President, Curran Investment Management
Curran Advisory Services
Career Began: 1969
Home Base: Albany, N.Y.
Civic Affiliations: Wildwood Foundation, Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts, East Lynne Theater Co.
At an age when many advisors are pondering exit strategies, Tom Curran chose to make a grand entrance instead.
"While a lot of my friends and colleagues were thinking about retiring, I was thinking about how to do something my way," says Curran, 61. "Over the years, I have often questioned the way financial services are marketed and delivered. I often thought to myself: There has to be a better way. You can't help but think: How would you do things differently if you were in a position to do it?"
Two years ago, answering his own question, Curran introduced Curran Investment Management, a registered investment advisor, and Curran Advisory Services, a broker/dealer. With $210 million in assets under management, the investment boutique, recognized by Nelson's World's Best Money Managers for its equity returns, has offices in Albany, N.Y., Cape May, N.J., and Philadelphia. The Philadelphia office is headed by Curran's youngest son, Kevin.
"The first challenge was: How do you set all this up? How do you rent the office space? Go about hiring employees and bringing them along? And how do you do it ethically? I was not comfortable doing it behind the scenes, in secret," says Curran, who calls his split from Wachovia Securities, his former corporate home, "cordial" and a "natural progression." All 12 of the people who worked for him at Wachovia transitioned to the new firm, as did 97 percent of the group's assets.
Today, with an average account size of $700,000, Curran Investment Management has positioned itself as a formidable competitor. In just the last year, it has hooked up with a new custodian, Schwab; entered into a strategic alliance with Russell Investment Group, global leaders in multi-manager investing; and inaugurated a wealth management program for women. Not coincidentally, three of the firm's four senior officers are female.
And then there is this happy math: For the five-year period ended Sept. 30, Curran Investment Management posted an equity return of 5.59 percent, after management fees. That compares to the S&P 500/Citigroup Growth Index, at 3.71 percent.
"Our style is growth and I'm very proud of our record," notes Curran, who serves as chief investment officer of the firm. "Our message to clients is: Buy the very best companies and hold them long-term. The by-products are low turnover, low taxes and a socially responsible investment. We find that high quality companies are more likely to be socially responsible."
Curran, a graduate of the Wharton School of Business, is a longtime student of emotion in the markets and he's built an investment philosophy centered on "absolute recognition of those emotional forces, providing clients with a strategy which is more likely to overcome the emotional investor."
As Curran notes: "I really believe that as difficult as it is to hold a security if it goes down 20, 30 or 50 percent, it's somewhat easier to hold if it's a Wells Fargo or a Walgreens. Most investors intuitively understand that, combined with some education and a strategy that can demonstrate that these companies are more likely to recover and do well over the longer term."
Curran, who with wife, Peggy, lives two months of the year in Bermuda, has no daily contact with clients. Three service groups, headed by a relationship manager, handle that duty. The firm also has a marketing and business development director, operations and administrative managers, and a portfolio administrator.
Jim Shields, business development director for Russell Investment Group, has taken a close look at Curran -- the firm and the man.
As he puts it: "He's hired great people, set a clear vision and, this is the hardest part: He stands back and lets those people execute. Many entrepreneurs have a tough time with that. It's hard for most CEOs, not him."
And with a career that spans nearly 40 years, Curran stands out for his willingness to push for change.
"For someone to be doing it this long, to aggressively change the way he has, is highly impressive. Money management is the key value proposition he has delivered for years and he has figured out how he can continue to deliver that same value proposition plus add to it comprehensive wealth management. He has re-engineered his firm to succeed as a world-class wealth manager. He has an inner fire, whatever it is, to grow successful firms. That's what drives him."
Over the next year, Curran says, the firm will roll out changes "our clients can feel." After making an early technology investment of $250,000, Curran Investment Management is now paperless. In the works: an enhanced website and an account aggregation service that will include outside assets.
"As a small firm, I think our overall level of service is much greater," says Curran. "We don't even use the term 'sales.' It's service. And that's where I think we excel -- providing the highest level of service in an independent fashion, tailored to the needs of the client. And I promise you, it will only get better."