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.”