In this month’s cover story, senior editor Eric Rasmussen profiles Jane Williams, who co-founded Sand Hill Global Advisors in Palo Alto, Calif., just about three decades ago. When someone has done as many things right in running an RIA firm as Williams, it involves a lot more than luck.

She started Sand Hill in 1982 in Silicon Valley, the incubation ward for high-tech innovation, just as the PC revolution was emerging. Even though the industry barely existed, there was no shortage of expertise in her circle of friends, clients and acquaintances, whether it was in financial advice, PC software or network routing.

Williams migrated her business to the RIA-only model in the late 1980s and was perfectly positioned to catch the wave when the technology boom of the 1990s arrived. She managed to sell her firm to a bank, Boston Private, in 2000 and repurchase it on advantageous terms when the bank got into trouble in 2008.
But her great timing aside, it’s the other things she is doing right that are worth noting.

Sand Hill has a supply of affluent young clients—Facebook is right down the road—and Williams has brought in many smart young advisors. Many firms can’t find a way to do that, and they tend to cut themselves off from tomorrow’s clients.

Today, the best firms are focused on developing younger advisors and cultivating clients in the same age bracket. They also are building teams of professionals whose skills complement one another’s but where no single advisor is indispensable.

You’ve heard of laddered portfolios with groups of bonds that mature every year. Well, more and more I am seeing laddered RIA partnerships, with four or five principals, each of them separated in age by four or five years.

Behind the scenes, more leading firms are engaging in merger talks as we speak. Some observers expected merger activity in the RIA space to fade following the increase in capital gains tax rates in January. It hasn’t.

This doesn’t mean you’ll see a wave of deals in the next six months. In the RIA space, only about one in seven or eight romances makes it to the altar.

But the smarter players are looking at re-gearing most aspects of their firms. Rasmussen’s profile of what Williams is doing might give you some ideas.

Evan Simonoff, Editor-in-Chief
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