Dave Coffaro

Principal of Strategic Advisory Consulting Group

Dave Coffaro is a strategic advisor, executive coach, keynote speaker and author. His areas of expertise include leading organizations in the process of strategy development and execution, change leadership, transformation, and innovation. He has a strong reputation for developing executives in the practice of strategic leadership for the benefit of organizations and their stakeholders.

Dave has served in for-profit and nonprofit leadership positions, including Interim Chief Executive Officer of Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, Executive Vice President, Chief Fiduciary Officer and Head of Investment & Fiduciary Services at Wells Fargo and Senior Vice President and Head of Strategy for International Trade Finance at Bank of America.

Dave’s strategy consulting experience began in graduate school, serving on a team developing a turnaround plan for an unprofitable airline. Following graduate school, his engagements included serving financial services firms, franchisors and privately held businesses in developing actionable, practical, strategic pathways to greater success. Dave currently serves as Principal of Strategic Advisory Consulting Group, a management consultancy based in Orange County, California, and co-founder of Atticus, a fintech firm providing individuals and professional advisors easy to use, do-it-yourself tools for fiduciary-based activities.

Dave’s broad financial services experience includes leadership positions in commercial banking and wealth management. Dave is committed to enhancing strategic leadership acumen and professional competency in organizations. In the banking industry, he furthered this mission as Founding Chair of the UC Berkeley Extension Wealth Management Program, served on the American Bankers Association Professional Development Council and through the Trust Management Association. Dave taught strategic management and business policy at California State University, Fullerton.

Dave’s community involvement includes serving as Board Chair of Second Harvest Foodbank of Orange County and as an executive coach with the nonprofit Executive Coaches of Orange County. His new book is Leading from Where you Are: 7 Themes to Make a Meaningful Impact in Your Work.

Dave earned a Master of Business Administration degree in Strategic Management from the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at the Claremont Graduate University, and an undergraduate degree in Organizational Behavior and Business Administration from California State University, Fullerton.

Where did the idea for Strategic Advisory Consulting Group come from?

I love the notion of bringing ideas to life. At its essence, that’s what my advisory practice is all about. What I found in my work, both as a strategic advisor and as a business executive, is that people get excited about defining a picture of what the future of their company will look like – what the business will contribute to their customers, their community, to the world. That future state picture – the company’s vision – then informs activities people engage in every day. Intentionally aligning activities with fulfilling the vision, creates the operating plan design.

On the other hand, the idea of strategic planning can feel overwhelming, unproductive, or ineffective. One of my greatest sources of new clients is companies that have just completed a strategic planning exercise with a large consulting firm, and now, they’re left asking “what do we do next?”. There is value in working through the classic SWOT analysis and laying out goals, but in my experience, the result of the traditional approach is often a long PowerPoint deck that sits on an executive’s desk and collects dust. My approach is simple; I work with clients to define, design, and deliver their vision.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I generally invest the first hour of the day in strategy work. That includes dedicated time focused on actions that will create the future of my businesses, as well as writing. I write on topics related to strategic leadership and target publishing one or two articles a month.

I spend the remainder of the day on client-related work with executives and their team members leading the engagement. I love the variety in my work. Some days are just about defining the future state of business. Others get into details about how to bring that future state picture to life. That may translate to process re-engineering, job design, marketing to enhance brand positioning or product enhancements.

I spend at least one day a week on developing new relationships and building my client base.

I manage my productivity by getting clear each evening about my top 2-3 priorities for the next day. I also color-code my Outlook calendar – Green is client time, blue is proactive demand creating time, yellow is writing, white is strategizing and red is administrative.

How do you bring ideas to life?

First, I recognize that ideation is a process, not an event. I dedicated a full chapter to ideation in my book – Leading from Where you Are: 7 Themes to Make a More Meaningful Impact in Your Work. I work an idea like kneading dough when I make pasta. I get input, refine, and evolve until the picture becomes really clear. From there, the path for translating idea to action usually reveals itself.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I love the trend toward mindfulness in business. The old paradigm of our work lives being separate from personal lives fell flat for me. In reality, we are who we are all the time. With the amount of time we invest in our work, bringing a mindfulness approach to the job keeps us in balance and energized to produce fulfilling contributions through our actions. I’m part of a group called Mindfulness on Wall Street that is furthering this trend.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Meditation helps me stay focused, and present in the activities I do every day.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Focus on the cause, not the effect. I get to choose the activities I engage in, and, can develop my competency in how effectively I perform, but I can’t control the results.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

The debate over deep dish Chicago style pizza vs New York thin crust is a sham ploy to divert attention from the real question: pineapple vs. no pineapple on pizza. And there is a right answer to that question!

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Own your calendar. That includes diligently saying no to things that will not serve your business.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Recognizing that at some level, I’m either directly or indirectly connected to every client I want to work with. I may be two steps away, but somebody I know knows a person who has a contact with the company I want to engage. The way that works for me is when I identify a prospect I don’t know, I work through my network to see who knows someone in that company. That strategy works really well in developing new relationships.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I’ve had many “research & development” opportunities. Earlier in my career, I had a strategy engagement with a client I didn’t entirely trust. I was intrigued with what could be done to grow the company and eventually, the CEO offered me a job as COO. Even though I felt some uneasiness with the CEO, I left my consulting practice and took the job. It didn’t take long to realize my feelings of mistrust were justified. Six months into the assignment, the company was out of cash and I was out of a job. The lesson I learned was to do my diligence, then listen to my gut.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’d love to see a business using AI and predictive analytics to suggest gift ideas for friends, spouses, partners, significant others. It would be a variation on the Netflix idea – because you watched LMN, you’ll love XYZ movie. You would enter key info about people in your life – birthday, anniversary, things they like – then the app would remind you in advance of important dates and offer highly targeted gift ideas. The more purchase you make, the better the machine learning would get with next recommendations. You would always order gifts with plenty of time and they would be exactly what the person wanted. There are some companies close to this, but I haven’t seen this specific offering anywhere…so far.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Playing guitar is my favorite hobby. I really didn’t need another guitar, but, my brother had an old Yamaha acoustic that he never played. After a deep cleaning and a new set of strings, that guitar sounds great. It was only $50, but I’ve had ten times that much fun playing it so far.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

As simple as it seems, my Outlook calendar is one of the most important tools I use. It helps me plan where I invest my time to accomplish what I need to do.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. Even though it was written over 50 years ago, the ideas on how knowledge workers can optimize their effectiveness and contributions in business are highly relevant today. I re-read it every couple of years and get new ideas every time.

What is your favorite quote?

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind!

Key Learnings:

• Taking time to reflect on accomplishments, disappointments and motivators is more exhilarating than an energy drink.
• The dynamic nature of business requires aligning with touchstones that don’t shift with economic trends or other external factors.
• Sharing business learnings and stories is a wonderful way to revisit opportunities for professional growth and to engage others in ideation focused on improvement.