treat yourself just the same. My first general manager, who subsequently became a high-ranking executive, was in the office post-breakfast at 7:00am, ate a salad for lunch and left at market close to go to the gym. I still model my days at the office after his example to a large extent.
5. Be thoughtful. It’s so easy to wing it when you’re good, but that only goes so far. You can get pretty good results working with your natural skill set, but to break through to true excellence you need to be thoughtful, inquisitive and spend a lot of time trying to see around corners. One of my former colleagues now makes living coaching folks to Stop — Gauge Alignment — Proceed. There’s a lot to that strategy, but basically, you really should slow down and focus on what you’re doing at that moment and put all of your thoughtfulness into that project. The concept of moving fast and getting 80% of a task right will get you just that…80%…a B.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Unplug. There are 13-weeks in a quarter. I believe this is so you can work for 12 of them and recharge for one. As an entrepreneur, you need to recharge and disconnect. Build a great team so you can really unplug and avoid work calls and emails for that week. I believe you should do the same for any day you’ve decided to not work.
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. :-)
I’m a finance guy so my world is money. I find it more than a little unfortunate at the state of a typical American’s financial situation. I also think our industry has a tendency to cause people to overthink investing money to accumulate long term wealth. If I could start a movement, I would like to see everyone in America start saving a couple bucks each month into a simple savings account. Start with a number you think is a little stretch and just do it. Start with something as little as 5% of your take-home pay and bump it by one percent every six months. Before you know it, you’ll have some money piling up. Then invest it. Don’t overthink what to invest it in, when to invest it, expense ratios, r-squared or any of that stuff. Stick it in an index fund or something of that nature and keep adding to it and increasing your savings percentage. Don’t sell it either! When your account gets to $100,000, go find a professional to help you find the right investment allocation for you and analyze the economics of your portfolio. The problem, in my opinion, is that too many people start with over-analyzing their investment options and never get to dollar one.
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