Joe McLaughlin | Crain's Philadelphia

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

Joe McLaughlin

Background:  

Radnor, Pa.-based Haverford Trust is an investment and wealth management firm with $6.5 billion under management.

The Mistake:

As you build a business, you need a team of people that is aligned and in sync and has great integrity with each other. A comparable situation to that goes back to when my family was younger. We used to go on vacation every year in the Outer Banks, which is about an eight-hour drive. I remember those trips, the cars packed to the gills, bikes on the back, on the bike rack. But I also remember every year that I would take the car to get inspected before going down there, and the whole idea was making sure the parts of the car were all working properly and all working together. Because if just one part lacks integrity, the car as a whole doesn’t perform as well. For a successful vacation, I knew we needed the car operating at full strength, and I was in charge of that. If something was wrong and the car broke, obviously the trip wouldn’t go as well.

The analogy here is that, on occasion, as a leader, I’ve had members of my team that weren’t quite aligned with the direction we were heading as a company, and they were either resisting change or just flat-out disagreeing with the direction we were heading. I have always believed in giving somebody a second chance, and trying to talk them through things, but occasionally I’ve done so with no positive result. So the mistake I’ve made is waiting too long in situations like this—hoping they would improve, hoping they would see the light—rather than fixing the problem and doing what’s right for the organization.

Sometimes things aren’t going to turn around.

The Lesson: 

It's one of those things where everyone needs experience, but you’ve got to go through some things before you get that experience. The older I get, and the more situations I’ve seen, I understand that sometimes things aren’t going to turn around. Sometimes these people who aren’t aligned with everyone else will become a distraction, so the change you’re trying to institute in your organization is going to take longer and there’s really only so many nights you want to go to bed thinking about it.

My M.O. now is, when that happens too many times, if I have something lousy I need to do, I make sure to get it done first thing in the morning. What gets in the way of that, of course, is just inertia — other things temporarily taking priority. But you have to stay focused.

Pictured: Joe McLaughlin. | Photo courtesy of Haverford Trust.