Valiant Women of Commonwealth: Marilyn Wood on Growing a Business

Marketing and Project Management
Marilyn Wood

Advisor Marilyn Wood has been with Commonwealth since 2017.

If you spend a little time with Marilyn Wood, managing partner of Winslow, Wood & Associates in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a few things quickly become apparent. She’s a stickler for details and organization, a big advocate for her staff, and passionate about what she does. And she lights up when she mentions her grandchildren.

Because Marilyn genuinely loves what she does, she doesn’t begrudge spending time or energy on her business. Work frequently consumes 70 hours per week—largely because Marilyn is obsessive about her practice. That trait, which has been invaluable throughout her career, helped her get through the pandemic without missing a beat.

Which core values have propelled Marilyn’s success? To appreciate her unique take on growing a business, it’s helpful to understand how she got started.

An Early Mentor

Since its inception, Winslow, Wood & Associates has always been woman owned. When Marilyn started there in 1988, she found the environment to be a very comfortable place where women worked collaboratively with other women. After serving as a receptionist, Marilyn worked her way up to become the firm’s operations manager, responsible for developing all the workflows. That work suited her organizational skills very well. Kathleen Winslow, the firm’s founder and an influential mentor, encouraged Marilyn to become a licensed advisor. In time, Marilyn became her mentor’s successor. She’s never looked back.

Expand or Grow

For Marilyn, the biggest challenge to growth came after she had been in the advisory business for more than a decade. She was already successful and bringing on new clients, but her growth had stalled. Marilyn was convinced she could do more. But how? She didn’t think she had the revenue or the potential business to expand. And her focus on details and process had already made her as efficient as possible. Her dilemma may be familiar to you: if you want to grow your advisory business, which should come first—business expansion or business growth?

Do Your Research

Marilyn realized she couldn’t take her business to the next level unless she added staff and resources. To do it right, she realized she needed to absorb knowledge about the advisory industry’s infrastructure. Marilyn started doing serious research—attending conferences, listening to experts, talking to peers and panelists, and discussing concerns with CPAs. Eventually, Marilyn had an epiphany that changed her business trajectory. She knew from her operations experience how valuable all contributors to a business are. She stopped viewing her staff as an expense multiple and started thinking of them as a growth multiple. Once she framed her choices differently, she started hiring additional staff and was ready to take on new clients and business.

Hire on Intelligence—and Attitude

Since her epiphany, Marilyn has almost quadrupled her business. She attributes much of her success to finding qualified people who want to do the work the right way. Intelligence is an important factor in an associate, but she sees attitude as the key driver to working well at Winslow, Wood & Associates. The right people are both the opportunity and the challenge for Marilyn. Great staff members can make all the difference, but they sure are hard to find.

And, once they’re on board, you still have to build the relationships. As Marilyn says, “Trust takes a long time.” This goes for clients, too.

Marilyn’s firm does no marketing, and 100 percent of its growth is through referrals. Marilyn, who has handpicked her successor, spends a lot of time thinking about ways to grow. As she says, once you’re in growth mode, you think about the opportunities even if the growth goes to another advisor in your firm.

Working with Women Clients

Winslow, Wood & Associates has always been committed to helping women clients thrive. Based on her long experience, Marilyn believes women excel at being “structured and thoughtful” in the way they approach the research aspect of financial planning and the risks associated with investing. In addition, she’s found that many women clients are committed to building long-term relationships. That fits Marilyn’s business model, which focuses on holistic life planning and developing meaningful client relationships, becoming a friend as well as serving as an advisor.

Words of Wisdom

Marilyn’s mantra is that there is always a better way to do something. Her experience during the pandemic reaffirmed that her brain is “operationally structured.” When suddenly needing to pivot to a remote work environment (which wasn’t her style), she was very open to opportunities for improving operations, including adopting virtual technology and new methods to onboard and work with clients.

“This is how we’ve always done it” are not words you’ll hear at her firm; Marilyn believes such thinking limits staff and advisors alike. She tries to inspire her team to constantly think of ways to improve in their roles. She challenges herself in the same way.

What’s Ahead?

Like the rest of us, Marilyn is looking forward to an increased reopening of the economy, with more opportunities for in-person interactions with clients. As for the future of her business, she’s still working long days and remains intent on growth.

And, as always, she finds spending time with her grandchildren energizing. Her granddaughter, certainly a chip off the block, once asked Marilyn if she could have her business one day. When asked why she wanted it, the girl replied, “I like money.” Honest words, indeed!

This material is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice.

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