Skip to main content

Merging Success: Bold Leaders

September 20, 2022
clock 8 MIN READ

Bold leaders thrive through change.

In our video series, five wealth management leaders from the U.K. and U.S. share their perspectives and experiences on how to approach, implement and manage both the infrastructure and cultural side of change with an eye on the future.

Our contributors include: 

  1. Kristen Bauer, CEO, Laird Norton Wealth Management, on what makes a successful leader during times of change.
  2. Kevin Chorniak, Senior Managing Director, Bankers Trust and Chief Operating Officer, BTC Capital Management, on how you prepare for change and ensure alignment across an organization.
  3. Tony Hanlon, Chief Operating Officer, WH Ireland Wealth Management, on the five things to measure post-transaction.
  4. Justina Lai, Chief Impact Officer, Laird Norton Wealth Management and Wetherby Asset Management, on how to integrate culture and technology.
  5. Brett Williams, CEO, SEI Investments (Europe) Ltd, on how to successfully approach change.
     

View transcript

Close transcript

Video 1:

Kristen Bauer:
Hello, I'm Kristen Bauer, CEO of Laird Norton Wealth Management.
Kristen Bauer:
What I think makes a successful leader in times of change and great stress is starting out by listening to all voices in the room and all stakeholders, but having the fortitude to make some of the tough decisions. Incorporating all the thoughts and voices, but moving forward with a decision with some strength and clarity.
Kristen Bauer:
How I've led during this time of change is really focusing on our values and our culture. Clarifying what our values are, where we're going, what our true north is, and the impact that people can make. Listening to the voices of all stakeholders, really honing in on what their passions and purpose are and providing a place where people can feel like they can make their greatest impact.
 

Video 2:

Kevin Chorniak:
Hi, I'm Kevin Chorniak, Senior Managing Director at Bankers Trust in Des Moines, Iowa and Chief Operating Officer for BTC Capital Management.
Kevin Chorniak:
While sitting here today, I think about change differently than I probably did two, three, four, five years ago. There are some things that we can all do to anticipate or just plan for change. First, I think it's really important to just recognize that change no matter what it is in within your teams or within the organization, it's going to look different between organizations. Each change initiative is going to look different and the way it affects team members or it affects your customers. And so just knowing that there's not necessarily a standard template that's going to work in every situation and that you really kind have to customize a plan based on what it is you're trying to accomplish. I also think just being adaptable through that change project is critical for both leaders and team members, and just being willing and able to shift gears and pivot and pull back when you need to, and just being willing and able to do that communication.
Kevin Chorniak:
Goodness, I can't probably emphasize enough how critical communication is. I think we all interpret messages, we all take in information in different ways. And so through the life of a project, finding ways to constantly communicate and engage team members in ways that resonate for them and help them understand is super important, but it's really hard to do and it's a nonstop initiative. I think what I've learned over time is you can probably never communicate enough.
 

Video 3:

Tony Hanlon:
Hello, everyone. Tony Hanlon here from WH Ireland with my thoughts on leading successful change.
Tony Hanlon:
If I look at lessons for mergers and acquisitions on the post deal side, then for me, that can be summed up by, I use five s's in my head. And those are the strategic logic, the spirit of the integration, the scope and speed of your integration, and the synergies you want to mentor, you achieve.
Tony Hanlon:
So the strategic logic looks back at why did you undertake the acquisition in the first place and what therefore does success look like? Did you buy a new capability or did you buy a firm that by combining the two, you believe you could have a more efficient cost base? The approach is going to be very different.
Tony Hanlon:
Spirit varies massively, depending again on that strategic logic. Is this one firm buying another aggressively to cut costs, or is it buying a firm that can do something that you can't? And then the spirit of that merger would be very, very different.
Tony Hanlon:
Scope, are you going to subsume the unit entirely so that it becomes part of your business, your existing business, or are you effectively going to leave the new acquisition relatively standalone? And again, that'll link back to your strategic logic and your spirit.
Tony Hanlon:
Also it links to speed. Is this something you're trying to do quickly in order to realize synergies and cost savings, or do you need to do this slowly over time and really get the cultural and technological aspects right?
Tony Hanlon:
And finally, the fifth "s", "s" for "synergies", if you have a very clear synergy or cost saving or revenue improvement target as part of your post merger integration or post acquisition integration, then you really do need to focus on that. If you go into the integration, believing that, "Well, I'll integrate the two businesses and just hope that the synergies fall at the bottom," then I think you're likely to be disappointed. You really do need to track them in detail and go after them.
 

Video 4:

Justina Lai:
My name is Justina Lai, and I'm the Chief Impact Officer of Laird Norton Wealth Management & Wetherby Asset Management.
Justina Lai:
Ultimately, everything flows from culture, and we really do need to start with shared vision and values. Bringing everybody together around that common vision and understanding of our shared values really leads to change in culture, change in norms, and change in behavior. And there's a constant reinforcement of that message that is required in terms of behaviors and actions and the decisions that we make as senior leaders.
Justina Lai:
From a technological standpoint, we recognize this is really a marathon, versus a sprint. We don't want to start with technology. We really believe technology is a tool that's meant to enable all of the work that we're trying to achieve, and ultimately our focus on serving our clients better over time. And so we're going to take a step back and really think about how we do that in the right way and what kind of technology we need in order to support all of that. We know our employees have day jobs and we want them to focus on that, and so we want to provide them with technology that supports their efforts, but also provide them with bite-size changes over time that are easily absorbed and easily managed in their day-to-day work.
Justina Lai:
When bringing two companies together, I think it's really critical to ensure that we have a true sort of understanding of what our common goals and objectives are. A common vision that everybody can work towards together. It's really critical for leaders to be authentic and transparent, and also to communicate really clearly. We recognize some of this work can be really challenging, but if we remind folks of ultimately what we're all trying to achieve together, we hope that that is one way to really bring these companies together and unify our vision and mission.
 

Video 5:

Brett Williams:
So, our thoughts on leaders initiating change and whether that's myself or other leaders, I think the first thing to say is that my experience is that everybody likes the idea of change, but actually everybody likes the idea that everybody else changes and they stay the same. And I think that's a fundamental thing to get over in the first place. There's a good quote, which I read a long time ago, which was from Gandhi. He said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." And I think that's a good thing to remember for all of us when we're actually talking about initiating change. And I think that when you are being that change, you can't do it on your own. That's one of the other fundamental things. You need a team of people who are committed to change if you're going to actually achieve change.
Brett Williams:
So when you are initiating change, I think it's really important to have a position or an outcome in mind because otherwise people can easily get confused and chaos can ensue from that. And actually you don't get the change you want to get. So if I'm talking externally, one of the things that I'm always trying to do is to find out what is the problem that the CEO of a firm is trying to fix as the CEO of a firm. What problem are they trying to solve? Because I think one of the important things about that is making sure that I'm not trying to solve a problem I think they should solve, but a problem they think they should solve. And that means you've got to talk to people and it means you've got to work out within their firm and help them work out within their firm who are the important drivers of change that they're going to take with them.
Brett Williams:
My experience of big change initiatives is along the way they always look at some points if they're going to go wrong and it's really important to stick to your guns, but at the same time to be prepared to adjust if necessary. That's, I think, how you keep people with you. And if you really get people, your team, telling you that something's not working, you've got to really carefully work out whether it's something you need to stick to or that you need to adjust.

Interested in learning more?

Explore our series.

Contact us

Our team of experts can help you confidently manage through change.

Services provided by SEI through its subsidiaries and affiliates.