Long-distance runner, wealth manager, global citizen, father: Cern Basher defies categorisation. He was born in New Zealand before moving to Canada and eventually establishing his home (and his business) in the USA. He ran his first company, Madison Wealth Management, for over 15 years before moving on to his new project, Brilliant Advice, where he helps people manage their finances to achieve their life goals. Oh – and he climbs mountains for fun.
Here Cern plays another role – that of the interviewee – to share the challenges he’s faced in his personal life as well as his career, and how he believes facing adversity can push you forward.
Cern, you’ve had a hugely varied lifestyle up to this point. What was it you wanted to be when you were growing up?
I always dreamed of competing at the Olympics. I was born in New Zealand, so adventure is in my blood, and then I moved to Canada where it turned out I was the fastest long-distance runner in my class. Then my school, my district, my province. Then the country, winning the Canadian Junior Cross Country Championship in ’88. I went on to run in the 1989 World Junior Cross Country Championships in Norway before being recruited to the University of Alabama on a track and field scholarship.
Eventually, I hit a point when I wasn’t getting faster anymore, so I left it behind. I never did reach the Olympics, but it was a lesson in what can be achieved when you put your mind and energy towards a goal – a lesson that’s served me well in my working life.
That’s an impressive start. What was it that encouraged you to launch your own business?
I was working at a bank when my then-business partner and I were tasked to see if there was a better way to cut the bank excess on custodians. And we did find a better way – but the bank decided it wasn’t interested. So we said: “thank you for the kick-start, we’re going to do this ourselves.”
Once you’d got started, what was the first problem you faced?
We started out as an investment management-only operation. It was October 2000, at the beginning of a two-and-a-half-year down market and we discovered very quickly that being an investment manager in that kind of environment meant being a poor one! So we evolved into a financial planning and investment management operation to become a wealth management firm. We adapted our entire business plan in order to survive and grow.
It’s difficult to start a new company, but an entirely different challenge to start one in a tough economic environment. What advice would you give to an entrepreneur looking to do the same?
Ask yourself the question: what needs are you trying to serve? In our case, it wasn’t just about getting clients’ returns, but really allowing them to have the money they needed to meet their own goals for the rest of their lives.
People see themselves as producing a certain product, or providing a certain service, but in reality that might be just part of what their clients need. To add value, all you need to do is find out what your clients need, by listening to them.
How important is it to have a strong philosophy at the foundation of your business?
It’s absolutely critical. Every day you are hit with so many ideas or suggestions you could follow up on, but you have to have a filter – some principle or philosophy – to help you say “that doesn’t fit”. And remember to check back in with that philosophy. You don’t want your worldview to be incongruent with the direction the rest of the world is heading in.
In your professional life, you’ve faced a good few challenges already. Where do you find the strength to navigate them?
My son Dane, who’s now 17, was born with a very rare genetic condition called Phelan-McDermid Syndrome. He’s not able to walk or talk, experiences seizures and is cognitively delayed. That’s been quite a difficult personal journey for me, and one that I’m still on every day. It’s not a challenge I’ve ‘overcome’, but it has taught me so much about life: about myself; what’s important to me; how to treat people; overcoming limits; and making a difference.
In 2007, I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with my father to raise money for a foundation that supports kids with the same condition as my son. It was a very special moment in itself – how often does a grown man get to climb a huge mountain with his 70-year-old father? The same year, the CFA Institute, which is a global group of over 100,000 investment professionals, named me as their Most Inspiring Member. There’s nothing quite like facing true adversity. It can be a great teacher, if you survive it.
If you’re looking for further inspiration from Cern, find out more at the Brilliant Advice blog. Cern and his colleagues work from the Regus Towers of Kenwood office in Cincinnati.
Top tips from Cern:
1. The planning process for the personal side of your life should be continuous, just like it is for a business. Without a plan, you may just drift through life without really knowing where you’re heading.
2. Know your circle of competence and stay in it. Many entrepreneurs try to do too much on their own, particularly in areas where mistakes can be costly.
3. Ask yourself: “If the roles were reversed, how would I wish to be treated?” It will help you make the right decisions during difficult times, help you own up to your mistakes rather than compound them, and raise your own standards.