Alan Farber on Corporate Culture as Competitive Advantage

Alan Farber speaks on Corporate Culture as Competitive Advantage at a recent #EDGEtalks event. 

About Alan Farber

Since 1979, Alan has been a driving force in transforming the firm into one of the leading independent providers of financial advisory services in Canada.

Alan has assembled a dynamic group of people at Farber Financial Group who deliver exceptional results, provide responsive client service, and offer innovative, practical insight. He has built and led the firm through hard work and by exceeding client expectations while attracting like-minded partners and staff. He has created a culture of respect and deep commitment to the firm amongst the staff, now totalling over 120 people in offices across the country. Passionately committed to the Firm, Alan has implemented progressive initiatives which make Farber a unique firm to work for.

Alan’s practice focuses on corporate insolvency, restructuring, and distressed financial advisory services. His commitment to responsive, practical results helps corporations, lenders, executives and their advisors resolve their issues.

Over the years, Alan has earned a tremendous reputation for his creativity, energy, and adherence to the highest professional standards. He has applied his considerable expertise to numerous insolvency and restructuring engagements in virtually every sector of the economy.

Alan is passionate not only about Farber Financial Group but also about his personal commitment to a peaceful, vibrant and sustainable society. Alan has been a generous supporter and active volunteer for many causes including the North York General Hospital, the United Jewish Appeal, the Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, and the Koby Mandell Foundation.

Alan Farber from The Burnie Group on Vimeo.

“Where does culture really come from?  It comes from your roots, and what were my roots? My dad was a great soccer player. He really was a good sportsman and there was nothing my dad wouldn’t do for anyone. People would call up my dad and say “would you do the following?” and the answer was “yes” he would do it. It was very inspiring to see that.

I got married at a very young age. I’ve got a very strong sense of family. Not only from my family (I got married very young. I was 21. I’m still married to her) but also from my wife. It’s a 13 year marriage now. (Laughter). I have a strong sense of family from her parents to the point where my mother in law immigrated. Unfortunately my dad passed away very young, soon after we got married.

Long-term relationships started to develop within the firm. When I first became a CA, the attitude in the professional world at that stage was you wake up in the morning and you absolutely break your bones to do a good job for people, and business will take care of itself. That was it.

It was all client focused. Just client, client, client focused. In the processes, the business grew and I didn’t realize it, but a culture started to develop and this was the evolution. People would say it’s nice to work here. It’s great to work here. Good people. They treat me with respect. A little thank you goes a long way.

A lady has been with us for over 25 years and when I was preparing this two days ago, she walked into my office while I was just doing these slides, and she said, “It’s a great culture here.” I said, “What’s so great about it?” And she said, “Allan, a little thank you goes a long way.” That’s what she said. 

What makes the difference? Number one, internally with people who do work with us, we are talking culture, culture, culture, culture all the time. We drum it into their heads. Most of the people have it. When we do hiring, it is very, very clear, we spend all of our time looking at culture. If we don’t get somebody we believe is going to fit the culture, we just know it’s a maintenance issue. We are not in the maintenance business. We are in the growth and success business. Maintaining difficult people is a nightmare and each and every one of you have had that experience.

[Someone asked me] what are the things you do that make a little bit of a difference? We have a monthly lunch where we talk about all the different business units and what all the different initiatives are. I pay for that lunch, and I pay the people to listen to me so I can talk. Every summer we take a whole day off, the whole firm, and we do something great. Every winter – in the last January – we put on a bang up dinner. These are both staff appreciation things. We have awards.

Coming back to my first slide, the famous saying, you’re born into a family, you can’t change your family but you can choose your friends and you can choose your employees, you can choose your boss, you can choose everybody else. We actually talk about being part of a family. When somebody comes in, one of the first things I say to them is, “I hope this is the last job you have.”  And then these 23 year olds look at me, and I look into their eyes and say “I hope this is the last job you ever have. (Audio muted) We are going to try and make you so happy that you don’t leave.”

An organization goes through great change when it starts 37 years ago in the basement of my home. Then you get into 12 business units, 200 people, 50 branches – a lot of things change and some people don’t change as fast as organizations change. We probably have, in fact, too little turnover because the business has moved past some people. It’s not an easy problem. You have a handful of situations, probably 200, where we’ve got to help people find a new spot in the organization. It’s not that easy.”