Our company recently gathered for an off-site retreat out at Lake Wylie. We worked all morning and played on the lake all afternoon. It was the first off-site gathering of the entire company in over a year. There wasn’t a mask in sight!
A highlight of our day was when we took a moment to recognize Bragg employees Debbie Taylor and Stephanie Higgins as “Champions of 2020.” This special recognition was well deserved. More on this in a moment.
When the world shut down in March of 2020, our company, like most, scrambled to get in position to serve clients while working remotely. As you’ll recall, the early days of the pandemic were a scary time. Little was known about the deadliness of the virus and certainly none of us had experienced an intentional shut-down of major swaths of the US economy. The plummeting stock market (the S&P 500 gave up 34% in just 23 days of trading) only added to the anxiety and sense of uncertainty. While we at Bragg were not in the crosshairs like healthcare workers, we certainly were under pressure as a result of our role and responsibility in managing money and creating financial plans for hundreds of families and institutions. We needed to be accessible to our clients and we needed to move fast with communication and outreach. If you are interested, all of the special commentaries we produced during those early dark days are available on our website.
I’m happy to report that things went well. Technology allowed us to work from home. All 27 employees were told they could work remotely and with just a few exceptions, everyone did. A handful of us spent partial days in the office by choice. But two of our teammates, Debbie and Stephanie, spent all day, every day, in the office. They worked the front desk, sanitized our workspaces daily, welcomed clients, greeted strangers, helped remote employees with daily tasks and projects, and, perhaps most important, they created a sense of normalcy during a time that certainly wasn’t. There were many days when no one was in the office except the two of them. During this 15-month period, Debbie and Stephanie tirelessly and unselfishly served our clients and served our employees. Remarkably, no one asked them to do this. They just did it.
My fellow Bragg co-workers will tell you that as I read the proclamation naming Debbie and Stephanie “Champions of 2020,” at our Lake Wylie retreat last month, I became emotional. I’m not sure why I did, and can only surmise that it was born of a sense of immense gratitude for two people who recognize the importance of relationships and who are willing to serve and to sacrifice in the face of great uncertainty. I think my emotion also reflected that the last 15 months were a difficult time for me, as I suspect they likely were for you.
This was a time when we feared for the health of loved ones, when we saw our country grapple with divisive, emotional and confounding issues, when we were reminded that all is not certain, and that human civilization as we know it, while remarkable and durable in so many ways, is also fragile. The virus, its social distancing, masks, and forced isolation pulled us apart and stripped us of the community and relationships that allow us to coexist and thrive as a species. Having been through a time such as this, and having been reminded by Debbie and Stephanie of the importance of personal relationships, loyalty and serving others, perhaps a little emotion is warranted.
And so we now come back together…with a vengeance! As Matt DeVries points out in his article on the economy and the market, the reopening of America is something to behold. Just as the early months of the virus were a remarkable time of adjustment and change, much the same is true of this time of reopening. From the staggering rebound in economic growth, to the great relocation of Americans from big cities to smaller towns, to the shortages of labor and commodities, to the housing market imbalances, to the abrupt about-face in Washington and the likely resulting new direction for tax policy, regulation, entitlement spending and energy policy, to the ever-increasing role of technology in our lives, to the miraculous human innovation we are witnessing in healthcare, to the remarkable performance of the stock market and so much more, we are witnessing extraordinary change for our economy, for the markets, for society and yes, for humanity.
As interesting as all of that is, I want to take you back to our Lake Wylie retreat. Before we donned our swimsuits and gleefully jumped off the dock into the waters of the mighty Catawba River, we spent some time talking about Bragg Financial and our future. We put the finishing touches on our “Mission Document” which has been six months in the making, and which we hope to use as a guide as we go forward as a company. This document defines our reason for existence as a firm, identifies our core beliefs and guiding principles, spells out how we will be successful, and names the behaviors we will expect of one another as we work together. As most of you reading this letter have hired Bragg and entrusted us with managing your hard-earned assets and with helping you make important decisions about your future, I thought you might be interested in selected portions of what we embraced as a firm that day:
First, Bragg Financial exists because we believe financial well-being is achievable. Trusted relationships, diligent planning and prudent investing lead to great rewards, including understanding and peace of mind.
We work for our clients. We believe our clients deserve informed, objective advice, unsurpassed service and clear communication.
The people on our team make us successful. We will invest in them, encouraging excellence, growth and a commitment to each other.
We serve our community. We will share our gifts deliberately, striving to shape and participate in a better future for ourselves and our fellow citizens.
Our team adopted a list of Core Values. I will highlight those which we think are most important in fostering lasting relationships with clients and each other. These include humility, competence, hard work, preparation, transparency, fairness, consistency and a relentless effort to get better at what we do.
As a group, we decided that we would embrace certain behaviors which would build trust and community among our employees and which would ultimately lead to an excellent client experience. Here are a few of the behaviors to which we are committed:
Writing as a second-generation owner of a family-owned business, I am sometimes asked about my family’s future plans for the company. My family has discussed this at length and we are in agreement on this question. While of course things change, our sincere hope is that our company remains independent forever. Now, last time I checked, forever is a long time! But that is what we tell ourselves. And this has enormous implications for the way we think about and operate the firm. It’s like buying instead of renting, or committing to marriage rather than just dating. We’re able to make decisions and investments that affect our clients and our employees based on the very long term.
This is quite different, and better in our view, from the way many companies are run, especially large, publicly-traded companies or investor-owned private companies which by design must focus on short-term profits. We are able to grow our firm thoughtfully and conservatively; we don’t use debt, and to date, we’ve carefully maintained our culture by growing organically and avoiding acquisitions. We make long-term investments in our employees and long-term commitments to clients and our community. As for family members who run the company, as we see it, we are here to serve the company; the company is not here to serve us.
If you are still reading, thank you for indulging me as I shared some “inside information” about the people you employ and trust with matters of great importance to your family or organization. Employ is the right word, we think. We’ll never lose sight of the fact that we work for you. If the last year taught us anything, it taught us about the importance of relationships. We remain grateful for the relationship we have with you.