John Hyland was unhappy.

Fresh out of college, the big firm lifestyle of late nights and steak dinners had taken a physical toll. John felt unhealthy and out of shape.

At a tailgate party he heard some friends talking about Ironman races, how impossible they seemed, how no average person could complete one.

“I just had this a-ha moment in my mind,” John told me on a recent podcast. “I just had this moment of clarity and said to myself, “I need to do this.”

John finished the first of eleven Ironman Triathlons in 2000. The lessons from that transformative experience didn’t just improve his health, it gave him a new perspective on how to transform businesses that continues to guide his company, Private Advisor Group.

“I think it’s just a great example of having a belief, having a goal and committing to it,” John says. Just like business, Ironman is not a short event. It doesn’t happen in a day. It happens over years of training to get the results that you’re looking for. But I think it’s just that perfect example of setting a goal, breaking it down to what do you need to do every week, what do you need to do every day, monitor your success, alter things when needed and just continue to focus.”

Today, John Hyland is the co-founder of Private Advisor Group, an RIA with approximately $15 billion in AUM and more than 600 affiliated advisors.

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Key Insights on Transforming Your Business and Life from John Hyland

Coping with the challenges ahead.

Many independent RIAs are experiencing their own “a-ha” moments as the accelerating pace of technology forces the industry to evolve. Some advisors are worried about diminishing fees. Others fret about robo platforms. Still others want to let tech automate what can be automated and refocus on personal, life-centered planning at the client level.

Whatever your “a-ha” may be, having a clear vision, breaking down goals into actionable steps, and mastering metrics will be a big part of the process.

And so will technology – both how you harness it to improve your practice, and how you differentiate yourself from the services that robos and other platforms can provide faster and cheaper than you can.

John Hyland sees the tech revolution as both a challenge and an opportunity, especially for smaller RIAs. “On the challenge side, I think there’s no doubt robos will capture a portion of market share,” he says. “But on the flip side for an advisor, technology makes them more efficient. They can serve more clients, more touchpoints, provide a great client experience. So, if I’m an advisor and I’m looking at technology, it’s going to hurt you in some ways, but if you use it properly it will help you on the other side of your business and I think ultimately, you’ll be the net beneficiary for technology. And that somewhat solves the revenue gap for the advisor. It creates a greater experience for the client, and I think that’s a big part of the solution of the future.”

Connecting with your clients and your peers. 

John Hyland: We all have a certain amount of time, and we all have to be really thoughtful about how we allocate it.

So, what are you good at? Specifically, what are you better at than a low-fee robo platform? What are the things you would like to get back to doing on a daily basis, if not for the grind of running your firm?

Every advisor has different answers to these questions, but a common theme for many of us is restoring a human touch to a business that the public now views as robotic: Money goes into the app, a golden egg comes out in twenty or thirty years.

If it really were that simple, then the doomsayers would be right about financial advisory.

“I so believe in the human connection,” John says. “I don’t buy into ‘technology is going to take over this industry in a big, big way.’ I still believe when the individual and the buyer sit across the table from the client and they have empathy and they listen about what their challenges are or what they want to achieve in their life, I think that is so, so powerful if you do it right and if you’re the right person for it.”

Creating those kinds of powerful connections creates clients for life. But it also takes the time, energy, commitment, and focus of … well, an Ironman!

A brush with death.

For 10 years, John was on the Leukemia Society Board. He just thought it was a great organization and he wanted to be involved. In fact, he was the president. And then, out of the blue in 2010, John gets diagnosed with AML, an acute form of Leukemia. Without treatment, he’d be dead in a few months.

“I spent 30 days initially in the hospital, got me into remission, and spent five more months back in the hospital going through chemotherapy and it was a very, very dark period of my life. When I came out the other end of that, I had a perspective that I didn’t have before about life and what matters. And that’s when time started to become really important to me. That makes you really think about your life and what time you have and how you can control that. We all have a certain amount of time, and we all have to be really thoughtful about how we allocate it.”

This special industry.

What I love about this industry is that we’re able to put the kinds of big picture revelations John has experienced about health, happiness, and time into action – both for ourselves, and for our clients. We have the ability to transform lives, but only if we’re committed to our practices for the long run. I think at the finish line you’ll find a more rewarding practice, clients whose lives have been transformed by your work, and a like-minded community of advisors who will continue to push our industry during the next leg of the race.


– Private Advisor Group Visit John Hyland and his team.

– “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey John Hyland recommends this classic, especially the “seek first to understand and then be understood” philosophy.

– Values Clarification Toolkit Click here to download this FREE tool and start living your values.

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