Timing is critical for every transition. When the move is inevitable, it’s always best to make it from a position of strength — and push the button a little early, so your pivot is more than a big exit.
Sofia Vergara has been the reigning queen of ABC’s “Modern Family” for the better part of a decade now, but now at age 45 she’s willing to risk parent company Disney’s wrath by posing nude for a magazine cover.
Conventional wisdom would say that if she wanted to rock the boat, she would have done it years ago, when she was less settled in her stardom and didn’t have as much to lose.
But in all in all, there’s probably no better time to change things up in her career and shift her image from “hot stepmom” to “slightly sagging middle-aged women’s health advocate.”
She’s at the pinnacle of her current game, having earned an estimated $43 million last year as ABC bumped her salary to $500,000 per episode.
After leading the list of highly compensated women on TV for five years running, there’s really only so much higher she can go before the show strangles on its own payroll like every ensemble series from “Cheers” to “Community” before it.
And when you can see that kind of career wall ahead, you’ve got a choice: accept that this is as good as it gets, or roll the dice to see if you can take the game to the next level.
Part of what Vergara is doing here is chasing that next level. It’s a process of testing the walls that a lot of ambitious advisors can recognize — although to be fair, I suspect you’re keeping your clothes on.
If you’re not building, you’re stalling
The sad truth in Hollywood is that women’s salaries peak somewhere in their late 30s. Even if you’re a top star, competition gets tough and roles get tight beyond that point.
On those terms, Vergara would statistically be living on borrowed career time if she hadn’t landed her hit show when she did. She can milk it while she can, but it’s good to have a backup in case the jobs dry up.
Something similar happens in every business. Markets shift. Reliable business models hit roadblocks — in our business, that could be regulation, the evolution of new competitors, a changing client population or simply consolidation eliminating niches that were once profitable.
Vergara’s niche has been extremely lucrative, but sooner or later, ABC will stop giving the cast every concession they ask for in order to keep the show going. A year or two after that, the weekly paychecks will stop.
The time to prepare the exit is always now. She’s started an underwear company for self-assured, confident women. If it goes well, it could easily become a huge enterprise — even 1% of a company like Under Armour would be worth $50 million in itself and Vergara is apparently an equal partner here so far.
Building that kind of company is where the real money is. Entrepreneurial stars like George Clooney and Ashton Kutcher have followed the lessons a generation of Silicon Valley billionaires teach by example: you can get rich by working for the system, but you get really rich working for yourself.
Advisors can learn that lesson just as well. For many, breaking out of the warehouse was a huge step toward liberation, the ability to chart your own course, chase the transformative business and ultimately build something you can sell when it’s time to quit.
But it’s only the first step. Modern technology already provides alert advisors with the tools to become relevant to markets that were once impossible to serve effectively. You can clone your capacity and even sell your expertise to would-be competitors, licensing proprietary tricks in exchange for a piece of their action.
Ultimately, the top advisors of tomorrow may no longer even work with clients directly except in rare circumstances. The robots and intermediaries will do the rest.
For advisors willing to make the transition, the asset pool in play is big enough that to transform what’s currently a decent professional income into truly disruptive wealth — but, as with Sofia Vergara, it starts by breaking out of the box.
Take risks early
As it happens, the nude cover of Women’s Health amounts to a high-publicity launch for the company, establishing Vergara as a lifestyle and fitness advocate who just happens to be famous and beautiful.
She’s her own celebrity brand model. And if Disney were to raise objections, the rewards for striking out on her own now are higher than the danger to her current cash flow.
After all, the clock is ticking. She’s 45 and still “aspirational” for her target customers. There’s maybe 20 years to go before she might want to retire from business, Hollywood or both.
In those 20 years, she can build an empire. For every year she waits, her personal brand softens a little — it’s hard to get more famous when you’re at the top — and that empire gets a little less time to grow.
A lot of advisors spent the last decade in a state of near-paralysis. Survival was everything after the 2008 crash. Retaining clients and maintaining cash flow were the goals.
But that’s practically a guarantee that when faster players emerge, they’ll leave you standing still. Maybe that’s all right for you — you may already be dreaming of retirement, waiting until you get the right price for the business you have now.
If it’s not, there’s no time but now to take a calculated chance. I’m not suggesting that any Wealth Advisor readers need to pose naked on the cover of a magazine — the key word here is “calculated,” and we all know the kind of image you need to portray.
In this industry, risk can be a small shift in the way you deliver service. It may be reaching out across state or corporate lines, working more closely with other advisors to share expertise and trade referrals.
Your “Vergara Moment” may be taking a hard look at your back office and deciding it makes more sense to unbundle functions that were once essential, but now the sunk costs are simply holding you back.
Whatever it is, you’ve only got so much future left to build something that will leave an impression.
And you don’t have to quit what you’re doing now until the next step is ready to bear your weight. Vergara hasn’t quit her show. She’s not overtly daring Disney to fire her.
Even if this is a dealbreaker, she’s still free to take on other roles, pay the bills with other people’s money while the other ventures gestate.
Reportedly she’s worth $100 million already. Her day-to-day needs are assured. That’s a great time to try something new, stretch your wings.