Founder, Professional Planning Group
Raymond James Financial Services
Career Began: 1974
Home Base: Westerly, R.I.
Civic Affiliations: Ocean Community YMCA, Westerly Hospital, American Seniors Golf Association
At the start of his career, Mal Makin worried about being "found out." In fact, long before he even had a secretary, Makin dressed well and outfitted his office in nice furniture so that he would appear successful.
He figured his marketing message was beginning to pay off when a man he knew only casually told him: "I see you walking down the street and I'm not really sure what you do, but you sure as hell must be good at it."
It's a great story, classic Makin.
Here's one that's even better.
A few months ago, a couple of Makin's clients -- she's a retired art director for Pfizer and he's the lead inventor of the popular drug, Zoloft -- visited Makin to show off their new Porsche 911 Carrera 4S.
Their vanity plate: Thx Mal
"We regard him very highly," says Gail Welch, who with husband Willard, have been clients for over 10 years. "Malcom did a better job explaining to us as neophytes things we couldn't have possibly known as regular people about investing, our futures, talking to us about our goals. He's helped us invest wisely and made us an incredible income overall, something we can turn into a legacy for our family, and their families. Equally important, Malcom is so approachable and does not consider any question or concern to be silly or foolish. He's an incredible listener and advisor. We are proud to know him."
With just over $500 million in assets under management, Makin, 62, has an impressive career arc. An early participant in the financial planning movement, he soon became a national player, responsible for helping craft many of the ethical codes practiced by today's planners. In fact, he chaired the first annual conference held by the Institute of Certified Financial Planners.
He has long been a go-to source for financial journalists. And his name has surfaced regularly on national rankings of top financial advisors. Just last year, Professional Planning Group, the firm Makin founded in 1976, was a recipient of the "Keeping America Strong Award," presented on national TV.
Today, with an average account size of $1.5 million, Professional Planning Group has 16 employees, including three of Makin's four sons. Initially, Makin targeted middle-income Americans, believing them to be underserved.
"I held myself out as a true financial advisor. My goal was not to sell something but to solve problems," says Makin, who got his start in the insurance business after serving as a youth director for two YMCAs for six years. "In the early days of the financial planning movement, I couldn't imagine a bigger market or bigger opportunity. No one else was there."
Over the years Makin -- whose offices occupy a landmark Georgian building that received the prestigious "Preserve Rhode Island Award" -- has expanded his affluent client niche to include middle-income people who have come into significant assets through retirement plans, pensions and inheritances.
The son of an assembly worker and an alcoholic auto mechanic, Makin himself comes from humble beginnings. Charitable Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets were part of his landscape as a child. He credits his mother with holding the family together. A woman who played piano at his church convinced Makin to attend college, in fact helped pay for it. When he was young, Makin thought about becoming a minister or teaching 17th century literature. He was working toward a master's degree in social work when he was introduced to financial services.
"I was looking to do something different. Financial services let me be independent," says Makin. "There were no limits."
Makin loves to write, as is evidenced by his lengthy and personal holiday letters to clients, a 25-year tradition. "Some people who paint say they see the colors before they hit the canvas, and that they can feel those colors," says Makin, who, with wife Martha, spends the winter months at the couple's home in Jupiter, Fla. "I can feel words, prose or poetry." In recent years, he has written about the church pianist, his brother Charlie's death and meeting Tiger Woods. Makin, who has a six handicap, is a devoted golfer.
At the moment, Professional Planning Group is in the process of enhancing its financial planning division. With assets and revenues up 30 percent over the last 12 months, Makin says, "We want to continue to do what we do best: manage portfolios, manage expectations and provide really good service to our clients and our community. We're not looking to open up offices all over the countryside, just to improve on what we have."
As for retirement, Makin notes: "I'm asked whether I'm going to retire three times a day. It's a legitimate question. When you are working with someone who thinks they want to work with you, they want to know if you're going to be around next week. My hope is that I won't retire for a long, long time. I feel like I'm really getting good at this work. I want to continue it."