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Taber uses virtual office in plans for expansion


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Ambitious is a word William Taber has heard used to describe himself, and he doesn’t dispute it. He has spent more than five years developing the vision and foundation to expand his two-person investment management firm, Taber Asset Management LLC, into an international company with hundreds of employees. This year, he wants to bring in four or five established investment managers, which would allow him to hire about 20 people as support staff.

Helping him make this vision possible is a virtual office program created by Cedar Rapids-based iPrismGlobal Inc. Through this program, Taber is able to hire people worldwide and connect them through a system that offers file sharing, discussion boards, conferencing and many other capabilities that a physical office space would provide.

“We’ve taken a model that exists from one of the best investment management companies in the world,” Taber said. “But we’re tweaking it with this technology so that it now creates a new type of business model, which is a model that allows on day two for us to be international.”

Despite a nearly six-figure investment in the technology, Taber figures he has saved a third to a half of what he would spend on commercial office space and has sped up the growth of his company, with the goal to achieve what a major mutual fund company (which he won’t name) did in 30 years. “I really believe that this (technology) will become a standard in our industry within five to six years,” Taber said.

Office virtualized

A portal at www.taberasset.net allows users with an ID and PIN to access their own virtual offices. For Taber, that includes a desk, a chair, filing cabinets, a wall calendar and a clock, all mimicking things one would find in his personal office. “It’s intuitive, and it’s designed to do everything that you would do at your physical desk,” he said.

An iGuide button brings up a feature that walks people through the basics, such as how to open a file by clicking on the filing cabinet. It also will share with new employees information about how Taber Asset Management conducts business. A coffee cup on the table leads to a community discussion page, where employees can post comments and respond, much like a water cooler chat, Taber said.

Other features include a shared storage room, where Taber plans to build a research library. An executive conference room overlooking a virtual lake can be e-mailed to clients, with the ability for them to click on a white screen for a PowerPoint presentation or a laptop on a coffee table for a report.

Many of the tools are designed to encourage collaboration among future employees, such as a feature where people can share a document and make corrections together. Video conferencing capabilities allow someone to see up to six videos of other people on the call at a time.

The buttons on the bottom of the screen “represent the entire A to Z of our systems,” Taber said, with guidelines related to leadership marketing, client fulfillment and money management and more.

The platform

Taber used to play golf, but for the past few years, he has spent “thousands of hours” laying the foundation for the company he wants to build instead. He has charts and presentations he uses to explain every aspect of what the company will be.

“Some people say, ‘You want to become a really big company; how are you going to do that? You’re really small,'” Taber said. “Well, this is it.”

Taber started his asset management firm in his home 11 years ago after the business he was working for, Principal Financial Securities Inc., was sold. His wife, Susan, also works as a certified public accountant in the large basement room of their South Side house, and Carla Albers works as a client service associate part-time at Taber’s place and part-time at her house. William Taber’s large desk sits in one corner in front of floor-to-ceiling shelves that include a framed copy of his mission statement. Six cats roam in and out of the room, and a television displays CNBC on mute.

In 2002, Taber started to look beyond this one-room operation and think about a succession plan. He hired E-Myth Worldwide Inc. as a business coach and began to put all of his ideas on paper. From that grew a plan to expand Taber Asset Management into a large investment management firm.

In 2005, Taber changed his business model to a registered investment advisory model from a broker/dealer exchange. Then in 2007, E-Myth connected him with Tom Simon, founder and CEO of iPrismGlobal, which has spent the following years developing the virtual office system.

“It’s not like you go to Best Buy and buy a piece of software off the shelf and load it onto your hard drive,” Taber said. “It’s a beta experimental type thing that everything you see in the virtual office, every button we can push, has development work behind it.”

Taber is unique in that he “is designing the culture from the get-go so that his organization will actually be a model for an organization designed from the bottom up to be a virtual organization,” Simon said.

Simon has worked with companies on developing collaborative virtual environments since the late 1990s, including Berthel Fisher & Co. in Marion, Iowa, and North West United Kingdom Economic Development, which were already established.

Many of iPrisimGlobal’s products focus on building a sense of place with a virtual office similar to a person’s physical work environment and encouraging productivity as a team with tools such as a collaboration dashboard that can do things such as log the time people spend on a particular project and keep track of people’s interactions related to a task.

The cost of a virtual office system can range from $25,000 to $125,000 based on what a company needs, Simon said. IprismGlobal has set models and then identifies the client company’s workflow requirements and the applications essential to its day-to-day operations and customizes the virtual office to meet those needs.

“We can make their organization completely virtual: every business unit, every resource, every application,” Simon said. “When measured from the standpoint of return on investment, total cost of ownership, we’re very, very efficient.”

Taber’s program also is unique in that it has to be more secure and transparent than usual to meet stringent government regulations. “He’s really helped us make sure tools we’re developing are going to meet those kinds of requirements,” Simon said.

The 30-year plan

Taber admits he is trying to go global when it’s the “most challenging period in anybody’s lifetime.” He had about $50 million in assets under management before the recession, and now his roughly 150 clients’ assets are down to about $35 million.

But during the past 11 years, he has beaten the market each year by about 4.8 percent on average, he said. He also claims it is a great time to move forward, as a lot of people in the financial services industry have become disgruntled with their situation and new models are starting to emerge.

Although he wants to help build an investment management industry in Des Moines, Taber now has the capability to hire talent anywhere in the world. His goal in 30 to 40 years is to oversee several hundred employees working as portfolio managers, research analysts, currency analysts, economists, marking managers, performance managers, information technology experts and more. He might eventually have a small physical office in Des Moines, but for the most part, he sees people working out of their homes.

Taber would not share his age but says he’s prepared to carry through this long-term vision. “We’re on the cusp of being empty nesters, and quite frankly, I don’t have any plans to retire as long as I keep my mental faculties,” he said. “I’m going to be doing this well into my 80s.”

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