When the financial world was melting in 2008, financial advisor Scott Leonard was telling his clients he was going to take three years off to sail around the world with his wife and three sons.
Leonard, CEO of Navigoe LLC, a wealth management firm in Redondo Beach, Calif. with more than $200 million in assets under management, offered his clients a guarantee before he left. He said if anyone was unhappy because of his absence, he would return their fees for the time he was absent and help them find a new financial advisor. No one left.
Leonard spent four years preparing his firm for the trip, which he says has left him reinvigorated and ready to grow. Leonard started his company from scratch in 1996 and four years before he was ready to embark on his around-the-world trip, he hired Eric Toya as the second financial advisor in the firm. The hire was made with the idea in mind that Toya would take over while Leonard was sailing the world.
“I started that far ahead of time because I wanted to work with the person at least two years before I left. If the first hire did not work out, I wanted enough time to find and work with someone else,” Leonard says. “But Eric worked out perfectly, so I did not have to look for anyone else.”
Toya met all of the clients and worked with them. The preparations for the trip served a dual purpose of also allowing Leonard to transition his clients into thinking of the firm as their home rather than looking only to him.
“We shared with the clients the fact that they were safer because of the preparations we made for me leaving than they would have been otherwise. There would be no gaps in their service if I were hit by the proverbial bus,” he says. The trip preparations helped with succession planning for the 46-year-old CEO.
To make the trip work, Leonard says, he had to have people in the firm he could rely on who were trained and compensated sufficiently to take over the day-to-day operations.
Technology also made it possible for Leonard to leave with his family while still maintaining contact. Work went to the cloud so it could be accessed from anywhere and