Steamboat Financial Group
Career Began: 1980
Home Base: Washington, Mo.
Civic Affiliations: Washington Rotary Club, Franklin County Humane Society, East Central College
When Eric Park was a child, he became intrigued with a board game about investing. Roll the dice and indicators would move up or down, changing interest rates and currencies. His mantra at the time: Let's play again.
"I've had a passion about investing since I was a single digit," says Park, an investment strategist whose youthful enthusiasm informs his work today. "It seems to me I've grown up doing that thing I found as a child to be so interesting. Then it was play. Now I get to do it for real. I almost feel like I've never worked yet because every day I get up and I go to a place I still feel passionate about. People joke that if I die and go to heaven, I'll wake up at my desk."
With $200 million in assets under management, the 50-year-old Park has built a business model that is defined by strategies, processes and systems. "If you can't reduce it to writing, it doesn't count," he says. "If it isn't planned, we don't do it." There's only one standard -- and it's a gold one.
As Park's colleague, LPL branch manager George R. Meyer, frames it: "Eric is a believer that very few good things happen without defined courses of action."
It's a lesson Park learned early. He grew up in Missouri -- his father was a barber, his mother a practical nurse. Park joined the Army out of high school so that he could later attend college on the G.I. Bill. "There was no money for college," he says. "I had to enable myself to do it."
Obviously, education has been a driver in Park's life. Call it another passion. After getting an undergraduate degree in business from the University of Missouri, he got two masters -- one in finance and the other in personal financial planning. At the moment he is a doctoral candidate in consumer and family economics.
Park co-founded Steamboat Financial Group, an LPL affiliate, 14 years ago after working with a mutual fund company, A.G. Edwards and a division of PNC Bank. "We don't have our name on stadiums and we don't advertise at the Super Bowl. But we had good reputations in the community," he says. "People started pouring in the door as soon as we put the sign out."
Park's team, four people in all, serves a client base that includes physicians, entrepreneurs and people of modest means. Park doesn't believe in minimum account sizes, calling them alienating. "I came from very modest beginnings. I'm not going to do that to people," he says. A certified financial planner, Park designs the investment strategies for his team. "We don't wing anything. We try not to get too clever," he notes. "We use traditional products and apply relatively sophisticated methodologies to make them work."
Park and his wife Donna, an accountant, have one child, Samantha, 21. When Samantha was a girl, Park heard her describe what her father does. It stuck then, and it sticks now.
"She said: 'Dad reads about things and tells people about what he reads,' says Park. "I haven't come up with a better description of it. There's so much to learn and for me that's been a real differentiating factor. My competition may be professional, competent and ethical. But ask them why they do what they do. After 25 years, I still show up an hour early for work because I love what I do and I never want to get complacent. That is a huge differentiator. I don't ever want to be adequate. Where's the zenith? How do you become stellar in what you do? That's the standard."
Not surprisingly, Park's business philosophy has a philanthropic link. For the past 20 years, he has served as a pro bono foundation fund manager for East Central College in Union, Mo. He volunteers on a state commission charged with the regulatory oversight of credit unions. At the moment, as assistant district governor of the Washington Rotary Club, he is heading up an effort to do micro-lending in Third World countries.
"In our business, we're able to make people wealthy. Those skills are transferable to people in impoverished areas. In this career, you can make a big difference," says Park, who also teaches new financial planners at the University of Missouri. "I think of it as an extension of what we do."
This past year, Park gave up management responsibilities for the nine-advisor-strong Steamboat Financial Group, refocusing his efforts on his own practice development.
"Eventually you get to a point where you have to make a choice: Are you going to be great at managing the business or great at working with clients? I found I couldn't do both. My clients are the people who brought me to the dance. They are the reason I have a house and my kid went to college. I chose the clients," says Park, who has seen a subsequent 30 percent uptick in assets. "It's almost as if people were waiting for me to change. At this point, I couldn't go back if I wanted to."
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.