Any company that has been around for 30 years will have learned a few lessons along the way about what it takes to be successful. And if it is not just surviving after three decades, but thriving, as Argent is, then it should have accumulated a host of lessons.
Actually, we’ve been learning the same lesson for 30 years.
To paraphrase fellow Louisianian James Carville, “It’s the people, stupid.” Our business is all about treating people with respect and dignity – beginning with our team members. It is impossible to ensure that the people we serve – our clients, shareholders and communities – are treated well unless we extend this same consideration to the people who serve them.
If you think about it, it is just common sense. Well-treated people are more likely to treat others well. But, of course, common sense is not all that common. Thirty years ago, I thought that starting and building a successful company was simply a matter of having good ideas and good systems in place to implement those ideas.
But, guess what? It’s not that simple. We realized that people are more important than systems. Systems are important, and a business can’t run without them, but systems can’t make people do the right thing. Bad actors can always find a way around compliance systems. Unmotivated employees will ignore systems designed to make a business run smoothly. Quality control does not matter unless someone actually cares about quality. We must have the right people in the right places doing the next right things.
And we do this by forming relationships with people. With clients, of course, but, again, first with our team members. Being in a relationship with someone means treating them like a person, not an object. It means trusting them to do the right thing, not because a system makes them act a particular way, but because it is simply who they are – which, in the case of Argent team members, means competent, capable and compassionate.
Now, having a group of 300+ people whom we trust to be competent, capable and compassionate doesn’t just happen, but, in a way, it does. That is, we proactively seek out people who are relationship-focused, both personally and professionally. That’s the part that doesn’t just happen. We’re very deliberate about whom we invite to join our family. But, after welcoming them into the fold, and providing whatever training they require, we simply trust them. And when someone knows you have put your trust in them, they rise to the occasion. It just happens. It is simply how people, good people, are wired. This is something I knew intellectually 30 years ago. After seeing it happen for 30 years, it is now something I trust, something I know in my heart.
This belief in the value of trusting relationships guides everything we do. For example, our company has grown over the last 30 years both organically and by acquiring like-minded firms, especially in recent years. We have completed 16 acquisitions in the last 10 years. Those transactions each began with a relationship and it was the strength of these relationships that allowed the transaction to proceed in a manner that was fair to everyone – and that fueled the success of the merged companies. In the few cases when we attempted to enter into an agreement with companies where we had no prior relationship, we were not successful in achieving an agreement. The trust simply was not there.
Because of the business we are in, the business of trustee-based wealth management, we must think generations ahead; we are often being entrusted with the future security of our clients’ progeny. And this, too, is about respecting relationships.
This business and these relationships are about taking the long view. It may take many months, even years, to form a deep and trusting relationship with a family, because we must invest the time to know them. This is also why the people who make up our company have to be very relationship-oriented, very service-minded. They are in it for the long haul. There are other firms, perhaps more transaction-oriented, where our employees could make more money in the short run. Where they could turn a quick dollar on commissions. Where they could focus on selling instead of serving. But that’s not the kind of professional they are. Which is why these people choose Argent. And we them.
And so, in the first 30 years of our company we have learned one lesson, probably the simplest lesson there is: put people first and everything else will follow. Over the next 30 years, and the next, and the next, much will change. Technology will make it possible to accomplish things of which we cannot even dream. Investments will encompass activities and materials that do not exist today. It will be a different world. But the power of relationships will remain.
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
– T.S. Eliot