Jack Handy is President and CEO of Financial Network in El Segundo, CA

I grew up in Anaheim, CA. After watching Zorro movies as a kid, I always wanted to try fencing. When I was registering for classes for my freshman year at Stanford University, I met the coach of the fencing club. She convinced me to sign up for beginning fencing, and I found I had a knack for it. Being tall, lean, and left-handed worked to my advantage. Fencing became a varsity sport my junior year and our team won the California Collegiate Championship.

In 1980 I enrolled in law school at the University of Southern California at Los Angeles and practiced law for two years after I graduated. I worked on limited partnerships in the real estate field. After working with several broker-dealers to get the deals approved, I thought it would be more enjoyable on the other side of the table. I circulated my resume and got a job with Financial Network. The company would have liked a fulltime in-house attorney but they couldn’t afford one, so I kept my book of business and worked part-time until they could hire me fulltime.

I was working on contracts and the regulatory side of the financial institution business. Then, in early 1992, I was asked to work on the concept of placing registered reps in a bank to work with its customers. I found out it was more fun to build that side of business than read contracts. Shortly afterward I became head of the Financial Institutional Division and over five years built it into an organization with revenue approaching one billion.

From there I started working with our top reps in the Premier Client Division. My charge was to figure out how to retain them. It’s a challenge for the industry. As producers acquire more clients, they become more skilled in asset allocation and which funds to recommend and they have their own staff. How does a broker-dealer bring value to that? I got a list of the top 50 advisors and called every one of them. I learned they wanted access to high-end planning strategies and networking opportunities with their peers. We created Premier Client Division meetings, which we have held in the spring and fall for the last 13 or 14 years. They’ve been very successful, and we have great retention as a result.

Every leader is trying to differentiate his company from other broker-dealers. All firms think they have great customer service, technology, and competitive payouts. We’ve been working on practice management. The fastest way to grow is to help most productive advisors become even better. We have sophisticated coaching for our top reps, and we’re also working on succession planning. Advisors who are close to retirement need an exit strategy. We’re producing a handbook help with valuations, the nuances of striking a deal, and so forth. We’re also putting together financial packages for our advisors. What we’re doing is also good for our clients, because it’s a staged handoff.

I may have never earned a paycheck selling securities, but I’ve paid special attention to the people who do. I listen to the field, take the best ideas, as I did with the PCD group, and build something valuable.

When I was in my 20’s I worked for a man in a different industry who was not a nice person. The company was dealing with creditors and struggling to stay afloat. Driving to work, I had a knot in my stomach. I was also denied the stock options I was due. I left, and six months later he was indicted for fraud and sent to prison. I learned the importance of trusting your gut and the value of being proud of the company you work for. Unless you’ve experienced the alternative, you don’t know how great that is. I was lucky to learn those lessons early in life when it didn’t cost too much.

Recently I started yoga classes. Initially I wanted to be more flexible. I thought it might help my golf game, too, although there’s no evidence that it has. It’s also great for conditioning and toning.

As Told to Pat Olsen