No. 5: Bradley Cull
Firm: Merrill Lynch
AUM: $2.93 billion
Note: This profile is part of a special series devoted to On Wall Street’s Top 40 Under 40 ranking for 2012. Every day we take a look at an advisor who made the list to find out the secrets of their success.
The story of how Bradley Cull got his start in the financial services industry sounds like the plot from an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, except with a happy ending.
Cull was waiting tables at a country club in North Carolina one summer, paying his way through college in Florida, when one patron caught his eye. They were a "good looking family," Cull recalls, with "nice kids," and it "just seemed like a young guy that was making a good living."
The man turned out to be James Wallace, a very large producer from Merrill Lynch's Atlanta office. Seizing the opportunity, Cull scored an introduction to Wallace and discovered the two had some shared interests. He landed a second meeting, and eventually a job right out of college working at the Merrill Lynch call center in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2003.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't have a clue what he did at Merrill Lynch," Cull admits. "I just knew that he was successful and after sitting down and talking to him, I got a better idea. And what he told me was, 'I didn't come from a lot of money, but I'm used to being around a lot of money.'"
He continued to follow up with Wallace, and 18 months later when the team was expanding, Wallace asked Cull if he would like to join. Cull answered, "Absolutely," and twelve months later he was an advisor on Wallace's team in the Buckhead office in Atlanta.
Wallace's eye for talent paid off. At the age of 33, Cull ranks in at number six on this list and has carved out a sizeable niche on the Global Corporate and Institutional Advisor Service team primarily focusing on Fortune 1000 companies.
In his role, Cull works to administer a number of employee benefit programs from 401(k)s to investments and deferred compensation plans. He's comfortable talking modern and post-modern portfolio theory and says his first focus is finding the right asset allocation by blending active and passive management. A calculated blend of investments, including using managed futures or certain hedge strategies, helps keeps clients on course. "Over time, especially with experience, I've found that most investors make decisions based off emotion and one of the primary drivers of decision-making has been when deviation of the portfolio is to the downside," Cull explains. "So in order to mitigate deviation to the downside you incorporate some lowly correlated or alternative type investments."
One of the portfolio management skills that Cull has found most valuable, however, is his ability to listen. "I'm able to use that to my advantage obviously in getting to know them and picking up hot points or sensitive points to their life," he says. "And I can apply those to how I develop a strategy for them." Moreover, Cull is an equity partner who has thrown in his book of business with 12 others on his team, which makes his position a challenge and "selfless," as Cull describes it, given that he must mentor and develop other advisors and associates, help oversee the office, and balance that with client work. But it's also the place he directs the most gratitude. "The team environment that I have been involved in for the last eight years is really the primary catalyst for my success," Cull says.