We’re kicking off a four-part series sharing the stories of our member partners. It’s a chance to hear how these incredible leaders have grown their enterprises with purpose, enhanced their personal and professional skills, and connected to a community of positive, supportive, and people-first leaders within the Founders Financial family.
First up is Mark Darrell. He started his advisory practice, Darrell Financial, 30 years ago in Carroll County, Maryland, a farming community outside of Baltimore. After three decades of partnering with Founders, he has the distinction of being our longest-standing member partner.
We asked Mark to share how he connected to Founders, the relationship’s impact on his enterprise, and, after three decades together, how Founders is helping him prepare for what’s next. Here’s what he had to share.
Take us back to 1994. How did you become affiliated with Founders Financial?
Mark Darrell: I was working with primarily one insurance company. Although I had my CFP certification, I mostly sold life insurance. The company went under, and I found myself in a professional crisis.
I assumed my clients would be furious and blame me for the company’s collapse. I was in panic mode and looking for any help I could find when another advisor referred me to Mike Brooks, the founder and chairman of Founders. Mike helped me understand that I now had an opportunity to lead these clients and get in front of the situation. Together, we developed a game plan to ensure my clients saw me as a leader – not just as a salesperson – who could help them navigate the scenario.
I sent letters and called all my clients, working with them to ensure their protection remained in place. I also shared with them my CFP credentials and ability to work with them on their other financial matters of importance. They were all appreciative of how I helped them. It was my first introduction to servant leadership, which is at the bedrock of Founders.
What have you learned about leadership since becoming a Member Partner?
Becoming a member partner also made me a better leader – specifically, a better servant leader. What I mean by that is it taught me the significance of focusing on relationships, not just transactions.
I also learned the importance of rituals and there are two that really resonate with me. The first is to take time to “clear the mechanism,” a way to prepare to be focused and present in every personal interaction – with clients, coworkers, friends and family members.
The second is the ritual of “observations with decompression time.” This involves journaling and jotting down the ideas, thoughts and concerns that run through our minds and then, after some time, reviewing and testing them. You’ll act on some ideas, others require more consideration and some you’ll simply discard.
Once I mastered these rituals, I found I was more focused, organized, less stressed, and much happier.
What has the idea of an interdependent relationship meant to you?
Being interdependent was vital for me from day one. When you’re a sole practitioner, you need a network of people to rely on for backup. Everyone at Founders is open and responsive, and I can tap them anytime for support. They understand the unique challenges that advisors face and I know they have my back.
It’s the same with the community of member partners. It’s a high-caliber group because Founders is very selective about who joins. The member partners are all quality people, willing to share their knowledge and ideas and I know they’ll always take my phone calls. Having this type of network in today’s business world is unique.
What’s a challenge you’ve overcome in your enterprise?
Founders was instrumental in helping me make the shift from an individual agent or advisor to a team leader. When I came to Founders in 1994, I was doing everything myself – administrative tasks, scheduling, client service, marketing and answering the phones. My bottom-line income was good, but I was unhappy.
I was fortunate to have Mike Brooks as my mentor early on. He treated me like family and had frank conversations about how to become a better businessperson.
Mike told me, “You’re good at meeting people and making relationships. You’re not good at paperwork and preparation.” He taught me the value of my time and talent and showed me how I was wasting it on activities that someone else could be doing better, faster and for less cost. It was a powerful lesson in delegation.
For other advisors struggling with this, I’d say that delegating may impact your income in the short term but, in the long run, it’s worth it.
How has your partnership with Founders nurtured your self-development?
I’ve been part of the Strategic Enterprise Program (SEP) the entire time I’ve been with Founders. SEP is a roadmap designed to promote personal and business growth and to keep you accountable. I don’t know of any other organizations that have this type of program baked into their offering. SEP is one of the industry’s best-kept secrets.
How are you preparing for what’s next with your enterprise?
When I retire, I’ll transfer the practice to my daughter, Emily, who has worked with me for the last decade. There are a lot of unknowns and Founders is helping me understand my options and think about the transition. The team’s guidance and counsel have been really beneficial.
Having been a member partner for 30 years, what would you say to an advisor thinking of partnering with Founders?
I’d say if you like the idea of growing your human quotient – your personal, business and whole-package self – then Founders is for you.
And if you embrace the concept of servant leadership and want to work with an organization that exemplifies these ideals, then Founders is for you.
Finally, if you prefer to be treated like a family member and a partner instead of one of the thousand registered reps in the system, Founders is definitely for you.
To learn more about developing your own authentic leadership style, click here.
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