Career Began: 1969
Home Base: Houston, Texas
Civic Affiliations: University of Houston, The 100 Club, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Boy Scouts of America
When Howard Lorch applied for rookie status at a regional brokerage in Houston, he was told he didn't fit the profile of a successful broker.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," Lorch says. "The guy said: 'It doesn't look real good for you. You're young, you have no experience and psychological tests say you're more interested in people than you are in business.'"
Two years later, Lorch was one of two rookies to survive training class. Today, with $1.16 billion in assets under management, the 63-year-old Lorch is the top individual producer in Wachovia Securities' Private Client Group -- and the secret weapon of some of the nation's wealthiest families.
To fully appreciate the Lorch legend, consider this revealing admission from Brandon Perry, president of a family-owned firm, Global Capital: "At present, I work with over 20 brokers on a daily basis and have many solid relationships on Wall Street. My other brokers don't know this, but Howard has set the standard for all of them. I know what it's like to have a 'special' broker and few are able to live up to the standard that Howard has set."
Remarkably, Lorch and his longtime associate, financial consultant Trish Bonnot, run the practice single-handedly with no support staff. They manage roughly 250 accounts for oil company executives, high-net-worth individuals who manage money for their families and family foundations, NBA players and corporate CEOs.
Lorch attributes his business success to "right place, right time," but clearly there's something else at work here. It's passion.
"You know what this business is all about? You've got to eat your own cooking. I believe in what I do. I have a passion for the stock market and I believe in it. I have stocks in my own portfolio I've owned since the 1980s. They're good companies. Why sell? My clients invest for the long haul," says Lorch.
The son of Holocaust survivors, Lorch grew up in Schenectady, N.Y. His father, a buyer for a grocery chain, died when he was six. It was an early financial awakening. His mother learned to drive, went to work as a supermarket demonstrator, and baked cakes for social events on the side. "My father had been a good provider, but this was pretty much of a reality check for young kids," says Lorch.
When he was 12, Lorch got a paper route, his introduction to the business arena.
"That's when I really learned about the importance of customer service, something I still hold dear today. People wanted their paper on time, it was important to them and they wanted it not to be wet," says Lorch. "I also found I had a talent for sales."
It's a talent that has pushed Lorch to heights the Schenectady paper boy could never have dreamed of. Over the years, Lorch has been associated with gold-standard firms like Lehman Brothers, where he learned to gather assets, and Goldman Sachs, where he developed the tools to work with high-net-worth investors. Since he joined Prudential Securities in 1995 [which later became Wachovia], Lorch has been a member of the Chairman's Council. Earlier this year, he was named to the Barron's Top 100 Financial Advisors list.
Lorch has spent his career in Houston, drawn initially by the University of Houston, where he did his undergraduate and graduate work. Lorch had been basketball manager for Linton High School, known in his day for losing one game in three years. Guy V. Lewis, University of Houston's basketball coach, gave Lorch a scholarship and made him manager of the Cougars. Every year, Lorch and his wife, Jamie, donate a full financial scholarship to the university's athletic department for a student athlete
Notably, Lorch was pivotal in helping integrate the team during his tenure in the 1960s. At Lewis' request, he had ushered two black recruits around campus: Elvin Hayes, who went on to play for the Houston Rockets, and Don Chaney, who later joined the Boston Celtics. "It was a little touchy back then in terms of what to expect," Lorch says. "Since I'd grown up in an integrated area, he thought I'd be the perfect person to escort them around." The outcome: Hayes told Lewis he'd come to Houston, but only if Lorch would room with him. Today, Lorch is Hayes' trusted friend and advisor.
"So many athletes have wasted and squandered so much away. I think the success I have had in managing my assets was largely due to the years I spent with Howard as a great friend and a great roommate," notes Hayes. "My life has come full circle because instead of me managing my funds now, he does."
Lorch's ascent to the top tier of the industry is almost ironic when you consider how he got his start. Now, as then, he has a single driver: passion.
"I get these young brokers who come in here and the first thing they say is: 'You've done awfully well -- why aren't you retired? If I were you, I would have retired 10 years ago. Why are you still working?' The point is I'm not working," says Lorch. "This isn't a job, this is a passion."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.