From the January 2006 issue of Boomer Market Advisor • Subscribe!

January 1, 2006

From Bullit County to Trump's boardroom


When it comes to media exposure, most advisors are content with a blurb in the local paper. Mark Lamkin, president of Lamkin Wealth Management, was not. Instead he went on national T.V. -- winning a spot on NBC's hit reality show "The Apprentice." Despite hearing Trump's dreaded catch phrase in Week 6, Lamkin feels he made a positive showing for his hometown of Louisville, Ky. and is making the most of his 15 minutes to build his practice.

"I interacted with three different CEOs on 'The Apprentice,'" he says. "They observed my work ethic offered me various positions once the episodes were over. But I turned them all down because I love what I do."

His love has yielded close to $40 million in assets under management in four years, with 375 clients that have an average net worth of $700,000. More impressively, he was able to build his business in a decidedly working class area of the Bluegrass State with a focus on the retirement needs of blue-collar baby boomers.

"Ten thousand baby boomers a day are going to turn 59 and a half for the next 20 years," he enthusiastically adds. "That's my practice."

Lamkin spoke with Boomer Market Advisor about his hometown loyalty, his disciplined roots and what sudden fame means for his business.

Boomer Market Advisor: We hear so much about the importance of targeting the high-net-worth market. Are you making a conscious decision to go for the mid-level market?
Mark Lamkin: Yeah, my roots are blue collar. My dad's a diesel mechanic; my mom's a bank teller. I didn't grow up on the rich side of town. I'll take those $100,000 to $200,000 IRA rollovers all day long because they're ignored by the major wirehouses, and we're making a great living from them.

BMA: You have an interesting story. I don't want to say rags to riches but it follows that track. You were the first in your family to go to college and get an advanced degree.
ML: I grew up in Bullitt County, Ky. and it's not where you find most high-net-worth CEOs. It's a lower to middle class blue-collar environment. I remember thinking that if I could ever just make $50,000 a year, man, would I be rich. Everyone in my family is either a mechanic or painter and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, I did that for a lot of years and that's where my common man values come from. But when I talked to my mother about the people at the bank that had money, she consistently said they were business owners. I realized that I had an entrepreneurial flare and I wanted to learn everything I could about money. So when I went to college, finance classes were a natural fit. And that's really how it evolved to a financial services career.

BMA: You had a lot of prior success in investment banking. Why did you make the switch?
ML: I've got a service mentality. I looked at blue-collar workers that didn't have a clue about money or what it will take to retire. And I just found that when I would sit down and really help them succeed I got more satisfaction than landing a multi-million dollar stock bid. What really juices me up is finding a 55-year-old or 60-year-old client who, without my advice, is probably not going to live a retirement lifestyle. He's probably going to end up back at work. It sounds kind of hokey, but my goal is to keep him in the golden years -- not the golden arches.

BMA: Does the discipline you learned growing up transfer to your management style?
ML: Absolutely. Growing up I was always disciplined and it's funny how the apple doesn't fall from the tree. When it comes to individual equities I'm not a buy and hold type of guy. But I'm very disciplined on price targets; 95 percent of my clients' assets are either in allocated programs or very strict asset allocation boxes. Linsco/Private Ledger does a good job of controlling the percentage of asset classes and recommending fund choices. I believe in modern portfolio theory. I believe in consistently rebalancing the portfolio to reduce risk and give clients the optimal chance.

BMA: What are you seeing from your boomer clients and how do you set expectations with them?
ML: Boomer clients no longer come in and say, "I'm expecting 15 percent per year. I'm expecting this to double every three or four years." The average boomer comes in and literally says, "Mark, I'm worried about return of my money rather than return on it. I want to beat a CD, but I don't want to be super-risky. I understand I've got to grow my assets because I'm going live longer, but take care of me. Don't blow me up." I tell every boomer that comes in that they're different from any previous generation as far as medical advances and lifestyle possibilities. We plan for their assets to last to age 100. I tell folks all the time that the advisor down the street is going to tell you "Come with me and you can pull out 7 percent annually." You might be able to do that but you're going to run out of money. If you deal with me, we're going to build assets and distribution plans that last until age 100.

