I was recently nominated and chosen for Crain’s Detroit Business “40 under 40” award, honoring “the best and brightest in Southeast Michigan who have made their marks in business before age 40.” Humbled by the others who accompany me — recipients of the award span twenty years of remarkable entrepreneurs and business leaders — I took time to reflect on my professional accomplishments and what they mean for my clients and colleagues, and my home city of Detroit. As with most of my better thoughts, this personal reflection took place on many long walks over various days. Ultimately, I was certainly honored, but also troubled.
I was chosen for the award based on multiple criteria, one being my “biggest achievement” in business. My firm, an investment advisory, made a decision in early 2008 to focus solely on one thing — being the best portfolio manager in the country. It was our definitive belief that it is better to be great at one thing than good at many; most in our industry (finance) resolve to the jack-of-all-trades method rather than becoming true experts at their craft. My firm gave up revenue, cut our assets under management nearly in half, adjusted our staff, and even redirected certain clients to other investment companies in the interest of our goal. In an industry full of professionals that practice too many lines of business and provide too many services (portfolio management, financial planning, life insurance, disability insurance, mutual funds, stocks, bonds, asset allocation, annuities, banking, estate planning, consulting, and so on), ours was a bold move and certainly against the grain. Nonetheless, we pushed on knowing what we gave up was pittance compared to that which we would gain.
To many, this strategic shift appeared foolish — relinquishing important revenue, particularly during such difficult global economic times (i.e. the Great Recession). To others this simply seemed harsh — rescinding our fiduciary role for a range of clientele. But, those who fall into the categories above completely missed the motivation, and perhaps lacked the experience or wherewithal to recognize the importance behind our change.
Our work was a great success — the firm now specializes in portfolio management and possesses the absolute focus necessary to navigate these volatile financial markets. We literally pour ourselves into our portfolios — constantly analyzing markets, securities, trading efficiency, history, and even philosophy. But, how many (not just in our industry) can claim such focus? How many direct every last resource into being truly exceptional at one thing? Quite simply, not enough.
Looking back on my firm’s success, I have only one regret — I did not expand my ideology of a single, powerful focus to my community. Detroit has been plagued for many years with subpar growth and a lack of momentum. Many have given of themselves to improve this once economic and cultural mecca. Regrettably, the City of Detroit has fallen victim to the same jack-of-all-trades mentality, which leads only to mediocrity. Countless ideas have surrounded the City’s ongoing attempts to find greatness again. But, to get back to a position of strength, the City and its supporters must choose a focus. What will Detroit be exceptional doing, what will be its true greatness? We must decide — this is the only way.
Winning Crain’s 40 under 40 award is an honor. But, it is also a wake-up call for me to apply my business achievements toward this city. Myself, and the many great business leaders of Southeast Michigan, have to come together. Our energy is already inspiring, but our focus is undetermined. Though investment is currently being made in Detroit, without a single focus we will never truly progress. It is vital for us to first devote time to determining our path. Without it — a single focus on the one thing that will make Detroit again great — we will fail, and all our effort and investment will be for not.
Jonathan Citrin is founder and CEO of CitrinGroup, an investment advisory firm located in Birmingham, MI. He is an adjunct faculty of finance in the School of Business at Wayne State University.
Founded in 2003, CitrinGroup specializes in portfolio management and advises clients on investment planning.
Contact: 248-569-1100 or www.citringroup.com