From the August 2007 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Portrait of a Rookie

Jerry's Famous Deli, a popular TV and movie industry hang-out in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, is jammed every lunchtime. Right next door, on bustling Ventura Boulevard, is Edward Jones' Studio City branch office.

But you won't find its one-and-only financial advisor digging into a delicious sandwich at conveniently located Jerry's. Most days, in fact, he's too busy to eat lunch at all.

An FA only since last September, Jonathan S. Israel, 23, is industrious by nature. He's also outgoing, articulate and sincere. And, wow, is he determined. In a business where most newbies give up and bail out within a few years, this rookie, fresh out of college, seems sure to stick around.

Knocking on doors -- literally -- to prospect clients Edward Jones-style isn't the easiest way to break through. But Israel is not fazed. He began selling investments in January, by March had already taken over an existing branch and just three months later was profitable enough to hire an assistant.

"I refuse to fail. The one thing that's scarier to me than going out [prospecting] and getting rejected is looking in the mirror and telling myself I couldn't do it," says the ambitious Oakland, Calif., native.

Studio City, Calif., was the Valley-bred Israel's first-choice office location. After proving himself a worthy self-starter working from home, he got his wish when, by coincidence, the existing FA in Studio City needed to relocate. Israel not only took over her office but some of her clients.

"My biggest success so far -- though this sounds really simple -- is doing what I say I'm going to do. If I tell someone I'll get back to them tomorrow, I'll get back to them tomorrow. If I say I'm going to visit them at their house next week, I'll make sure I do that," says Israel, whose budding client base ranges from college kids throwing $25 a month into a Roth IRA to some high-net-worth households. He is compensated by commission and a small first-year salary.

Initially, Israel's youth -- and maybe his even younger appearance -- was one of his chief obstacles, he says. "But I found out that how old I am doesn't matter to clients as long as I'm passionate and honest. A lot of people really have respect for young guys who are out there hustling and are passionate about what they do," says the six-footer.

Interviewing with a few firms right after graduating from the University of California at San Diego, Israel decided to join Edward Jones, named by Fortune and other publications one of the best places to work. Moreover, the company gives advisors the opportunity to become limited partners. The expanding, once-regional brokerage has nearly 10,000 branch offices in the United States, and affiliates in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Israel was attracted by the firm's long-term investment philosophy, emphasis on face-to-face relationships and the notion of being the sole advisor in a branch of his own, as are all its FAs. He also liked that Edward Jones sells no proprietary products.

"That was another big one with me. I didn't want to have to push a certain type of product over another," he says.

Israel is of course keen on converting prospects into clients, but he isn't fixated on the rapid acquisition of assets under management. "Whether or not they give you all their money isn't something I can control. I have to focus on things I can control: how many people I meet every day or how many doors I've knocked on. So I always try to go out and see as many people as I can. If I do that," he says, "then I'm successful that day."

When it comes to that prospect-to-client conversion rate: "It would be insanely hard to say, mainly because I still talk to many [prospects] that I've developed relationships with -- so I haven't given up on them."

Determined EffortHe works 11-to-12-hour days -- 15 before he hired assistant Kristina -- serving clients and targeting potential ones not only in Studio City, where filmmaker Mack Sennett famously established his silent movie studio in 1927, but adjacent Sherman Oaks and nearby Burbank, Toluca Lake and Glendale.

Once he began last fall, working out of his then-West Hills home, also in the Valley, Israel made the discovery that clients find face-to-face contact important too. As for door-knocking, the FA, who does zero cold-call phoning, says: "It's something that no one is born liking, but after a while you get used to it." He refuses to take abrupt rejections "personally. Someone can be having a tough day. So you may just be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

On first contact, Israel's goal isn't to sell but merely to introduce himself and note that should he spot an appropriate, outstanding investment opportunity, he'll "swing by" again. That method of building a book is "hard but fun," he says. "I've met the greatest people just by knocking on their doors. You're not sure where the relationship will go, but it's a neat thing to see it develop.

"The most gratifying thing about this job is gaining someone's trust. If they trust you with their retirement, say, or their kids' education money, that's a really big responsibility. One of the most rewarding things," he says, "is to develop a plan for someone to meet their goals."

