From Entrepreneur to Partner: How to Transition with Adela Cepeda
In fall 2016, Adela Cepeda announced a major and exciting transition: her company A.C. Advisory was acquired by PFM Group, a company of national financial leaders. After founding A.C. Advisory twenty-one years ago, Cepeda led the company to become one of the top financial advisors in the nation. By joining forces with PFM Group, Cepeda says she will be in a position to provide better services than ever. The Alumni Society got the chance to catch up with Cepeda to discuss what the move means for her.
Words by KC Caldwell // Photo by Sheila Barabad
The Alumni Society: First of all, congratulations! Can you talk us through some of the steps that led up to making the decision to join forces with PFM Group?
Adela Cepeda: A.C. Advisory was started twenty-one years ago. It was a different time in terms of regulatory and other challenges. Dodd-Frank really did not distinguish requirements between small or large financial services firms. As a small firm, I found the regulatory requirements punishing in terms of cost and time. An increasing amount of my time was spent learning new rules and implementing compliance procedures. It was distracting from what I most enjoy doing, which is finding creative capital markets solutions for my clients. PFM is the top-ranked financial advisor in the United States. Their internal compliance capabilities are significant, so I don’t have to lose sleep over this. I can focus on my clients and their needs, with much greater resources for them.
TAS: What are going to be some of the key differences between working independently running your own firm and, now, being part of a group with PFM?
AC: Having eighty-five partners is exciting, and adds a wealth of knowledge that I just could not recreate as a small firm. It’s also great not to worry about managing expenses—the rent, technology, payroll. It’s quite freeing. I think it’s a total win-win for me, and hope my new partners feel the same.
TAS: You worked as an independently as an entrepreneur for more than two decades—was there always an end goal?
AC: There was not. When I started, just around the time I became a widow, thinking far ahead was not something I relished. But over the past few years, the reality of a changed regulatory climate really precipitated the change. I had been giving very serious thought to selling the firm and finding a home for my employees. Moving from the top to number one had a strong allure.
TAS: Now that you’re working with a partner, have any of your objectives changed?
AC: The great thing about teaming up with one of your competitors is that they understand the business, and if they are successful, as PFM has been for the forty years that it has been in business, then they share your vision, which is to provide the highest quality advice to our municipal clients.
TAS: What are some tips you can share with entrepreneurs interested in following in your footsteps?
AC: I think it’s important to think early on about exit strategies, whether it be for retirement purposes, for generational transition, or to capture value in the business you have created. The models for generating value in your industry should be well understood and color how to grow your business. It’s the smart thing to do, but as entrepreneurs, we are so often pulled by the day-to-day that it’s easy to put this off. How you transition is a key entrepreneurial challenge and one that should be planned for.
Founder, A.C. Advisory
Partner, PFM Financial Advisors
Harvard University, University of Chicago