Las Vegas (Jan. 16, 2004) -- The ability to spot and hire rainmakers, coupled with a deliberate growth strategy that aligns with the strengths of a firm, can transform most good firms into great ones, according to a panel of successful managing partners at the Winning Is Everything conference, here.

“Decide what you do best,” said Jeff Bolton, managing partner at Boca Raton, Fla.-based Daszkal Bolton. “What are you passionate about? You have to ask yourself, ‘What can we be the best at?’ Good companies attack on all fronts.”

Bolton was one of a trio of managing partners who recounted the principles that helped their respective firms grow in both revenues and in human capital during a discussion at the Winning Is Everything conference this week. Bolton said his 10-year-old firm grew, in part, by focusing on services such as financial planning and middle-market mergers and acquisitions that were largely success-fee oriented. He also implemented a “lifetime learning program,” bringing in top outside experts to talk with his staff and get them to think like a client. “We introduced clients to new revenue streams and implemented value-added services,” Bolton said. We used the hedgehog principle [as outlined in Jim Collins’ best-seller “From Good to Great”]. A hedgehog is very focused.”

“Figure out what type of firm you want,” echoed Phil Holthouse, managing partner of Los Angeles-based Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt. “And then figure out what type of people you want.”

Holthouse told attendees to make quicker decisions on terminations and not to rush into hires simply because you haven’t found the right person yet. “Keep looking to hire someone who is good. You have to get the right people on the bus,” he said. He also urged firms to use their accounts receivable people, because they’re usually on the front lines as to which partners or managers are having problems and where there are billing problems, and are always aware of any disturbing client patterns.

“We didn’t go from good to great, but rather from mediocre to pretty good,” revealed Tom Marino, managing partner of New Jersey-based J.H. Cohn, whose firm went from $18 million in revenue in 1996, to roughly $100 million last year. Marino said his firm grew by deploying a multi-pronged strategy highlighted by a desire to become the most dominant firm in the Northeast. That strategy included bringing in more rainmakers, and building niches, as well as building out the New York marketplace.

“Build by consensus,” advised Marino. “But you have to make the final decision. Put your best people on your biggest opportunities. Don’t be afraid to bring in the best people, even if they’re more famous than you. If you see a potential star in the field, hire them even if you may not have a spot for them.”

-- Bill Carlino

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