After a brief flurry of mergers, Rob Francais is ready to hibernate — but not for too long.

Francais’s firm, Los Angeles-based mega RIA Aspiriant, completed two mergers in a three-month period: a Nov. 15 deal with San Diego-based Hokanson Associates, which manages approximately $570 million, and a just-closed merger with fellow Los Angeles RIA The Glowacki Group, which oversees $360 million in assets for 75 clients.
After Francais formed the firm as part of a merger in 2008, Aspiriant acquired Deloitte Investment Advisors in 2010, adding 12 principals and several offices. Afterward, Francais and the firm took a five-year break from seeking new mergers and acquisitions.
“Moving into 2015, we had spent a lot of time building Aspiriant until about a year ago we finally reached a place where we felt like we were ‘open for business’ and were open to begin folding in organizations to grow the firm,” Francais says. “With these additions, we’re now ready to take a breath before moving forward again.”
Glowacki and Aspiriant share a target client base of ultra-high-net-worth and high-net-worth families, and have similar cultures, Francais says. “We’re very much cut from the same cloth; combining made a lot of sense.”
Michael Glowacki, principal of the Glowacki Group, will continue with Aspiriant as an owner/principal and move his firm’s operations into Aspiriant’s Los Angeles office this year.
Glowacki, 61, says he was considering selling his 18-year-old firm as he began considering his options for succession, entertaining a purchase offer from Focus Financial Partners.
“I wanted to do more of what I like to do and less of what I don’t like to do: I don’t want to do compliance, I don’t want to manage staff, I don’t want to pay bills or negotiate my own lease, and I don’t want to be the guy approving vacation leave — I would rather just work with clients,” Glowacki says. “Finding and retaining the successors 20 years younger than me or training the ones 30 years younger than me takes a lot of time. Aspiriant has the size, systems, culture and a career path for young advisors to bring those people in and train them to become partners and then retain them as owners with skin in the game.”
In the end, Aspiriant’s ownership structure and culture won the day. Like Glowacki, many of Aspiriant’s founders, including Francais, got their start as CPAs. Both firms also serve clients through different channels — Glowacki’s clients are divided between investment-only clients, wealth management/financial planning clients, and family office clients.
“This is a values-based industry,” Francais says. “The normal ways in which industries consolidate don’t really apply. The puzzle is how to capture the value of a firm that an advisor has built when it comes time to transition and to monetize that value without compromising the core values that created the organization. It isn’t just a financial transaction.”
Under the terms of Focus’s offer, his payout would be based on future earnings, exposing him to downside risk should clients have elected to leave following the deal.
“Over the long term, a merger is more profitable than a sale even if there’s no big cash event, and so far the reaction from my clients is pretty positive,” Glowacki says. “They’re happy that I’ve found a solution in case something happens to me, and they’re happy that this is a merger and not a sale. They’re relieved that I’m not selling them off to someone they don’t know, but instead that I’m joining an organization that I’ll continue to be an owner of and that I’m not retiring. Nothing is going to change except that now we have access to Aspiriant’s larger resources and a plan for continuity.”
Glowacki says that, over time, Aspiriant’s structure gives him the ability to phase into retirement by gradually cutting his work hours while selling portions of his stake in the firm.
Francais said Aspiriant will shift to work on succession plans for its newly added partners as they complete their transitions this year.
“We have an institutionalized version of the internal succession model,” Francais says. “In our model, owners can sell to the next generation in an organized way that’s aligned with the client’s interest. We’re going to establish a foundation for Michael’s business in Los Angeles.”
Glowacki will bring a background in coaching to the firm, Francais says.
“At Aspiriant, we bring the wisdom of our entire firm to bear on client relationships, and we would offer Michael’s coaching experience,” Francais says. “I would like to see him coaching the next generation: families who want to engage their children in a planning program or a process in partnership with a coach, we could have him create an offering and execute on it.” 
Glowacki, who achieved his coaching certifications after starting his RIA, says the coaching discipline dovetails with the more behavioral aspects of financial life management.
“In planning, everyone talks about setting a goal and having clarity about the purpose of their wealth,” Glowacki says. “Most people need someone to sound out or ask them tough questions to figure out what they really want to achieve. Advice is about providing answers. In coaching, the client has the answers, but we have the questions to draw out the right answers.”
Glowacki was also drawn to Aspiriant’s intention to use the Glowacki Group’s resources to create a lasting RIA based in its Los Angeles office — he was turned off by the idea of selling the firm with no clear plan for its future.
“We’ll be expanding the L.A. office and filling the gap in terms of client size,” Glowacki says. “Aspiriant’s L.A. office a year from now will be handling clients from $1.5 million in assets all the way up to family office size.” 

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