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BUYERS BEWARE: ADVISORS, ADVISORS EVERYWHERE

By Brad Guyer

 

Recently, I was on a late evening flight up to Montreal. It was the kind of flight experience that we rarely have anymore—on-time, quiet cabin and a pleasant crew. In fact, this was a lucky break because it actually allowed me to decompress from a very heated phone conversation I had just finished with my financial advisor. The subject?  How on earth could he have recommended a particular stock buy that had just tanked?

But in the quiet of the cabin, I was able to make sense of the whole mess and realized I should have known better and asked more specific questions of this advisor before signing on with his firm. In many cases, including this one, financial advisors are incented to sell certain securities. Needless to say, this practice rarely takes into consideration what's in the best interest of the client.

So, I started to think about the fact that the whole industry of business advisors and consultants has a major reputation problem—partially because of incidents like this where a real conflict of interest exists.  But also because this field is cluttered—or better put, littered—with wannabes.  By that I mean salespeople masquerading as business consultants; individuals using consulting to bridge between jobs; or simply, those people who are not a good fit for a traditional job.

 
But as we started to cross Lake Ontario, I realized that good advisors have shaped the framework of many of this country’s milestones —the New Deal, Social Security and Medicare. And they have guided American businesses through major sea changes and helped them grow and expand.  These are the real experts—those behind-the-scenes players with deep expertise and no ego in the game. Their satisfaction comes from knowing that their ideas will work and seeing their clients excel from contributions they make.

 

For sure, this is a special breed of individual: a person who likely has achieved significant success in an earlier role and who has amassed deep expertise in a particular field. Moreover, this is someone who cares more about making others successful than basking in the glory himself. If you look, really look, you will find these people popping up in many of the most successful organizations, especially in businesses facing unique challenges and new opportunities.

 

So, this brings me to the feed industry. The 21st Century global feed industry is in the process of creating an entirely new business paradigm. The combination of industry consolidation, ever-changing global supply chains, expanding regulations and volatile prices creates a unique set of challenges. This is a topsy turvy world, and for many, the unknowns far outnumber the certainties in their operations.

This is the kind of business environment in which true advisors thrive. The high stakes issues test their metal. It’s almost a zero-sum game in which the choices they recommend can mean the difference between success and failure.

Today’s feed industry is sort of like a Gold Rush for advisors—and I come across many of them in my travels. I've encountered the really impressive advisors right alongside the wannabes. And along the way, I've developed a process to distinguish between them. So I thought I'd share some of the hard lessons I have learned:

 

*      Test Their Metal: Advisors of all kinds are fairly deft at talking a good game. So, make sure you have a substantive, deep conversation before hiring someone to determine exactly how much they know about the particular issues facing your mill. Check references they provide and check them out through your own professional network.

*      Understand Their Role:  Advisors are sophisticated problem-solvers who provide advice based on their extensive experience and knowledge in a highly specialized area.  They can chart a course for business growth; optimize your operations; navigate complex regulations.

*      Make Sure Their Ideas Have Staying Power: Just as we can look back and see the role of highly skilled advisors in history, we should measure our own advisors by the same standard.  Ask about their successes and assess the impact each had on the company, the industry and the advisor. Ask broad questions about the direction and evolution of the feed industry to understand how they think. Investing in a consultant is a commitment of time and money—so it’s important to ensure that the advice they give—and you implement—will stand the test of time.

*      Seek Out Only Free Agents: True advisors don’t sell anything except their advice, which should be considerable. I emphasize this because there are too many salespeople masquerading as advisors in our industry. To find out, simply ask if the advisor sells a product. Steer clear if the answer is yes because all advice will lead to a product purchase. This is a classic conflict of interest scenario where your business interests take a back seat to the next sale.

*      Look for “Hot” Trend Junkies: In other words, they are ahead of the curve on things like HACCP requirements that address FSMA; sustainability as it applies to labor, animal nutrition and mill operations and issues like preventive mill maintenance.

 

In the end, an advisor will be only as successful as you enable him to be. Before engaging an advisor, understand the commitment of time, people and resources that is involved. There must be a senior-level internal ‘owner’ of the advisor who gives direction, offers background and generally, enables the process. Without this level of internal stewardship, even the most highly skilled advisor will fail.

 

And keep an open mind about where you might find a good advisor for your business. You never know, he might just be the guy sitting next to you on that flight to Montreal.

 

 

 

Brad Guyer is a Global Operations Portfolio Manager for Feed Management Systems. He focuses on the development and direction of new products, solutions, services and continuous improvement consulting for feed industry manufacturing and operations. Guyer can be reached at bguyer@feedsys.com.  

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