Running a successful advisory practice while still maintaining a rich home life is the holy grail for any advisor. Advisor’s Edge hosted leading Canadian CFAs who’ve been able to do just that and asked them their strategies for improving work-life balance.
How do you define work-life balance?
Ian: It’s characterized by flexibility. I don’t quantify how much I’m putting into various categories, but rather whether I’ve got the ability to adapt on the fly, get to my kid’s school event, or be home for dinner. I manage that. If I can dictate what my schedule looks like, I’ve achieved a balance. When I worked for the banks, work-life balance was about trying to carve out weekends for yourself—quantifying personal time that was separate from work time. But when you’re doing your own thing, it all gets blurred and mashed together.
Marg: I define it much like an investment—your time horizon matters. When my children were small I measured balance on a shorter time span. Now I look at it on a quarterly basis.
My definition has changed over the course of my career for two reasons. One is the age of my kids, and the second is the level of responsibility I’ve had. When I think back to my 20s and early 30s, I was focused on getting enough experience and education. That was happening while I was having children, so a lot of the challenge was managing time effectively.
I’m more integrated now. I can come home from work and do homework with my 17-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter. Working at home isn’t difficult, because there’s a reciprocal accountability. I want our kids to see [my husband and I] work hard—and they should work hard, too.
What is the greatest pressure you feel?
John: It comes from managing the steady base business of regulatory filings, accounting, legal, audit, and portfolio creation. At the same time, there is the unexpected—a client phones you with an emergency, or there is a change in the market. I need to block time out, but also be ready to change the size of the blocks. This adds to the pressure.
One of my clients has started a business. He relies on me to make sure his portfolio is protected, while he runs his business. This requires me to be responsive on the spur of the moment, and to put aside the other things normally higher on my priority list. This is a source of both pleasure and pressure.
Ian: Right now my kids are young, so I want to make sure I’m around for dinner and bedtime, get to the gym a couple of times a week, and also manage the numerous things I’m juggling on the work front. Trying to squeeze it all in poses the greatest challenge right now.
Arthur: I don’t want to disappoint anyone—my clients, family, partners and the charities I work with. So you have to learn how to say no.
Everybody’s fighting for a piece of your time. In terms of specific areas where I say no, it’s changed over time. What I personally find to be the biggest pressure is personnel issues. They cause me the most sleepless nights—more so than investments or anything technical. You carry them around no matter what you’re doing.
How have you structured your practice to better accommodate work-life balance?
Marg: I’ve become much clearer, when we’re hiring, about the nature of the job, how much overtime is required, and the periods when we’re completely swamped and expect our employees to be there. You need to be transparent with people about your expectations so they can make their own decisions.
Of course, there are times when an employee needs some flexibility. I appreciated flexibility at those moments when I desperately needed it [like when my kids were young], and somebody had the sensitivity to see it.
Ian: I’ve taken some deliberate steps. I ensure most nights I get home for dinner by 5:30 p.m. When you have young kids, spending a couple of hours with them at that time of day is critical. I also set up a comfortable home office, so I can work at home in the evening. This allows me to control my schedule better.
Marg: In the past I found myself trying to accommodate others rather than the reverse. At some point, you realize you’ve tried too hard—you haven’t been good to yourself. But now I make it clear I’m prepared to roll up my sleeves and expect the same from everybody else. It’s a delicate balance between leading by example and accommodating everybody but yourself.
Arthur: I agree 100%. Last year I accommodated everybody else’s holidays, and I ended up with no summer vacation. That’s not going to happen this year.
What changes have to occur in the industry to allow better work-life balance?
Marg: I would not have the career and the home life I’ve had without technology. I spend much more time with my kids than my parents ever would have spent with me—even though my mother stayed at home—and that’s largely a reflection of technology.
Arthur: The downside of technology is it pushes client expectations way up, because they expect you to answer right away—all day, every day.
Marg: Yes, at times you have to know how to turn it on and off. But I am enormously grateful for technology.
Ian: I don’t think any major change needs to happen, because that suggests a deferral of responsibility. If you want to achieve work-life balance, you need to take it upon yourself to make it happen, and not wait for some policy or new technology that may come out.
How do you see work-life balance dovetailing with your succession planning?
Marg: For certain things, clients will only talk to me. Part of it is training my clients to ask for my assistant, who is really competent and friendly. But [our team] isn’t totally interchangeable.
And I know if the markets aren’t going well and performance isn’t how we planned it, clients aren’t going to want to talk to somebody else. That pressure is unique to this business—we don’t produce a widget you can return.
Ian: That was my number one challenge. A couple of years ago I brought partners in, yet clients didn’t want to talk to anybody but me for a long time.
It took a couple of years to convince clients I wouldn’t bring someone in if he or she didn’t have the same background and standards for quality I have.
And even that wasn’t enough. So it took a lot of going to meetings and doing sessions together so clients could become comfortable. It’s a slow and deliberate process.
Arthur: Build on the processes and values of the organization, so that as you step away, they continue on. You can’t build around one person, because as soon as he or she leaves that will be the end of it. Build on the organization’s culture—that’s the way you build an environment where people are excited about working because they’re learning.