Lou Ulman | Crain's Baltimore

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Lou Ulman

Background:  

WMS Partners, Baltimore’s largest independent fee-only wealth advisor, manages over $3 billion in client assets. Lou Ulman, who has been an attorney and advisor in Baltimore for 46 years, will lead the wealth advisory firm’s expansion in Howard and Montgomery counties. Ulman also serves on the board of the Downtown Columbia Arts & Culture Commission.

The Mistake:

Accepting a task on short notice, making it very difficult to do the best possible job for a client.

I was a young attorney, and I had been practicing law for a year or two working for my dad. While my dad was on vacation, one of his clients called one afternoon and said, "Lou, I understand your dad’s away, but I’m flying to Rome on business tomorrow and I realized I need to redo my will.” I said I would be glad to help him.

The client told me what he wanted — it was very complicated — and said he really needed to get it signed before noon the next day so he can get on with his trip. So I stayed up very late that night and got the will done. I reviewed it very quickly with him the next day; he signed it and left on his trip. I was very proud of myself.

When my father got back from vacation, he asked me what had gone on in the office while he was away. I mentioned this issue with the client, and he said he appreciated it and asked me to let him take a look at the will.

He read the will and said, “Son, you made a few mistakes in here.”

I told him the man called me at 4 p.m. and was leaving at noon next day and really didn't give me enough time to properly review it and make any edits.

Then my dad said: “If you can't do the best possible job for a client, don't accept the task.”

Somebody's financial future could be at risk because of my mistake.

The Lesson:

The bottom line is, when somebody asks you to accept the task, it's your responsibility to get it done and get it done properly. And if you can't do it right, if you don't have enough time, don't do it at all. I was the one responsible for doing that will; I was therefore responsible for the mistakes.

In the professional practice of law, somebody's financial future could be at risk because of my mistake. Had my dad’s client died on that trip, that will would not have accomplished what he wanted to do. And that would've been my fault.

Sometimes people will accept the task that they are not capable of doing. They're afraid to say, “I don't know the answer.”

Changing careers after 46 years of practicing law means that I have to accept the fact that I am very new in my new profession as a wealth consultant. I have to accept the fact that I'm not going to be able to answer all of the questions.

Very much like that young attorney drafting that will many years ago, I need supervision and I need a lot of assistance in successfully making the transition from practicing law to a wealth management advisory role.

WMS Partners is on Twitter at @WMSPartners.

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