My journey as an intern in the basement office space to a partner of a $250 million wealth management firm
This past January I became a partner at a firm I started interning for in 2003 while I was still in college. This is my story that I thought I would share. At the end I will share with you my 5 key rules to success that I followed.
It was 2003 and I just totaled my 1996 Honda Accord and knew I needed money for a new car. At the time I was delivering for one of the largest catering companies in Bergen County. It’s interesting to me the people in life you work with or run into and the valuable lessons they may not realize at the time, but the words and advice they give you can have lasting changes for the entire course of your life. Let me explain a little more. I approached my boss and told him that I needed more hours or a raise, otherwise I would need to look for another job to help pay for my new car.
My boss since 1999 who I will call MB1 was a finance major at Ramapo College, while I was a Finance major attending Pace which I later transferred to Montclair. I was commuting to Pace during September 11thand that is another story I may write about at another time. We would often talk about our college majors and I thought I wanted to be a Wall Street trader once I graduated. To this day I will never forget what MB1 told me when I asked him for more hours or a raise, he said “Ryan, why are you working here in the first place. Look around, is there where you want to be in a couple of years? Why don’t you intern at a company I used to intern for?” I asked him what company it was and he said ELA Financial Group. I told him I have never heard of it and asked him what is an ELA? I was fortunate enough to take his advice and send in my resume.
At the time the only work experience I had was a local gas station, cutting my neighbor’s lawn and delivering for the catering company. The only reason I got the internship was because Tom and Trish (the Ela’s) knew the type of work ethic you needed to survive in the food services industry. We worked crazy hours during the holidays and were constantly working with our heads on a swivel. I think the food services business is a great transition into this line of work.
During the interview I knew a little bit about investing because I already had an investment account since I turned 18 and I had all of the knowledge from my college classes. The truth was I really didn’t know sh*t. In fact, I had no idea how to send a fax, what a cover letter was or how to change the backup tape in the server every night. Furthermore, what the heck was an Independent Broker/Dealer, Financial Network, Pershing and a regional director? At the time I only heard of the major wirehouses and did not know the differences. To this day I am extremely blessed to have stumbled into an independent broker/dealer.
When I first started we were in the basement of a strip mall in Franklin Lakes. There was a storm drain window, but otherwise it was a basement commercial space. Tom and Trish always made the most of the office space we had. When you first start you have to learn the financial language. It’s like trying to learn Spanish or any other language for that matter. Direct Business, Brokerage, Breakpoints, CDSC, NIGO, Qualified and Non-Qualified for starters. Did you get all that?
At first, my tasks were mostly learning the office equipment and programs. Before Tom got the first scanner for our office we used to file all the quarterly statements in the clients files and this was one of my first jobs. There was a room dedicated to financial binders that contained all of the clients documents. Another job that I did was pick up dry cleaning for Tom, but I think it was only once or twice, but I did it with a smile on my face and no questions asked. Eventually, I would send out the thousands of mailers to prospects every quarter and even started answering the phones.
In time I would start running the reviews, manually figuring out cost basis and helping with more meaningful tasks. However, there was one problem. See I thought I wanted to go work for a bigger company because they would have better benefits and more growth opportunity. Boy was I wrong. See you just need to marry a teacher for the benefits and become an advisor for the growth opportunity. Only kidding Amanda. More on my amazing wife later.
After college I worked for a much larger firm in Jersey City and often felt like a cog in the wheel. The people I worked with there were an amazing group and I even still keep in touch with them. At this company I was able to finally see first-hand what a “proprietary” product was. It was also here that I had the epiphany that I could be an advisor. Since I worked in the back office I would often interact with financial advisors and some of my conversations with them lead me to believe I could do what they were doing, but do it better. While I won’t get into any specific conversation, there were multiple times where I was speaking to an advisor and I felt like I knew more and cared more about their client than they did. I have a thing where I am always looking at a situation or person and automatically trying to figure out how I can make it better or more efficient. Ironically a couple of weeks later Trish called me letting me know I would be receiving my SIMPLE IRA match. It had been almost a year and I was done with the commute to Jersey City and ready to help clients achieve financial freedom.
Now before I go any further I need to give my wife all the credit. Before I joked around stating if you want benefits then marry a teacher, but Amanda has been my rock. She has put up with my crazy work schedule, crazy dreams and 3 beautiful but crazy kids. To give you some background, I took my Series 7 exam 2 days before we got married, started my 14 month CFP requirement right before our second child was born and even went on a conference for work a week before our third child was born. I am not sure how many other wives would put up with my 80 hour work weeks, missed dinner and business travels with three kids, but she does an amazing job and words cannot justify how much she means to me and our success as a family
So now it is June of 2006, we are working in an office building with real windows and I passed my Series 7. I am ready to roll and nothing can stop me. The first year I was licensed I was making evening phone calls to a list of clients we had to try to setup financial planning appointments. That first year I met with some great new clients and I thought it was going to be smooth sailing. Boy was I wrong. See the Financial Crisis was about to hit the following year and I went from being offensive to defensive.
The 2007-2008 financial crisis may have been one of the best learning experiences they cannot teach you in college. Tom, Trish and myself spoke with so many clients that year about “not selling” and staying the course. We worked tirelessly to help as many clients as we could during this time. We kept a giant list of clients who had called in multiple times and we would cross them out if they sold out and went to cash. There were only a couple names crossed off on a board, but the number of clients who stayed the course far outweighed the sellouts. Looking back, I am really proud of the work we did that year for our clients.
After the financial crisis I had to work even hard to get new clients off the fence and even in for a financial planning meeting. It was definitely a grind, but I always kept putting one foot in front of the other and kept moving forward. During this time our staff grew from 4 to 5 and we moved office spaces again. Tom also purchased a new financial planning firm from Westfield and this instantly doubled the number of clients we were services.
One thing you can always count on in our industry is change. Thankfully we utilize technology and I was no longer filing paper files. We continue to implement new technology that helps us not only service our clients better, but makes processes much more efficient. There is no way we could have doubled our practice size without the use of technology.
Today we are located right in the heart of Wyckoff and have another office location in Westfield. We service over 500 families and continue to learn and innovate to better serve our clients.
Here are the rules I followed not in any particular order:
Rule #1 - Find the right partner that shares your vision and dreams.
Rule #2 - Find great mentors.
Rule #3 - Outwork everyone else and learn to enjoy the grind.
Rule #4 - Do what you love and love what you do.
Rule #5 – Put your clients’ interests above your own and everything else will fall into place.