When Randy Carver first became an independent advisor, there was one thing he found lacking: meetings with colleagues where he could network, recharge and share ideas.
So Carver, who thinks big, booked a cruise and invited a bunch of advisors to join him for a shipboard conference that included continuing education credits. Over the years, the conference has convened worldwide -- Italy, Turkey, Mexico, Belize and Alaska, among other far-flung datelines. The 15th annual Carver Financial Advisor Conference will take place in January aboard Celebrity Century during a cruise of the Caribbean.
Randy Carver, President, Carver Financial Services, Raymond James Financial Services; Mentor, Ohio
What consulting partner Dennis Barba says about their Caribbean Cruise conference for advisors: "It puts you in a place where you have to attend class. You can't sneak out to play golf. You can't sneak out to go sightseeing. You're at sea with a compelling combination of vacation and work. People that come, come for the right reason."
For Carver, the novel conferences have yielded two important benefits: They've forced him to examine his own practice with a more critical eye and they've resulted in productive professional relationships.
"The biggest intangible is the friendships that develop. I've met some people on these cruises that I talk to monthly," says the 43-year-old Carver, one of Raymond James Financial Services' topmost producers. "When you're independent, you don't necessarily have that back and forth with other colleagues. The nice thing here is that the people who go are willing to share anything. It's not as though we view each other as competitors."
Over the years, advisors with Raymond James, LPL and Royal Alliance have cruised with Carver, whose firm, Carver Financial Services in Mentor, Ohio, has $668 million in assets under management.
Carver, whose gusto for life has made him a popular motivational speaker, has lived in a series of Big Moments. As a child, he survived a battle with cancer that has left him with a 46 percent lung capacity. "I didn't think I'd live through 11th grade," says Carver, who went on to get a doctorate in finance. "My parents were told to pray and get ready for a funeral. But I had a great surgeon who always said he thought he could save me."
In the late 1980s, Carver ditched the small plane he was flying and broke his neck. He was in a bad motorcycle crash last year.
"I constantly stay busy," says Carver, who expects his assets under management to climb past the $1 billion mark over the next couple of years. "It's one of those 'life's short' kind of things because of everything that's happened."
It was in his hospital bed, watching cooking shows on TV and reading The Wall Street Journal, that Carver developed twin interests that still occupy him: cooking and finance. An entrepreneur from the start, he began operating a catering business out of his family's kitchen when he was 14, and at 16 he bought the first of two contracting companies. "My plan after college was to buy houses and flip them," he says.
While studying economics at Oberlin College in Ohio, Carver began trading futures and commodities. In his senior year, as a teaching assistant, he brought in a guest speaker from Edward Jones who tried to recruit him.
"I didn't even know who they were -- didn't really care. But I filled out the resume," says Carver. "They turned me down. Then I got really interested." Remarkably, Carver managed to score a half-hour meeting with Ted Jones, son of the firm's founder.
He got the job.
Carver joined Raymond James Financial Services in 1990. Today, his firm deals primarily in rollovers from middle- and upper-management executives but he also serves a lot of blue-collar workers. The firm, two advisors and a staff of eight, currently services 4,600 accounts -- whittled down from 6,000-plus a year ago.
As Carver might put it, he is exploring for himself the "new success paradigm" he advertises in a brochure for the upcoming cruise. The conference will be a bit different this year -- focusing not only on financial planning and practice management topics attached to continuing education credits, but the role of the entrepreneur in the financial services industry. The six-module business management track will amount to six hours of graduate-level education.
"This is for advisors who come focused on building a practice that's not only scalable but transferable. Even if you don't transfer it, it's better for you -- like painting your house to sell," says Carver, who will teach the course with Raymond James & Associates advisor Dennis Barba, his partner in Competitive Advantage Consulting, which works with financial professionals. "The goal is at the end of the day, people will leave with the start of a business plan."
Barba, also a top producer, says Carver himself inspires.
"The people who are really successful in our business are very goal-driven. Randy's got a financial model he follows. He knows specifically what he is trying to accomplish every day, every week, every month, every year," according to Barba. "What you find with really successful people is they have a process; a business model; they can differentiate themselves; and they have clearly defined goals. It's a lot different from being an employee."
The conference this year will also include a number of sponsors and educational partners -- Hines Realty, ING, Columbia Funds, Jackson National and Hartford Funds, among them.
"The advantage of a cruise format is that, especially with ships at sea, there's nowhere to go. You get a lot of good networking in and attendance is nearly 100 percent," says Carver. "And for me it's a way to give back to others. I've been very fortunate in this business. This let's me work with other guys and when you're teaching something, you're getting something back as well."
Freelance writer Ellen Uzelac is based in Chestertown, Md.; the former West Coast bureau chief and national correspondent for The Baltimore Sun, can be reached at email@example.com.