Long before he became LPL Financial's chief advocate for advisors, Derek Bruton was no stranger to multitasking-or dealing with unusual circumstances. As a college student at Stanford University, he managed to major in history, minor in organizational behavior and play center on the Pacific 10 college's basketball team.

After graduating, he moved to Japan where he worked as a securities analyst covering emerging markets during the day and played pro basketball at night. "That's the way they do it there," he explains.

Living in Tokyo and riding the trains to work where transit workers push and shove all the passengers into the cars like sardines was an experience in itself. Bruton jokes he was able to read his newspaper on the way to work. The other riders were not.

In that period, Bruton also found himself recommending one of the hottest stocks of the early 1990s, Telmex. But he left Japan in early 1994 to join an independent advisory firm in California and didn't have a chance to pull his buy recommendation.

As managing director, national sales manager for independent advisor services, Bruton finds himself facing challenges that are testing all his multitasking skills to the max. Independent broker-dealers like LPL basically compete against each other for reps in three areas: 1) payouts, 2) technology and back office services and 3) other consultative services that can help independent advisors grow their businesses.

At the nation's largest independent brokerage, Bruton is creating an internal consulting operation to strengthen the firm's value proposition to recruit and retain advisors. In this capacity, his decision to minor in organizational behavior at Stanford may prove to have been propitious. With just under 12,000 advisors at LPL, developing consulting services that appeal to a broad cross-section of them-many of whom are running disparate business models-isn't easy.

Yet LPL has managed to involve advisors in its services to a degree its rivals would envy. Last year was a slow one for financial advisor conferences, yet the firm attracted more than 3,500 advisors to its annual conference, believed to be the industry's largest, and had to rent out the entire San Diego Convention Center. At the same time, LPL is wrestling with some of the same issues as its competitors, like succession planning, or the lack of it, among advisors.

Many advisors may be prospering this year, but Bruton is under no illusion about today's competitive environment, which he describes as downright Darwinian. "It's not the strongest or the most intelligent that survive," he says. "It's those that can adapt to change the best."

Just as clients became more willing to listen to advisors after the 2008 financial crisis, advisors have become more willing to seek out LPL's consulting services in the last 18 months, particularly when it pertains to growing their business. Most advisors are intensely independent and, up through 2007, adopted the attitude that if it's not broke, don't fix it.

LPL can't make an independent advisor embrace a program or service, so Bruton and his colleagues have to figure out what problems are restraining advisors' growth and then suggest solutions. "After the crisis, they are much more open to ideas and they don't want to make mistakes," he says.

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