More than 30 years ago, Advisor Today’s predecessor, Life Association News, published an article about two men whose four-year-old partnership was still finding its way.
The two men, William D. Olinger, CLU, and William F. Koss, CLU, who are still members of the Gainesville AIFA (Fla.), formed Koss Olinger Financial Group in 1969 and continue to thrive—together. Their firm is one of the largest and most reputable in Gainesville.
While getting into a partnership can be as easy as hanging out a shingle for yourself and your partner, surviving together can be difficult at times. David Gage, in his book, The Partnership Charter: How to Start Out Right With Your New Business Partnership (or Fix the One You’re In), recounts numerous partnerships that have gone sour, but he also tells of partnerships that blossom.
According to Gage, the elements of a successful partnership include similar values, mutual trust and respect. “When prospective partners have assessed these critical relationship elements, they have had a tremendous head start,” says Gage.
Perhaps Gage’s theory explains the Koss-Olinger success story. Just like real estate has its mantra for success—“location, location, location,” at the core of the Koss-Olinger relationship are “values, values, values.”
Their success is a model for other advisors eyeing or already in a partnership. It is a model based on mutual respect and commitment, and an objective approach to financial and estate planning.
“Bill’s values and mine have a lot to do with where we are today. We had each other’s best interest at heart. We’ve tried to convey Koss Olinger as an organization that is bigger than just Bill Olinger or just Bill Koss. Because of that we’ve always been viewed as an institution rather than just two guys trying to do what everyone else is trying to do,” says Koss
Over the years their comparable thinking has helped keep at bay issues that could create tension in a partnership. Olinger provides an example. “Because of our similar backgrounds,” he says, “we both felt that money should come back into the business to build the practice. We didn’t take huge salaries, and now we have seven advisors besides us.”
Koss and Olinger from the outset wanted to remain independent. “We wanted to convey that we were objective and we had the competence to perform,” says Koss. To achieve this, they have consistently insisted on doing business only with companies that exude integrity and are customer-oriented.
As the team grew, it attracted staff with comparable views. “The culture of what we have is fundamentally based on Bill and me, but it’s been enhanced by these young people and their commitment to the same kinds of ideals,” says Koss.
What’s more, a firm that conducts itself with impeccable standards is a magnet for like-minded clients and prospects. “We’re both idealistic people,” says Koss. “We trust people to do the right thing rather than thinking somebody’s going to do the wrong thing. It’s been an incredibly positive experience because the client base we’ve attracted shares similar values. In turn, these clients have recommended us for our values, which attracts even more people.”
This cycle is the key to bringing in solid referrals and building a strong future for the firm. “Sure, you’re always challenged by the world, the marketplace,” says Koss, “but it has been a fundamental belief of ours that when we work with someone we’re committing ourselves to them for a lifetime.”
Committed to each other
In any business relationship, there will be times when one partner is doing well while the other struggles. The key to overcoming these awkward patches, say Koss and Olinger, is to step back and look at what you are doing for each other. “There are many things that aren’t on the balance sheet. You have to look at the tangible and the intangible,” says Koss. “I’ve always looked at Bill as being the guy who’s grounded and who I can depend on to think through decisions. At the end of the day if Bill says, ‘This is what we’re gonna do because it’s something we should do,’ I trust his judgment because I know he’s really thought it out,” says Koss.
Fostering mutual success
There is another reason why a partnership creates fertile ground for each partner to succeed. As Olinger puts it, “This business would be a very hard business to be in alone.” Koss agrees. “There’s nothing more powerful than the synergy of two people committed to the same principles and really driven by long-term goals and objectives,” says Koss. “If you tried to do it all on your own, you’d come back and you’d stare at the wall some days, and you’d be really unsure about yourself. When you have a partner, you can bounce things off each other, and that really means a lot.”
For more on David Gage and his book, The Partnership Charter: How to Start Out Right With Your New Business Partnership (or Fix the One You’re In), visit “Howdy Pardner.”