In January, my partner Wil Heupel and I sent a letter to clients at Accredited Investors in which we announced our succession plan.

The letter described some of the principles on which we founded the firm, such as putting clients first, staying curious and informed, creating opportunities for our staff. The firm was founded 35 years ago, and somehow Wil and I are 35 years older too.

We communicated how clients will see little change in how the firm operates. Wil and I will still serve on the board and the Executive Committee, and we will continue to dedicate ourselves to serving clients. We talked about how important it was to us to remain independent and announced our new managing partners, Becky Krieger and Brian Martin, two longtime firm shareholders.

We thanked all our clients and all the staff, and said that even though the firm now has 55 employees serving almost 600 families, our original principles remain intact.

There is obviously a lot to this letter. It was written over the course of a few months because we wanted it to capture some important things. Our culture is intact. Wil and I are not going anywhere. And we have a strong independent organization with people continuing to serve our clients.

I thought we did a good job of communicating those things, but not everyone read it the same way.

Some clients, for instance, congratulated us on our retirement. We are not retiring. Many of these clients are in their 70s and have been with us for years. I suspect that since they were retired, they were seeing themselves in us.

Other clients felt as if we were abandoning them, even though we thought we were clear that we would continue to focus on client work. But they were concerned we would not be there for them. Some reminded us that they came to the firm because of us. I suspect others felt that way but didn’t say it.

A couple of clients used it as an excuse to leave the firm. Since nothing was really changing, our letter may have created permission for them to do something they had been thinking about anyway but felt uncomfortable telling me or Wil.

Some wondered how Becky and Brian’s time would change and asked whether it would affect their client relationships. But while Becky and Brian’s visibility has increased (as has their pressure!) we have been using an “entrepreneurial operating system” for several years, and both of them have already taken on significant roles. Leadership has been distributed to other shareholders as well.

Most clients are appreciative that we communicated a clear succession plan and are sticking around, and they are comfortable with the team approach we use (clients have three to four advisors working on their behalf).

But people are uncomfortable with change, probably none more so than those who are creating it. Hence, the “Founder’s Dilemma.”

When I was president of the International Association for Financial Planners (the precursor to the FPA) in 1995, I vividly remember a speech I gave at the national conference to kick off my term. When it was over, many people rushed up to the stage to congratulate me and wish me success. I also vividly remember my speech a couple of years later as outgoing chair of the organization. When I finished, many people rushed up to the stage to congratulate … the new president. There was nothing lonelier than my long walk back to my hotel room.

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