What BMW taught one firm about customization

By Barry Glassman, founder and president, Glassman Wealth Services Barry_Glassman1

I promised my team when we launched Glassman Wealth Services three years ago that when we hit $500 million in assets under management, we would celebrate in a big way. We reached that goal earlier this year, and I planned a celebration they would not soon forget. The only thing I told my employees was to be ready to fly out on a Friday in July.

Selfishly, I wanted to make sure there would be elements that benefitted the firm. Oh, did we accomplish both.

Branded the GWS 500 after the Indy 500, the BMW factory in Greenville, SC, was our destination. Newly outfitted in GWS 500 shirts and caps, the entire team flew south for a private tour of the plant and to race a few BMWs on their closed-circuit course.

We were greeted by one of their efficiency executives who acted as our tour guide at the 4-million-square-foot, 7,000-employee campus. He educated us about how the factory operates, from those who design and build the cars, to the final moment when the car drives off the lot.

Mass personalization

We learned that 85 percent of all BMWs are custom orders. Because of the number of unique options that customers may choose – from body and interior to engines and upgrades – the plant could run nonstop for six months and never build the same car twice. Yet their systems are so intelligent and flexible that the owner can make changes up to six days before it’s built.

I love the term “mass personalization.” Like the BMW customer, our clients want financial strategies customized for their unique needs. Since there are an unlimited number of strategies for investment, estate and tax planning and other wealth management services, how we apply our expertise creates that unique experience for each family. By implementing greater efficiencies, we’re free to customize our services and deliverables at any time for our clients.

Like the BMW customer, our clients want
financial strategies customized for their unique needs.

Strategic partnerships

BMW outsources many of the parts for its cars to more than 170 manufacturers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The company carefully selects the best partners that specialize in everything from advanced computer systems to car body parts. They collaborate, share and solve problems with experts in an effort to continually improve processes.

With that in mind, our firm decided to outsource any function that was not our core competency, like legal, IT, marketing and design. This structure gives us the ability to focus on what we do best: creating wealth management strategies and managing investments for our clients. Like BMW, we’re selective about choosing our outside experts. It’s important to work with business partners who share our commitment and culture of excellence because they are a vital extension of our business.

Innovative culture

BMW has created a culture that emphasizes learning, innovation and teamwork. Employees on the line are cross-trained to reduce boredom and injuries from repetition. They have access to “Learning Kiosks” throughout the plant, where they can earn movie tickets and other prizes as they improve their knowledge through short, focused courses. Even BMW engineers spend two years working in every part of the plant, building their knowledge while developing a personal network of colleagues.

For any business to innovate, it’s critical to nurture the creative sparks that can lead to the next great advancement. Inspired by BMW’s innovative culture, we have employees take “Thinking Days.” One day each quarter, they unplug from the office for the purpose of devising new ideas and directions for the firm, as well as pushing their own personal limits beyond the four walls of the office. Giving our team the time and permission to express their creativity and curiosity yields incredible payoffs in new ideas and improved morale.

For any business to innovate, it’s critical to nurture the
creative sparks that can lead to the next great advancement.

Creating the “ultimate experience”

BMW understands that for most owners and potential buyers, the decision to buy a BMW is not about what it took to create this car, but about the experience when driving it. All the precision, engineering and passion must come together perfectly when the driver gets into the car and starts the engine. Anything less is not acceptable for BMW.

While we have invested in the best available technology, leveraged outside experts to perfect our systems and hired passionate, talented financial professionals, it’s not enough. Our services have to come together in just the right way every time to give clients the personal experience they want.

After all the lessons learned from our BMW tour, nothing was as thrilling as racing M5s and Z4s around their closed course. Trust falls are for rookies. Careening off the course and into the grass when you’re a passenger and your co-worker is behind the wheel – now that is the ultimate trust-building experience. CEO

Barry Glassman is founder and president of Glassman Wealth Services, an award-winning wealth management firm that serves the investment needs and financial challenges of successful individuals and families. www.glassmanwealth.com. Contact us at editorial@smartceo.com.

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