FA Center: ‘To this day, Jud is my partner.’ After the sudden death of his longtime business colleague and friend, an executive learns valuable lessons about loss and leadership.
On October 3, 2019, Jud Bergman and his wife, Mary, died in a car accident. An allegedly intoxicated woman driving the wrong way on a San Francisco freeway struck the taxi carrying the Bergmans. The collision resulted in four fatalities, including the cab driver and the woman driving the other car.
Bergman, 62, was CEO of Envestnet
a provider of wealth management technology to financial advisers. He co-founded the firm with Bill Crager and two others in 1999. The news shook the close-knit company hard.
Then president, Crager was appointed interim CEO upon Bergman’s passing. They were not only co-founders of Envestnet but also good friends for 20 years.
“We had a very strong partnership,” said Crager, now Envestnet’s CEO. “We had shared interests. Our personalities melded well. We were complementary people.”
For Crager, there was little time to absorb the shock of losing his longtime colleague. Within 24 hours of learning of Bergman’s death, Crager hosted a conference call with the company’s more than 3,000 employees to mourn the tragedy.
“I spoke from the heart,” he recalled. After acknowledging the magnitude of the loss, Crager shared the plans he and Bergman had discussed for the company’s future. Then he emphasized the importance of carrying on while taking time to mourn.
“It was a message of endurance and perseverance,” Crager said. “Jud and I had a conviction of what we wanted to achieve going forward.”
Reflecting on the time since Bergman’s death, Crager says he’s learned about how to cope with such a devastating loss. “You take this pillar that you lean on for granted, this sounding board,” he said. “So you learn not to take those around you for granted.”
The determination to carry on flowed from the intention to advance Bergman’s vision for Envestnet. Crager felt compelled to continue on the path they had forged together. “For me, it was a deep commitment to preserve our partnership,” Crager said. “To this day, Jud is my partner.”
On a practical level, the tragedy reinforced Crager’s desire to help people prepare for the unthinkable. As part of the company’s efforts to build technology platforms to help advisers deliver actionable intelligence to drive better client outcomes, estate planning had a key role.
In early 2019, Crager and Bergman had discussed adding a more user-friendly estate planning tool to the company’s slate of products. The initiative, which gathered all relevant documents in a digital vault for easy access, gained momentum in 2020.
“We become very insulated in our lives until a sudden loss knocks on our door,” Crager said. “So you need to anticipate worst-case scenarios and make sure your will and estate are in order.”
Crager has also learned lessons in leadership. As CEO, he steered the company through two shocks in rapid succession, with the COVID-19 pandemic hitting only a few months after Bergman’s death. “Both profoundly affected me emotionally,” Crager said. “Losing Jud fused with COVID.”
He continued to emphasize a message of resilience with his workforce: We need to keep going. “This is what Jud believed in,” Crager told his team. “Let’s look each other in the eyes and let’s go. We’re in.”
Crager realized he needed to remain steadfast and convey confidence as he navigated the company through the turmoil. Yet he also knew to give individuals the space to process their grief — and that people mourn in different ways.
Crager found this heightened self-awareness helped him respond to tragic loss. He recalled how he had grieved after his own father died suddenly. With Bergman’s passing, Crager thought, “These exact feelings are back and I know them.”
In October 2021, two years after Bergman’s death, Crager memorialized him by writing a heartfelt letter to staffers in which he fondly remembered his friend. He also gave each of them a book about the oldest living trees — a book that Bergman had given Crager.
“Jud loved trees,” Crager said. “The grain and color of wood mattered to Jud. It conveyed life.”