It was time to get back to business. That may be the most concise way to describe the underlying mood of the Financial Planning Association's 2002 Success Forum, which was held September 28 to October 1 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.

Overcoming trying circumstances seemed to be at the heart of things from the very start. The forum itself-abruptly canceled last year due to the September 11 terror attacks-was making a comeback after a two-year absence. But in doing so, it narrowly missed getting shut out by the weather, as hurricanes and tropical storms struck the Gulf Coast a few days before and a few days after the event.

The FPA attributed only one cancelation to the stormy weather, but the dark clouds hovering over the economy and Wall Street were another matter.

Final attendance figures weren't available at press time, but the FPA estimated that 3,000 attended the 2002 Success Forum. That would be about 600 less than the attendance at the 2000 convention in Boston, says FPA spokeswoman Heather Almand. The association reportedly had 4,400 attendees signed up to come to San Diego on September 12, 2001, only to be short-circuited by the tragic events of the previous day.

Official numbers aside, the general consensus among attendees was that the numbers were clearly down for the New Orleans event-either because many advisors couldn't afford to leave their businesses or decided it was a bad time to be out of the office.

"I think it was firms cutting back and people making the decision to stay home to be close to their clients," Almand says. "Planners are feeling the crunch just like everyone else."

Indeed, lessons on how to deal with adversity seemed to be everywhere. It started with the general session on September 29, when FPA President Robert Barry exhorted the association's members to get back to their roots and focus on the planning profession.

"Financial planning is about planning. It's not about specialties," Barry told the general assembly. Acknowledging times are tough, he added, "This is no time for ease and comfort-this is a time for dare and doing."

The meeting's keynote speaker, Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't, followed up with a lively talk on what it takes to succeed as a business leader.

One trait of successful CEOs, he noted, is that they never settle for just being "good" and look upon greatness as a continuing endeavor rather than a pinnacle to be reached. Quoting the CEO of Walgreens, the drugstore chain that has been one of America's great success stories, Collins said, "If you ever think you're great, you're not."

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