BMA: How do you market yourself and your services?
ML: We're very active in the community. I belong to our downtown Rotary Club that has 250 members. Two years ago I joined my first country club. Over the last year and half, because of baby boomers trends, we market ourselves exclusively as retirement experts. We are the retirement planners of choice in this area and we market ourselves as such. I'm really big on finding a niche. What's working well for us right now is talking to blue-collar retirees about retirement income distribution over time.

BMA: After appearing on the latest season of NBC's "The Apprentice" you probably don't have to market yourself much. Have you become something of a hometown celebrity?
ML: For the first time in my life I can walk through the airport or go to a restaurant and people say, "Mark, you did a great job of representing us and we're really happy about it." Phase one of this Apprentice deal was to build a really good brand and we did that. In Phase II we're ready to heavily market ourselves and convert the recognition to business.

BMA: Are you still enjoying the ride or is it getting old?
ML: I'm enjoying the ride. Kentucky gets a bad rap nationally, so one of the main goals was to show the world that a solid business person from our state can go out there and compete in the national arena -- not only compete but win. And I think I proved myself to be one of the best contestants on there. I made a good showing and people around here are really embracing me. I like that.

BMA: But you were fired in a surprising, and dramatic, fashion. Rather than call individuals into the boardroom, Trump singled out four candidates and fired you all.
ML: Here's the tough thing about that. Josh, the project manager, already told me I wasn't going into the boardroom. I was so sure I wasn't going to get fired that I didn't pack my clothes -- my suitcase was empty. I was completely surprised when they kicked me out -- it was like a kick in the gut with a golf shoe.

BMA: What else do you look to get out of "The Apprentice" experience for you and your business?
ML: The only reason I originally did "The Apprentice" was because my mom asked me to. When your mom asks you to do it, what do you do? You send the [audition] tape.

BMA: She must be proud.
ML: She's beaming. She knew a million people would apply but it didn't matter, she said, "I know you can win this." I went on the show originally to prove that Kentucky could compete. Then I thought, "I want to build a brand." But the experience really taught me two things. We started the company in February 2001, a bit before 9/11, and we've still reached $40 million. I made money in Louisville and I was comfortable. But the show pushed me out of my comfort zone. It got me to compete against the best of the best. As a result, I came back with a different mindset. I fired two of my employees when I got back because they didn't share my passion. More importantly, I fired five clients. If you're not positive and you don't follow my recommendations, I don't want you around me.

BMA: You were in close proximity to one of the highest-net-worth investors in the United States, if not the world. Did you go after any of his assets?
ML: Donald Trump is a great guy, and I'm real thankful for the opportunity. But when it came to the contestants actually interacting with him, he doesn't want you near his inner circle. He doesn't want to communicate with you on a peer level. He would give us good nuggets of wisdom, but he was very standoffish. At his asset level you have to be.

BMA: Any hard feelings with other contestants?
ML: The vast majority of the contestants are great people. There were only one or two that I didn't care for.

BMA: Care to name names?
ML: Yeah, Clay was one. He's very abrasive and superficial in his style of leadership and management. I didn't respect him as a person or manager. We just didn't click. But you put 18 Type-As in a room there's bound to be some that don't click.

BMA: Where do you go from here?
ML: We're going after the 401(k) and IRA rollover markets. There's 1,936 401(k) plans in Kentucky that have $1 million to $9 million in assets. We're sending them an invitation to two different seminars with a quote from Donald Trump on the left side and a quote from me on the right side. This is an example of how we're trying to take advantage of this Apprentice deal. If we get 50 or even 20 of those plans out of the 2,000, then the complexion of my company changes dramatically. There's $50 million in assets right there. That's the goal.

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