I grew up in Huntington, W. Va., on the border of Kentucky and Ohio. It's known for the 1970 plane crash that took the lives of the football players from Marshall University. My family owned several Hallmark card stores. I was the youngest of three and spent a lot of time at the stores, vacuuming the floors, manning the cash registers and straightening the card bins. I loved chemistry and physics and thought about a career as a physician, but a college course in organic chemistry changed my mind.

My grandfather was a public accountant and owned his own firm, and I was his retirement plan; therefore I majored in accounting at Marshall. After becoming a CPA and working in public accounting for four years, I ended up telling him it wasn't for me. For one thing, audits didn't make me popular. When I told my grandfather I had decided to become a financial advisor, he got upset and said I was ruining my life. I joined Smith Barney in 1993.

Smith Barney was merging with Shearson and I was the first hire in my area. My branch manager said the only reason he was offering me the job was that my deep voice would hide the fact that I was a kid and I had my CPA designation. During my time there, I had decided to market to independent oil and gas association members. I called a member in Kentucky and said I was going to be in the area. I asked if I could stop by. I did, and after introducing myself I didn't try to sell him anything. He said no one had taken the trouble to meet him face-to-face before. It shocked me how quickly he trusted me as a result.

Then Edward Jones called and said they had heard about a bond trade I had completed. I had never heard of them or their model-one advisor and one branch office administrator per office. I shared a sales assistant with four other people at the time, so that sparked my interest, along with the company's partnership structure and learning that Edward Jones had no proprietary trading or conflicts of interest. I was getting married in two weeks, but I met with the company anyway and was intrigued. The recruiter called again two months later. I said that they'd have to talk to my wife at that point, so the two of us went to St. Louis together and Edward Jones won her over. I joined as an advisor in 1997 and another great marriage was born. In 2000, I became a limited partner; in 2004, a regional leader. Three years later I became a principal. I'm part of the firm's management committee. Last year I was appointed to my present position. By the end of December, we'll have hired 3,000 advisors; probably 1,000 will make it to the three-year mark. During interviews I look for whether candidates make eye contact, address any gaps in their resume, ask open-ended questions, and demonstrate they're leaders and hard workers.

Two years ago, my doctor said some of my levels were too high. [Now] I'm at the gym three times a week at 4:30 a.m., working with a personal trainer. He's a hard taskmaster. I've lost 21 pounds and have been able to avoid medication, but I still cuss him out.

As Told to Pat Olsen