Alan Farber is founder and joint managing partner of Farber Financial Group.
Tell me about the business.
It is 32 years old. We have approximately 125 full-time staff. I would characterize Farber Financial as a financial advisory service. I am in the business of trying to make a quantum difference. But at the end of the day, it is about what did I do for my family and friends and what charity work did I do. I'm interested in growing the business for the benefit of everybody.
Do you have a daily routine?
I try to make sure I don't live too far from the office. I'd rather wake up early and get into the office early than to be stuck in peak traffic. I spend the first one or two hours at my home office. I'm at my desk by quarter to eight. I draw a list of what I think are my priorities. My days are varied, and that is why I am still excited to come to work 26 years later.
How do you define success?
There are two main yardsticks. Since we are a client-centric operation, we are always driving senior management to answer the question: are we servicing as well as we humanly can? This is primarily the biggest yardstick of success. Second is the culture we've developed. How do our people feel waking up and coming to work in the morning? We are very proud that we have very little turnover. We go way beyond the call of duty in helping others. This comes from when I came to this country as a poor guy. I had English. I had a chartered accountant designation from South Africa. I had a wife who wasn't working and I had $200 and I was just passionate about making a big difference. I wanted to not be poor, and that's driven me all my career in Canada.
What keeps you up at night?
You're not going to believe me, but I do not have sleepless nights, one of the few business people who are in this absolutely privileged position to say so. I have got people on staff who take care of this business. They are the ones who make it work. But in the first 20 years of the firm, I barely slept at night. In the first five years, the longest holiday I ever took was a week.
What do you do outside of work?
I have a huge commitment to my family and friends. I have taken on many philanthropic activities. The North York General Hospital, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the United Jewish Appeal. I founded and am now the honorary chairman of something called the Koby Mandell Foundation. It has to do with post-traumatic stress disorder for families in Israel who have lost their members due to a terror attack.
Toronto has perhaps the world's leading per capita donation in Jewish causes outside of Israel. We are very proud of what we do.
When was the first time you were in a leadership role?
I started my own business at 15. What I ended up doing is a woman allowed me to go into the factory to buy reject items and sell them to the community at a huge discount. I had 36 commissioned salesmen by the time I was graduating college. I made more money that year than working at a CA firm.
What do you look for in a hire?
We are very keen on the culture. Everything is built on relationships both with clients and amongst us. We will spend an inordinate amount of time making sure that the person has a congruent culture to that of the firm.
There's something that we've come to call the Boomerang Club. We have seven senior managers who for some reason or another left the firm and kept in touch with us and, at a point in their lives, came back to us.
What questions would you ask a potential hire?
Tell me one human crisis situation you've been in during your life and tell me how you dealt with it. Tell me how you deal with difficulty. People show their true colour when they are in a corner.
What are your top three priorities?
I don't have a good answer for that because I break them down to business and family and friend and philanthropic priorities.
If you weren't doing what you are doing now, where would we find you?
I am in a position to do pretty much anything I want with my life. When the boat people became an issue in 1979, I formed the first group to bring in a family of 13 Vietnamese people. It was sponsored by us under the auspices of the federal government and that was one of the highlights of my life. When the Russian Jews were allowed out of Russia for the first time, I was the first to sponsor a Russian Jew into Canada. I get my kicks by helping people.
What's the skill that's best served you?
My humanness and my relationship with people. I've had people say to me time and time again I can't believe you did this. I'll never forget your help.
What was a big moment for you?
When I was 48, after working every day for years, I was able to pick my head up pretty much for the first time. I fell ill. My wife, who has been at my side for 43 years, we were teenage boyfriend and girlfriend, she said, "Alan, you're pushing yourself too hard. You have to find a way to be different in this world." See, she is a very wise woman.
What matters the most to you in life and why?
The people in my life. My family, my friends, my staff, my clients matter a great deal to me.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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