Can you think of the people who have most impacted your life?

There are five people you meet in Heaven. ... Each ... was in your life for a reason. You may not have known the reason at the time, and that is what Heaven is for. For understanding your life on earth.

- Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Hyperion, 2003

    I don't even remember his name. I hardly spoke to him. He, most likely doesn't remember our encounter. Nevertheless, his influence on me was immense. It was 1981 and he was a financial planner and a CFP practitioner who earned his living by giving people objective advice and charging them a fee. I had never heard of such a thing. I was a field vice president for John Hancock, attending a meeting of the Norfolk, Va., agency. He was a guest speaker attempting to establish a referral source with life insurance agents.
    It was his description of financial planning, however, that got my attention. Something told me that this was a profession that would grow and flourish. Moreover, I wanted to be a part of it. After a failed attempt to convince other general agents in my territory to adopt financial planning, I decided to do it myself. I took over an agency in Cherry Hill, N.J., and registered my RIA, RTD Financial Advisors Inc. That was 23 years ago.
    After it became apparent that John Hancock was not ready for financial planning at that time, I left and started my own independent firm in Philadelphia in 1985. The rest, as they say, is history. I would like to thank this person for the influence he had on my life, but I do not know how to find him. (Perhaps he is reading this column).
    * * * *
    In 1990, my office lease was about to expire in Philadelphia, and I needed to make a decision about renewal. We had built a financial planning firm that was organized more like an insurance agency and required about 4,200 square feet to accommodate all of our associates.
    However, I sensed a need to change what we were doing. While we were practicing financial planning, I felt that we were still too product-oriented. I had built, it seemed, a sales organization, not the professional practice I craved. Is this why I left a lucrative career at John Hancock, I asked myself. Moreover, I was unhappy. For the first time in many years, I was not excited about going to work in the morning.
    I wanted to make some changes in the way we did business, but was concerned about the bottom line. That is when he came to visit me. Once again, I do not remember the name of this person who is partially responsible for the firm we have built over the years. His occupation was a sales consultant, and he called on me to convince me to have him conduct a sales training program for our associates.   
    While I liked him, personally, and invited him to visit me, I did not feel that sales training was what out firm needed at that time. I confided in him that I was not very happy and wanted to make some major changes in the firm (such as de-emphasizing product sales and concentrating on fees for service), but several of our associates objected. He offered his help. He asked me with whom I had discussed these issues. Our associates and my wife, I told him.
    He advised me that I needed an objective opinion, and the people I was talking to have a stake in the decisions I make. He could be that person and he would charge me an hourly fee to help me. The deadline for renewing our lease was approaching, so I agreed.
     After several meetings, he asked three critical questions. But he first told me to ignore any cash flow concerns when I answered the questions. "If you had your way, who would you want to see in the morning when you arrived at the office that would make the experience enjoyable once again?" Excluding support people, I gave him the names of four people.
    "Ideally, how would you organize the firm?" I told him about the fee structure and other initiatives I would implement.
    "How do those four people feel about these changes?" They agree, I responded.
    Then, he told me, you need to do the following:
    (1) Find a place for all of those associates that are not supportive of what you feel you need to do.
    (2) Reduce your office space to accommodate you, those four associates, your support staff and modest growth.
    (3) Implement the changes you want.
    (4) Don't worry about the cash flow-it will be there because you will be surrounded by people who share you values."
    I followed his advice, and those four associates eventually became partners.
    * * * *
    He came into my life when I was 28 years old and a newly appointed supervisor in the Philadelphia John Hancock Agency. Vince Bohwers from Buffalo was just named the general agent in this agency and introduced himself at a meeting of the management staff. I had only been in the insurance business for four years, but my ambition was to be a general agent. The former agency head had just accepted a position as regional vice president, and I was quite apprehensive about this new person. I had a very good relationship with the other general agent and was concerned about my future, which was now in the hands of someone I knew nothing about.
    The first lesson he taught me was how to take over a situation where many people were concerned and make them feel comfortable and confident about their situation. While everyone would not go on to reach their ambitions, he believed that people needed a positive environment in which to work if they were to achieve their maximum potential. He was right. Seven supervisors in the Philadelphia agency went on to become general agents. I was one of them.
    What was so impressive about Vince was that he hardly ever told us how to act. He demonstrated it. So I used the lessons I learned from him when I was appointed general agent in Trenton, regional vice president in the Southeast, general agent in Cherry Hill, and, finally, founder of RTD Financial Advisors in Philadelphia. Creating a positive atmosphere that is conducive to success is the key to leadership and building winning organizations, and I emulated Vince.
    Throughout the years, when faced with a difficult situation, I would ask myself, "How would Vince handle this?" Even when I acted out of "instinct," his influence on me has been apparent throughout my career. People who have been a part of my organization probably assume that my leadership style is unique to me. Actually, they are paying a compliment to Vince without knowing it. I am sure he was proud to observe the successes of the people he mentored. It is like watching you children emulate your values because they are now their values.
    As much as Vince helped me to develop a successful management style, that was not his greatest influence on me. Again, by demonstrating it on a day-to-day basis, he showed us that nothing was more important than honesty and integrity in dealing with everyone with whom you come in contact, whether they are prospects, clients, employees, business associates or anyone else. In addition to it being the right thing to do, in the long run, it is good for business.
    Vince was also a giver. He gave to his family, his agency, his community, his clients and his industry. He served as national president of both the General Agents and Managers Association (GAMA) and the National Association of Life Underwriters (NALU). He participated and chaired many committees and was a great influence on the industry he loved. Later in his life he received the prestigious "John Newton Russell Memorial Award," awarded to someone who has given great service to the insurance industry (equivalent to Financial Planning Association's P. Kemp Fain Award). In this area, Vince may have had his greatest influence on me. In 1994, I was considering running for a spot on the IAFP National Board. I had just completed my term as local president in Philadelphia. Frankly, I was leaning against it. I was still trying to build a business and I didn't think I had the time.
    My wife, Peggy, and I were invited to a retirement party for Vince in Boston (he was living there at the time) and we attended. At the party, a video presentation of Vince's life was shown. It recounted all of his accomplishments and service. It also helped me to recall the lessons he taught me about service and, once again, he influenced my life. And he did not need to say one word. I turned to my wife and said, "If you will support me in this, I will run for the Board." She agreed that it was something I needed to do. Unfortunately, Vince did not live to see me become president of FPA, but I know he would be very proud of how I was living his values because the were now my values.
    Perhaps there are five people that we all may encounter in Heaven, as suggested by Mitch Albom. However, there are those who we know have had a profound impact on our lives, and we should reflect on them from time to time. The lesson we can all take from these experiences is that we may not know when we are influencing others, and may never know, as the two unnamed people about whom I have written. I would like to believe that I have lived my life so that someone may say of me, "He was one of the people I met on Earth that has made a difference in my life." It is a worthy goal for all of us.

Roy Diliberto is chairman and founder of RTD Financial Advisors Inc. in Philadelphia.