I grew up in a Chicago suburb with five siblings. I learned about hard work from my dad, an electrician. If he didn't go to work, he didn't get paid. My mom taught me humility. I played competitive sports and had a strong desire to excel. She would tell me not to break my arm patting myself on the back.
When I was eight, I delivered newspapers with an older brother. We had one route in the morning and another after school. Later I was a busboy in a restaurant. During summers in college I was a roofer and gained an even deeper respect for tradespeople like my father. I became interested in finance through a neighbor of ours, a stockbroker who had a ticker tape machine in his den. I liked math and I knew from the restaurant business that I liked people, so [financial services] was a natural fit for me.
In 1989, I graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in business administration/finance. Financial services recruiters didn't visit our campus that year, so I picked up a Chicago phone book and started calling firms. I lost out on the first call when the person asked me if I had a book and I told him I had lots of them. By the second call I had learned the lingo. I got a job with Baird as a wire operator in the Winnetka, IL, branch. I entered orders, buy or sell tickets from the brokers, which were then routed to the exchanges. Six months later, I entered the broker training program and when I finished I called on former Baird clients. One was a deli owner. He and I had talked but it had never gone anywhere. One day I took a drive to his deli and got in line behind 15 other customers. I got to introduce myself and shake his hand, which made all the difference. I learned that if I could get in front of potential clients, it was a big help in winning their business. That man became a client and a friend.
After a few years, I wondered what it was like to work for a big firm, so I joined Shearson Lehman Hutton, which became Smith Barney while I was there. I rose to first vice president but felt I was at a crossroads—I missed Baird. Family has always been important to me, and Baird had been like a family. After talking to Mike Schroeder, Baird's president of Private Wealth Management, and others, I returned in 2005 as Chicago Market Manager. I felt I could make a bigger impact here.
A major focus in our industry today is on the transition of wealth. Clients are aging and passing on their wealth to the next generation, and long-time advisors are retiring. There's a huge opportunity for new advisors, especially those who develop sales skills. However, it will always be important to meet clients face to face.
In my free time I train for marathons. I've competed in New York and will run in Boston this spring. My goal is to complete all the world marathon majors—Chicago, New York, Boston, London and Berlin.
—as told to Pat Olsen