My mother, a schoolteacher, was widowed when I was two. We lived in a modest home in Evanston, Ill., but I never thought we lacked for anything. My freshman year in high school I played football. My football coach was also the swimming coach and he suggested I try out for swimming. Spending six hours a day in a chlorine-filled pool teaches you discipline and instills a competitive spirit. It paid off. I was awarded a swimming scholarship to attend Northwestern University.

After graduating with a business degree, I enrolled in the business school at Washington University in St. Louis. Next, I was accepted into Merrill Lynch's junior executive training program. Soon after I started, Merrill gave us a report on General Motors. I took it seriously and I started calling GM dealers in my area. I didn't realize that when I asked for the manager, they put me through to the service manager. These were good guys, but not the high-net-worth prospects I was after.

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