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Transparency, a lifetime of learning and backing your opinions: Paul Kelly on leadership

Paul Kelly, managing director, Futuro Financial Services

The most important person in any organisation is not always the individual who leads it. Sometimes, the most important person is the first individual who decides they’ll follow the leader. After all, a leader with no followers is just someone out for a walk.

Paul Kelly, managing director of Futuro Financial services and the winner in 2019 of the inaugural CoreData Licensee Leadership Award, says successful leaders need strong teams to lead.

“You’re not a leader until you’ve got someone following you,” Kelly says. 

“Leadership is all about the people behind you.

“I can’t do what I do without being able to leverage a lot of my time and activity to others in the group. I’m just one voice, at the end of the day.”

Leadership in the licensee industry is clearly at a premium in 2019, as financial advisers look for guidance and support to transition to new education, professional and ethical standards, and to shape businesses that are fit for purpose in the new world of advice.

Kelly says it is vital that advisers know and respect the team behind the leader and understand that the team is focused on what’s good for the advisers and their clients.

“A good leader should be able to recognise when he’s buggered it up, come back to them and say, you know, what, I got that wrong and you guys are right.”

Paul Kelly

“That goes right back to when you bring people on,” Kelly says.

“You induct them into the business, they get to meet those people, so they get comfort around that and they get to feel that the team is doing what we all promise – which is trying to keep them safe, that we’re on their side and we’re helping them build a better life. 

“You have to make sure everyone knows who are the important people in your team, in your business, and there is a like mind between not only all of us, but also that it lines up with what the planners want and need, and what they see.”

Likewise, Kelly says, a licensee can only lead a network of financial advisers effectively if that network is also strong.

“There are key leaders in our network, people who are respected in the group, and they are the ones who often will stand up and at times back you up, or at other times give you a smack in the backside if you deserve it,” he says.

“A good leader should be able to recognise when he’s buggered it up, come back to them and say, you know, what, I got that wrong and you guys are right, and we’ll go down a different path as a result. And those guys, those leaders in the network, are really important for that.”

The highest-rated leader

This year, when CoreData instituted the Licensee Leadership Award as part of its Licensee of the Year awards, advisers in the Futuro network rated Kelly more highly as a leader than advisers in other networks rated their respective licensee heads.

Leadership is at its most valuable when the future is at its least certain, and no one can claim the path ahead for licensee businesses and advice practices is currently clear.

“It was talked about at the [Professional Planner] Licensee Summit, that this is a time when no one knows what the new business models look like,” Kelly says.

“But if you can articulate that maybe this is a business model moving forward, at least you’re giving advisers a framework around what may they need to do to protect their business and move it forward.”

“It was talked about at the [Professional Planner] Licensee Summit, that this is a time when no one knows what the new business models look like.”

Paul Kelly

Kelly says a case in point is helping advisers prepare for the industry-wide exam required by the Financial Adviser Standards and Ethics Authority, even before the structure and content of the exam had been nailed down.

“We explained to them what they were going to have to do, even though that was a moving feast, and then we got them doing trial sessions around an exam,” Kelly says. 

“They were very much up to speed before anything was finalised in terms of the exam.”

Why do you think what you think?

Kelly says the keys to effective leadership include transparency and the willingness to hold and back a strong opinion.

“You’ve got to be able to articulate what that opinion is and why you’ve got that opinion, which then sets up the vision that we’ve got for the next two or three years that we think the industry is going to look like, and also what we as a licensee are looking to do and why we’re looking to do it,” he says.

“And for our underlying businesses, if you want to come on that journey, this is what the business is going to have to do to get there.”

Leading a financial planning licensee wasn’t a goal of the young Kelly. Like most people his age, he had little idea of what he wanted to do after finishing school. He had interest in the world of finance but entered teaching college and embarked on a career as a chemistry teacher. He figured out quite quickly that maybe teaching wouldn’t be a long-term career. 

He says the head of the maths department would come into the staff room every week, “and he could tell you to the day how many days it was until he was going to retire to maximise his superannuation.”

“You’ve got to be able to articulate what that opinion is and why you’ve got that opinion.”

Paul Kelly

“I’m looking at that and thinking, ‘that’s me in 15 years’, and that’s not where I wanted to be,” Kelly says. But he loved learning as well as teaching and gained an applied economics degree, on the basis that if he was going to develop his earlier interest in finance he’d better know what he was talking about.

Kelly’s understanding of business began through the ownership of a couple of small businesses run by his wife, Dani. After those businesses were sold, the couple, by now with two young children in tow, moved to Brisbane. Kelly left the education system and entered the world of financial services for good.

“I said I don’t want to look like those other chaps that we’ve talked about; I want to do something different,” he says. 

“Dani has been very supportive of the stupid things I’ve done over the years, and that was one of them. I got in with one of the big boys – Westpac – and lasted about a year. But they did teach me things, and that was my first foray into planning.”

Kelly left the world of institutions to join Legal Sure, which among other things arranged insurance programs for the partners of legal firms in Queensland and provided financial advice to law firm clients, and eventually worked with almost one-third of all law firms in the state.

The power of mentors

After Kelly met Dennis Bashford, “we reinvigorated the [Legal Sure] business, changed it into Futuro and relaunched it all in 2002,” Kelly says. Today Bashford is Futuro’s chairman and Kelly credits Bashford with giving him guidance thought and an understanding of the world of financial planning that he lacked.

“Dennis already had that broader industry experience, and you need that mentoring, and that’s what he did for me for a fair chunk of the first few years of this business,” Kelly says.

“But you also have to realise, too, that you outgrow [your mentors], and he and I know that, so that’s nothing new. And once you outgrow them, you’ve got to look for the next one.”

Kelly says effective leaders never stop learning. And while he now has a few years’ experience under his belt, he says he still gains great insights into more effective leadership by reading and by participating in peer group networking. 

“Lately what I’ve been taking a great deal of interest in is Verne Harnish’s book, called Mastering the Rockefeller Habits,” Kelly says.

“But you also have to realise, too, that you outgrow [your mentors], and he and I know that, so that’s nothing new.

Paul Kelly

“He turned that into a business called Gazelles. Then he wrote another book, which is called Scaling Up, and [there are] four or five major principles in that book about the key parts to the business and getting those things scaled up and moving forward. It’s one of the most powerful books you can ever buy, and there’s a whole range of tools that come with it. I know a lot of people I deal with in other industries who use it as a basis for getting their business going.”

Kelly is also a member of an executive peer mentoring group, called The Executive Connection (TEC).

“That’s powerful for me,” he says. 

“The firm lets me go to that and get into it; I get some mentoring from the chap who runs our program there for us. The beauty of it is you need people to tell you you’re going down the wrong path, to ask you questions: ‘Why are you doing that again? Where does that fit into what you’ve told me?’ It’s that accountability piece that’s really, really productive.

“And I get to sit every month with 16 other people who are running, in some cases, $100 million businesses. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether you’re selling financial planning or you’re selling [something else], you’ve got the same problems and issues. It’s a great sounding board.”

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