In late 2003, after the unexpected death of his six-year-old son, Wall Street veteran Andrew Kaiser asked himself a tough question: Did he want to return to work?
Kaiser, then one of the highest performing advisors at UBS Financial Services, had taken nine months off following Ryan's death. Ryan, who had a complicated heart ailment that required three open-heart surgeries, died in January 2003 while playing with his younger brother, Jack.
"After talking to friends and family, I realized: This [work] is what inspires you every day," says Kaiser, who managed investments for clients globally and was ranked nationally among the firm's top 3 percent of advisors. "You have to go back."
But Kaiser, 43, found the landscape changed when he returned to Wall Street.
"I think the dynamics of the business changed. Brokerage firms are looking to raise assets and looking for a return on investment for the firm on those assets. I think it should be the other way around. I think they should be looking for greater return to the client on those assets," says Kaiser, who also oversees his family's foundation, the Ryan Andrew Kaiser Memorial Foundation. "I wanted to do things in a different way, in a different environment where I was clearly on the same page as my client. My priorities changed."
Three months ago, in a major shift, Kaiser launched Mountain Hill Investment Partners, a full-service family office serving 30 distinguished families. Kaiser met a number of his clients -- entrepreneurs, CEOs and CFOs of publicly traded companies -- when he worked for the investment banking firm, Dillon Read, helping take companies public. Among other things he advised boards of directors on their restricted stock, potential collars on their positions and gave high-end sophisticated advice prior to the initial public offering.
"I got lucky -- and I did it well," says Kaiser, adding that several clients, entrepreneurs themselves, helped him jumpstart his new advisory firm. "This is a relationship game. If you are good to your clients, they will be good to you. Clients want to do business with people they trust and that really care for them."
Today, at his Atlantic Highlands, N.J., office, Kaiser monitors the six screens that represent the heart of his operation.
"Technology has come so far that it finally allows for this model to exist. I traded a bunch of stock today in London. It doesn't matter where I am. It clears through Bear Stearns like I work there," says Kaiser. "If you want to buy 10,000 shares of stock, I can do it faster on this platform. And there's no corporate agenda, no quotas, no product-sales pushes. I also have a Bloomberg. You go into any brokerage firm and ask for the top five brokers, and they don't have a Bloomberg. It's like not having a cell phone."
One of the chief reasons Kaiser made the switch was to provide clients with an instantaneous reporting system. "There are so many more ways I can report performance now," he adds. "It's better than anything I've seen." The system, through Albridge Solutions, provides Kaiser and his clients with 19 different reports against numerous benchmarks. "There needs to be a metric on how I'm doing. Now, clients can go online and see how I've done daily, weekly, monthly. In fact, they can track performance over the last five days, last five hours, last 58 seconds," says Kaiser. "It's a wonderful reference point."
Kaiser grew up in Long Island in a community where Wall Street was a foreign concept. As Kaiser's childhood friend Chris Wilson notes: "It wasn't a given you'd even go to college. Most of our friends didn't. Most became roofers, appliance repairmen, things like that. Andy's family didn't expect him to go to college; he did that on his own. He's a very ambitious guy -- he always has been. And he's made a great success for himself."
Wilson, a partner in a hedge fund firm, says Ryan's death completely altered Kaiser's life.
"Obviously, his son's death threw him for a loop. It made him rethink how he was spending his time, what his priorities were. Little by little, he's brought himself back," he adds. "Now, he has an office that's close to home. He's not playing the political games of a big shop and he's able to devote what time he wants to the foundation. Faced with adversity, you can collapse or go forward. Andy's gone forward."
Without a three-hour commute each day, Kaiser now spends more time with his wife, Lauren, and their two children, Jack, 7, and Jamie, 4. He coaches lacrosse. And he and his wife two years ago purchased the Mountain Hill School, a pre-school that had been threatened with closure.
"Managing money for 20 years, I've been on clients' boats, planes, in their homes. But I've never gotten a love letter from anybody," Kaiser says. "We get love letters all the time from parents whose kids go to the school." Ryan attended Mountain Hill.
Ryan is never far from Andy Kaiser's thoughts. Most nights, Kaiser works on his son's memorial foundation, which has raised just over $200,000 in three years. The foundation, www.rakmf.org has three goals: to financially assist families with critically ill children; to provide grants and funding to doctors and hospitals that specialize in the care and cure of pediatric heart patients; and to build a children's park in Ryan's memory.
"Every nickel that comes in goes back out. We want to become the go-to website for families that need help or are looking for doctors' advice on pediatric heart disease," says Kaiser. "We didn't want to become the face of this organization. But this is where we live. This is who we are."
Managing Partner, Mountain Hill Investment Partners, Atlantic Highlands, N.J.
Sound bite: "I'm here to keep clients rich -- and make them richer. And that's how I should be paid."
Remembering Ryan: In preschool, Ryan was asked, "What is your dream?" He said that he would like to help all of the poor people and help fight the bad guys.