I still live in Peoria, Illinois, where I was born. I worked in a plastics factory for three summers during high school, and another summer I worked for a steel company cutting up boxcars with a blowtorch. The first day, I set my socks on fire in the first 10 minutes. The lesson I learned was that I better go to school and pay attention.

In 1973, I got a B.A. in political science from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. When I was job-hunting, my dad, who sold envelopes, came home one night and told me he didn't know what stockbrokers did, but he had a friend who was one and they seemed to do well financially. I researched the position and interviewed with the branch manager of a nearby E. F. Hutton office. He said he liked me, but I didn't have any sales experience. I asked if he'd hire me if I had some, and he said yes. I got a job with a local advertising agency selling ads, contacted him two years later, and he came through.

About two or three other trainees started with me in that office. We spent day and night cold-calling from the phone book. We'd do our best to make what was a hard slog fun. For example, we'd bet each other on how well we'd do and the loser would buy pizza. Or we'd throw $10 into a pot and wait to see who would open the most accounts that day. Occasionally I'd play golf with a friend, the branch manager at Blunt Ellis & Loewi. One day he told me he was moving out of Peoria and asked if I wanted his position. I had been at E. F. Hutton for nine years by then, the last as associate manager, and I jumped at the opportunity.

I grew the office so that it was one of Blunt Ellis & Loewi's top locations. We started with three advisors; I increased it to 17. I ran the branch and continued to work in production. In the early 1990s, Blunt Ellis & Loewi and four smaller firms were merged and Kemper Securities was formed. The new arrangement did not work for my team, so I began to look for a better fit.

I interviewed with several different firms. Baird reminded me of the early Blunt Ellis & Loewi. That appealed to me, so in 1994 I joined Baird as branch manager of the Peoria office and a financial advisor. Many of my advisor friends from Blunt Ellis & Loewi came with me. In 2000, I was promoted to regional director.

Last year, I became vice chairman of the firm's private wealth management group. My primary responsibility is recruiting advisor talent. I've walked in advisors' shoes for more than 20 years and I know how hard the job is. Baird is unique because we're employee-owned and privately held. We're putting our own money at risk. When I tell our story, I find it resonates with a lot of advisors.

Last year I ran my first marathon in San Diego. Baird fielded a team of eight to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I didn't come in last, but I was close. I believe there are two types of marathoners. You run one, or you run several. I'm in the first category.

As Told to Pat Olsen