It was the thrill of a lifetime when, crossing the finish line in Frankfurt, Germany, he heard the announcer proclaim: "Larry Palmer, you're an Ironman!"
The rigorous triathlon competition was certainly a high point for the hard-driving "Type A" Palmer -- but only one more example of his impressive success story.
Fit in both body and mind, the Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido black belt, 48, is one of Smith Barney's leading financial advisors, heading a team of 12 that manages assets of $2 billion for 150 families. In the firm's top 5 percent of FAs, most of his ultra-high-net-worth clients are officers, directors and founders of public and private companies who have undergone a life-changing liquidity event.
Early in his 27-year career, Palmer -- now a managing director and senior advisor of Citi's Family Office, and a corporate client group director for institutional business -- memorized as much as he could of the entire Securities Acts of 1933 and '34. He wanted to know more about securities law than the corporate officers he called on.
"I don't feel comfortable going out and talking to my clients about anything unless I think I know more about it than they do," says the dynamic Palmer, a member of Smith Barney's top-level Director's Council and the Director's Advisory Group, a panel that advocates for the firm's advisors.
Based in downtown Los Angeles, heart of the city's financial district, Palmer also maintains an office in Denver, Colorado, where seven on his team work. He and one Denver advisor are the group's only FAs.
Specializing in clients with mid-market businesses, Palmer has found L.A. to be particularly fertile ground: most mergers and acquisition activity, and liquidity events in public companies there occur at the mid-level of capitalization.
"The clients we love working with are successful, anonymous and wealthy," says Palmer, born and bred in Santa Monica.
"Larry is our family's finance professor," says long-time client Robin D. Richards, an e-commerce pioneer who founded, and sold, a series of Internet companies, including MP3.com and Tickets.com. "Larry's stewardship of my assets for consistent, predictable growth has been nothing short of amazing. In 15 years, I've never had a loss."
Training, preparation and learning are what Palmer is about. That's what, he says, gives clients added value. He has a B.A. degree in economics from the University of Southern California at Los Angeles, earned in 1982, but since then, has also picked up the designations, CFP, CIMA, CEP (Certified Equity Professional) and CTP (Certified Treasury Professional).
He puts high priority on being "in the know" about world events. These days, he says, "you have to be much more well educated, on top of your game and focused on the dynamics of what's going on globally because it's effecting everything that's happening in the capital markets in the U.S. and elsewhere."
His high-profile practice started out in an E.F. Hutton bullpen, in L.A., where the then-rookie cold-called names from reverse phone directories.
But once a week, he remembers, "we were lucky and got a stack of Dun & Bradstreet leads -- like [salesmen] in [the play] 'Glengarry Glen Ross.' We cold-called a hundred contacts a day."
Palmer's favorite prospects to visit now are first-time public companies listed on Nasdaq. "They need our services the most," he says.
He has modeled himself after star producers before him, not only "passionate but also great teachers. That's what clients relate to," he says.
In tenth grade, young Palmer aspired to be "a businessman who wore suits and had a corner office," he says. By the time he was in college and interning simultaneously at Dean Witter, he was well on his way. Right after graduation, he joined E.F. Hutton, moving to Kidder Peabody five years later -- a week before the October 1987 crash.
"You looked at the screen, and it literally stopped your heart because you were young and inexperienced and you'd never been through something like that," he says. Plus, "I was transitioning my clients from one firm to another during the market dislocation -- very, very frightening. It was a seminal moment. I said, 'It's time to take my game up:' I didn't know as much as I thought I should have."
At Kidder, he began concentrating on high-net-worth individuals in mid-market companies. His turning point came with the realization that those who amassed large pools of capital were folks who had big blocks of restricted stock in public firms.
"They were also people who had no time. So," he says, "they needed our services to help them plan and be their financial advisors."
In the early '90s, Palmer, scoping out opportunity among public companies in Denver, commuted monthly for four years between there and L.A. In 1996, two years after joining Smith Barney, he relocated to Denver and reverse-commuted. He returned to L.A. permanently in 2003, but retained the Colorado office.
What does he do for fun? Triathlons -- even acing that challenging Ironman cycling-swimming-racing event in 2002. He also finds time to surf the Pacific four times a week, scuba dive, take photos underwater and, in winter, go snowboarding.
The most gratifying aspect of his work is that clients put their trust in him. "When someone interviews five people and chooses you," he says, "that takes a giant leap of faith. It's difficult for someone you don't know to say, 'Hey, you're my guy!'"
Freelance writer Jane Wollman Rusoff is a Los Angeles-based contributing editor of Research and is the founder of Family Star Productions.