During his first months on the job -- after acquiring a Series 7 license but before his "can-sell" date -- Israel spent all his time, except for training sessions, prospecting. That meant knocking on at least 25 doors -- the quota he'd set -- seven days a week in Studio City and Sherman Oaks.

Studio City is where many TV series are produced. In fact, the suburban San Fernando Valley is home to most of the big "Hollywood" film studios, including Walt Disney, Warner Bros. and Universal. Having grown up in the Valley, Israel was familiar with the sprawling area. But, he says, "I think there's no nicer place [there] than Studio City."

An upscale, wooded residential community known as the geographic gateway to the Valley, Studio City -- together with Sherman Oaks -- boasts loads of small retail businesses, including restaurants, apparel boutiques and home decorating shops along Ventura Blvd.: prime prospects all.

These days Israel is juggling his time between serving clients and finding new ones. Dressed always in suit, tie and shoes buffed to a sheen, he tries to introduce himself to a minimum of five people daily.

He arrives at the office -- only two miles from his apartment -- between 7:45 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. and immediately checks out the market. Then, using the firm's computerized calendar-planner, JonesLink, he sizes up the day ahead.

From about 8:30 to 11:00, he's typically door-knocking homes and businesses. Back at the office, he gets on the phone -- "following up what I said I would do," he notes, and alerting clients and prospects to "exceptional opportunities." Once a week Israel lunches at the Rotary Club; occasionally he picks up Subway take-out to eat at his desk.

The second half of the afternoon is reserved for appointments, in and out of the office. At about 5:30 or 6:00, he reviews his accomplishments for the day and prepares for tomorrow. He also researches investments -- developing financial plans for clients with specific goals -- and takes care of administrative matters.

Now that he has Kristina's help, he's able to go home earlier -- usually around 7 at night. But material to review goes along with him.

"I've been doing well for myself," says Israel. "That's not to say I couldn't learn a thing or two from veterans." And he does -- other Edward Jones FAs who are volunteer mentors. One advisor, in affluent Brentwood on L.A.'s West Side, is "an amazing friend I can call just about any time with a question. He's always there for me. Plus, he's got the experience that I can take away, so to speak."

Last September and January, the rookie had formal training sessions at St. Louis-based Edward Jones' Tempe, Ariz., headquarters. As of this writing, he was due to return for another class in July. Meantime, online training continues.

Power of a Positive AttitudeAs a child -- eldest of four -- Israel found the stock market intriguing, mainly because it was a mystery to him. But when his optometrist dad "lost a little money" in it, he "became interested in learning how it worked, and I really liked it," recalls Israel.

Then, in college, an economics course grabbed his interest. That's when he decided "no matter what," he'd pursue a profession incorporating at least some aspect of economics. In 2006 he graduated from UCSD with a Bachelor of Arts in economics. Still fascinated with investing, though, Israel bet that "the way to have the best of both worlds -- investing and economics -- was to become a financial advisor."

Now that he has the job, what's his biggest challenge? Staying positive in the face of rejection. And how does he cope? "I don't dwell on it. You have to learn to brush it off. I think about something good that's happened. I sing a song, enjoy the day outdoors. When I'm door-knocking, lots of times I'll think, 'It's such a nice day -- I'm glad I'm outside walking around the neighborhood'" and not stuck in some cubicle.

"Most people have the mindset that bad things happen in bunches," he continues. "But no one ever says that good things happen in bunches. Whether you keep positive will determine if you're successful."

Off-hours, Israel enjoys weekends with his girlfriend, classic rock on the radio and shooting hoops.

As for the novice's long-term business goal: "It's funny being asked that question because it's what I ask people all day: 'What are your long-term goals?'

"My long-term goal is to take care of the long-term goals of my clients. If I continue doing that," says Israel, "I think I'll continue to be successful. I love this job, and I plan to do it forever. That's a good feeling."

---

Freelance writer Jane Wollman Rusoff is a Los Angeles-based contributing editor of Research and is the founder of Family Star Productions.

Reprints Discuss this story
This is where the comments go.