“I’m not sure that we’ve really stepped back in a long time … We did a lot this year, we got a lot accomplished. It’s incredibly impressive and exciting that we got to celebrate these milestones with our clients and our team. But I think we’re all thinking now, what can we do next?”
In the inaugural edition of the “From the President’s Chair” quarterly update, John G. Ullman & Associates President & COO, Jason Nickerson, CFP®, EA sits down to discuss 2023, the milestones that were celebrated, his message for JGUA clients heading into 2024 and more. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You’re closing in on one year as the President of the firm; what has this experience been like for you?
A: I would say this has been a very humbling experience, but also a lot of fun. What makes it fun is the people you get to work with every day, whether it’s clients or the team here. I never expected to be in a position like this to begin with. My whole approach is based purely on work ethic, and I think the team around me shares in that same work ethic. We’re all bought into the mission and the purpose that we have here. I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to continue in this role for many more years to come, not because of the role or the title, but because of the deep care and passion that everyone shares for what we’re doing here.
Q: Looking back on this year – 25-Year Celebration in Rhinebeck, 45-Year Celebration of the Firm, Opening a new office in Charlotte, Becoming President, Growth of Employee Base – how would you describe these accomplishments from your view?
A: The interesting thing about this is, I’m not sure that we’ve really stepped back in a long time to really realize everything you listed there. As a team, we did a lot this year; we got a lot accomplished. It’s incredibly impressive and exciting to celebrate these milestones with our clients and our team. But I think we’re all thinking now, what can we do next? This is a great team to have to figure out what’s next. To be able to celebrate the longevity of a firm like this, in a geography like this is incredibly impressive. To have the atmosphere and the culture, someone else put it best saying we’re like a 45-year-old startup. The excitement about things feeling so new. That leads into the Charlotte discussion; we’ve maintained our identity around how we serve clients and who we’re going to be as a team. We’re reinventing other parts of this, and everyone is looking forward to those next steps. We truly have the belief that we’re doing the right things for people and there should be more people that are taking advantage of this.
Q: Circling back on the Charlotte front, what was that whole process like for you? What is most exciting about the opportunities that lie ahead for the new branch office?
A: I look back on when I came in 25 years ago, and what a strong company it was then. To look forward now and be able to take these next steps in the company’s history by expanding geographically, it shows a lot of growth in the organization overall – to be able to support a branch office and a team from such a long distance away. We’ve really built that here, built it as a strength, to be able to support that. The Charlotte initiative has many parallels to the opening of our Rhinebeck branch when I came in. The branch was just being brought online, and it was a little different in how we came into that opportunity. But I had that experience to be able to watch what’s happened with that branch over the last 25 years, to be able to go back and say what we did well and what we need to do better. I think combining that with the attitude right now of the organization, the speed at which we made that decision absolutely checks the box that we’ve made the cultural shift in our mindset and decision making from a boutique business to a dynamic, growth-oriented company. We saw an opportunity from a few different fronts and said “Good. Let’s go.” It was a marriage of a couple of ideas, the strategic plan and the desire to expand geographically, and Todd Brost and Jakob Brost coming to us and saying they’d like to do this for the company and would like to do this in Charlotte. We had been studying our own demographics for a little bit of time and knew that North Carolina was a heavily populated state for our clients. Our clients are our best business developers in a lot of ways, so when you have a team with a Senior Advisor like Todd, and you marry that with the company’s initiative of wanting and needing to open more branches, it came together. This was a comfortable way to start this overall geographic expansion, and then to get down there and see what a great community Charlotte is overall, how welcoming they are, what a great city it is, what the population is like there, it just fit all the way around. We’re hoping we can incorporate a lot of that into our next branch initiative.
Q: Outside of opening the new branch office, what are you most proud of that the company accomplished in 2023? Looking ahead to the New Year, what do you view as the biggest opportunity for the firm?
A: I would start with the fact that we remained who we are and have bought into who we are. From our clients, to our team, to our board and shareholders, we are still vastly different in this space. Everyone who is here and a part of this is fully bought into it. The fact that we, amongst a changing world and a pretty dynamic last five years, maintained our identity the way we have, have maintained our commitment to our ethics and values, our priorities, that’s a big deal to us overall. We’re extremely proud and want this to stay intact far into the future. It’s not that we don’t want to change, but we have such a strong belief in the relationships we’ve built with our clients and what we do for them; we believe that will carry us forward. We haven’t lost focus on our clients, as evidenced by our client retention rate that is north of 98 percent, which has been a trend for us. Especially over the last five years, to not only maintain but improve on our client retention range, that just says we haven’t lost sight of the important things here. I’m also proud of our ability to get the word out about what we do, and that goes back to not just a dedicated team, but our ability to talk about it through our marketing initiatives and communications. You can see it, you can hear it, you can feel it, and you can tell through our messaging and communications here that everyone here is bought in. I remember looking for the door when I came for my first interview, and I had a hard time finding it. I was worried I was going to be late because there wasn’t a door with John G. Ullman & Associates on it. I understand why we did that back then, out of confidentiality and security for our clients, but there’s been a real shift in how we communicate who we are and what we do without compromising that confidentiality and security for our clients. There is a real belief that there’s more people out there who deserve a relationship with a firm like ours, and we’re getting the message out in a far better way than we ever have.
Q: Last question, if you could impart one message to our client base ahead of 2024, what would it be?
A: I’m not making this up, and I don’t remember the source, but I heard a quote not long ago that said “Relationships are Paramount”. The message to our clients, both now and going forward, is that will never change. Everything we do really centers on relationships, both with our clients and with our team. That’s what is going to drive us, how can we make the relationships better than they are now? I would say to our clients, as much as we talk about growth, that won’t change. We’re going to be here for you, for your family members and continue to be very proactive and hands-on. Part of the reason for the growth initiative is, what can we do better for our existing clients? That’s ultimately our number one priority. Looking forward into 2024, I look forward to expanding that message and building off the work that has been done. We’ve come through this pretty dynamic period in the world, pretty much back to 2018, and I’m extremely proud that we didn’t just sit on hands through those years where a lot of people were shutting down. We spent that time planning and implementing and now we’re seeing this trend of the hard work that was done over that period of time coming to fruition. I look forward to continuing to see that trend. Our team is so dynamic that they are always looking for ways to improve, a real growth mindset. We are going to apply that across the board – to our clients, to the way we’re getting the message out there – every little thing that we do.
About John G. Ullman & Associates, Inc.
John G. Ullman & Associates, Inc., was founded in Corning, N.Y. in 1978. The firm is a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) registered federally with the Securities & Exchange Commission*. As an independent, fee-based investment management firm JGUA provides comprehensive wealth management strategies and services to their clients. The firm manages over $1 billion in client assets, with a staff of more than 75 employees over four locations, including Horseheads, N.Y., Rhinebeck, N.Y., Charlotte, N.C. and Corning.
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