Dave Fiskum

Smooth Transition Fuels CFM Growth

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Transitioning a personal services firm is a high-wire act. CFM managed to do it with minimal publicity and without losing legacy clients. It may have been one of the best PR moves the firm has made in its 28-year history.

The move from older to younger generation owners has proven a huge success. However, the transition didn’t always look so promising. “We started the transition discussion almost a decade ago,” recalls CFM co-founder Gary Conkling. “Every promising idea we had flopped.”

Transitions don’t occur in suspended reality. “Partners retired or left,” recalled Conkling. “Employees, including ones in line to become partners, peeled off.” Owning a personal services firm is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Senior CFM partners Norm Eder, Tom Eiland and Dave Fiskum got lots of advice, considered varied paths and lived through a series of failed opportunities. “We wound up,” Conkling said, “going back to basics.”

The goal was to enlist two to four young professionals who shared CFM’s vision for integrity and saw potential in a brand dedicated to results, not optics. Several candidates surfaced, but the two who stuck it out because they saw the potential for the firm and themselves were Joel Rubin and Dale Penn II. They made the transition possible and are now the owner-operators of CFM.

“Owning your own firm is an intriguing option,” Rubin says. “Owning a firm with a reputation for integrity and a commitment to client result is a dream come true.”

“From the beginning, CFM always felt like the right fit for my goals,” explains Penn. “Now Joel and I have a chance to build on past successes to scale new heights.”

Transitioning a 28-year-old personal services firm is not a small undertaking. However, the sellers and the buyers shared one important common goal – a transition that was seamless to clients. The sale date came and went with minimal notice. Clients were informed there would be no changes in their service. Yes, new people were in charge, but the old people were still at the wheel.

“We didn’t want the change of ownership to reflect a change in how we represent clients,” Rubin said. “Our priorities didn’t change and the way we advocate for our clients didn’t change,” Penn added.

Six months after the sale of CFM was consummated, the only noticeable change has been an increase in client work. “Whenever a firm with CFM's prestige transitions to new owners, there's sometimes the question of continuity,” Penn admitted. “But our senior partners have remained on the job and existing and prospective clients have responded positively.”

It may be too soon to judge the ultimate success of the CFM transition, but not too soon for this observation: “I have been impressed by how everyone in our organization has responded to the change in ownership,” says Rubin. “There is a feeling that if we can pull off a transition like this, we can do anything. That attitude is infectious and it is the attitude that is attracting clients.”

 

 

Friends Tenderly Roast Retiring Fiskum

Photos by Tom Patterson.

Photos by Tom Patterson.

Lured from a putting green into the dining hall at Illahe Country Club, CFM Partner Emeritus Dave Fiskum was welcomed by a roomful of friends, coworkers and former clients who warm-heartedly roasted him after his retirement earlier this year.

The evening was filled with a mix of funny and tender stories about Fiskum's work as a lobbyist, his devotion to golf and his ongoing struggle with technology.

Former CFM staffer Elizabeth Remley, whose job included IT assistance, recalled Fiskum asking her how to "get rid of the blue dots" next to his emails. She said: "Just read them."

Former State Rep. Vicki Berger, who had worked with Fiskum to pass a huge local school bond measure, said she asked him for advice after she was elected to the legislature. "He explained to me how to play lobby golf."

Lynne Saxton, who now heads the Oregon Health Authority, described the search for a lobbyist for ChristieCare, the nonprofit she directed for many years. "Someone suggested Dave, then added that he golfed a lot," she said. Fiskum got the job anyway, but after two years Saxton said her nonprofit ran out of money to pay his fee. "Dave said that wasn't a problem and went on representing the organization for many years, helping thousands of children from around the state."

Former State Senator Neil Bryant noted Fiskum paid little attention to him when he was first elected, but suddenly wanted to become best friends when Republicans gained control of the Senate and he took the chairmanship of Senate Judiciary. In that role, Bryant pledged to write implementing legislation for the physician-assisted suicide measure approved by Oregon voters, but opposed by one of Fiskum's main clients.

"I created a work group to iron out details, but insisted that everyone on the work group had to agree to support the recommendations they come up with," Bryant said. "When I returned from a trip to the East Coast expecting to meet my wife at the airport, I was greeted instead by Fiskum who said, 'I have a problem.' I listened to his problem for the hour it took to drive me to Salem."

Amid the roasts were praise for Fiskum's unflagging loyalty to friends, clients and family and for his unwavering integrity. Roasters teased him about his passionate, arm-flailing monologues on issues, his Capitol hallway vents after a vote went against him and his habit of removing his glasses before making a profound comment.

"One thing for sure," said CFM President Gary Conkling, who has known Fiskum since they both attended Seattle Pacific University, "is you couldn't ask for a better business partner or a friend."

Dave Fiskum Golf

Fifty or so friends, plus Fiskum's wife and daughter, attended the reception and dinner that is part of CFM's 25th anniversary celebration this year.

"Dave played a large part in the creation and culture of the company," said CFM Partner Dan Jarman, who suggested the roast. "We know Dave didn't want a big deal made of his decision to retire, but we couldn't resist saying 'thank you' to him in some tangible and meaningful way, surrounded by his friends."

Admitting his surprise at being roasted, Fiskum said, "It was a great party and very gratifying to see a lot of my friends in one place at one time, to hear a lot of fun memories recounted, some at my expense."

"I enjoyed it, I have to say.  And, as you know, I have absolutely no regrets about my 25 years at CFM. It was a great run, made better with friends like you."