Welcome to Research magazine's Advisor Hall of Fame, now in its 18th year. This eagerly anticipated annual feature has become a benchmark of excellence in our industry and an example to all of the rewards that result from effort and integrity.
Candidates who pass our rigorous screens have served a minimum of 15 years in the industry, have acquired substantial assets under management, demonstrate superior client service and have earned recognition from their peers and the broader community for the honor they reflect on their profession.
Finding the nation's finest financial advisors is made possible by the wisdom and discernment of our panel of six distinguished judges: Patricia Abram, Ron DeLegge , Kenneth Fisher, Bill Good, Jay Nagdeman and Stanton Selbst . Their discriminating judgment has enriched our Hall of Fame with five extraordinary new members. With no further ado, here are their stories.
Managing Director-Investments, Sargent Investment Group of Wachovia Securities, Washington, D.C.
Sargent began his career in 1966 and is affiliated with the Washington National Cathedral, College of Preachers, St. Alban's School and Beauvior School.
Colleagues joke that Chris Sargent has operated largely under the radar because he is gentle and modest. Yet the 68-year-old Sargent has been a million-dollar-producer for over 25 years and manages close to $1 billion -- not that he would tell you so himself.
Sargent, a sixth-generation Washingtonian, doesn't seek power. Power comes to him: corporate executives, Congressmen, Senators, litigators. They're all part of this city's signature -- and, to some extent, Sargent's own clientele.
The soft-spoken Sargent admits to a certain amount of humility. As he puts it: "Our field is full of people that are very aggressive Alpha types. I'm always amazed when someone is that aggressive. It's just not the way I am. I guess I'm understated. I think it's a better way to be. You don't have to tell everyone up front you're particularly good at something. Let them find out."
Over the last 43 years, Sargent has indeed become "particularly good" at something: buying micro-, small- and mid-cap companies with clean balance sheets, talented management and promising futures.
"This is my passion. It's searching for that stock that is going to the moon, searching for that great success story. It's the hunt," says Sargent, who manages money for 400 high-net-worth clients in offices next to the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington. "I'm not a trader. I'm investing for the long term. That's really Nirvana for me -- to find a stock you never have to sell."
As a case in point, a client 20 years ago introduced Sargent to Telephone and Data Systems, a Chicago-based firm. The client had gone to school with the company's CEO and was interested in investing in it. So Sargent hosted a luncheon in Washington for company management and invited clients of his who were familiar with the sector along with analysts from local money management firms. It was all part of the hunt -- and a vetting process that is all-Sargent.
"I came away knowing 20 times what I knew before. To me, management is 90 percent of the game. That stock is still going up today, and it's up 30 to 40 times in value. We still own it," he says. "It's a process that has played out many times over the course of a career."
Sargent got a taste for investment research in the 1960s when he interned in the research department of a regional brokerage, Auchincloss, Parker and Redpath, during two summers when he was in college.
"It was fun and interesting. They did their own underwritings. The senior partners were on the boards of most of the locally prominent companies. They specialized in local stocks and you really got a flavor of what was going on in the community," he says.
After graduating from Williams College and serving three years in the Navy as a line officer, Sargent adds: "I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I came back to Auchincloss." That was in 1966 and while the firm's name has changed -- from Thompson McKinnon to Prudential Securities to Wachovia Securities, and soon to come, to Wells Fargo -- one constant has remained: Chris Sargent.
Forrest E. Williams, Sargent's branch manager and a colleague since 1972, calls Sargent a "classic," saying he's had an undeniable impact on the branch.
"Branches often take on some of the personality of their largest producers. My job has been made easier in many respects by the individuals in this branch emulating Chris Sargent in terms of his presence and demeanor, his class, work ethic and high standards. Plus, he likes stocks and loves to talk about them to all levels -- from the seasoned vets to new trainees. And he does it on his own, one on one," observes Williams. "He sets a tone here. His staff exhibits these same traits, so it really rubs off on the entire office."
Sargent's team includes two administrators, Pamela Smith Bolanis and Mary Hong Harte -- who help with investment research and clients -- along with their two assistants. Sargent -- who with his wife, Anne, is a passionate collector of China trade art -- has never advertised and his practice, with its $1 million minimum, has grown organically through word of mouth.
Sargent says he has been amazed at the reaction of clients to the current market downturn. "So many have called us to see how we are doing -- not how they're doing. It's been extraordinary and really gratifying," he says. "You hate to see people losing money, a lot of money in this kind of market. You just try and ride through a storm like this. It's handholding, keeping people calm and rational, and trying not to let people let fear take over. You don't sell a stock just because the market is treating it poorly."
Twice named to Barron's annual list of Top 100 Financial Advisors, it was the prestigious Wachovia Way award in 2005 -- celebrating Sargent's professional successes as well as the contributions he has made to his community -- that has meant the most to him.
Sargent's plan going forward? To keep doing what he's doing.
"I've been going at it for 43 years. I will at least go for 50," he says. "I do love the business."
DANIEL L. STANLEY
Financial Advisor, Edward Jones.
Based in Joplin, Mo., Stanley began his career in 1982 and is affiliated with the Freeman Hospital Foundation, Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and the Joplin Humane Society.
Back in 1992, over coffee at McDonalds, Edward Jones advisor Jim Goodknight sketched out a contract on the back of a paper napkin that would have him share a portion of his clients with an up-and-comer named Dan Stanley.
The story is the stuff of legend. Since then, 1,865 Goodknight plans -- as they have come to be known -- have been executed, allowing veteran advisors to spin off a portion of their business to those just getting their start.
Whatever became of Dan Stanley? Plenty. A household name in his hometown of Joplin, Mo., Stanley is well known for his tireless commitment to his community on the northern edge of the Ozarks. "Mr. Joplin," he's been called. And his production ranks him in the top 1 percent of the nation's nearly 11,000 Edward Jones advisors. In a fitting move, Stanley has completed three Goodknight plans himself -- including two to his sons.
"I'll never forget Jim sketching out three boxes on the back of that napkin. One box represented his preferred clients, the ones he was going to hold on to because they needed better service. Another box represented the clients I would develop on my own. The box in the middle represented 1,000 accounts we would share for the next year and a half. Jim told me: 'We'll share those commissions 50-50 and those clients will become your clients.' We were together five years and it just changed my life -- and my family's life," says Stanley, 63. "I wish I still had the napkin."
Today, Stanley manages $188 million in assets for just over 700 households. As did his mentor, he has retained his oldest clients with the most complicated situations -- doctors, entrepreneurs and widows, primarily. At one point Stanley had over 100 retirement plans, but he's transferred most of those to his sons, Ryan and Logan. Like their enthusiastic father, they too operate Edward Jones branches in Joplin.
Interacting with clients, Stanley says, is "by far my driver, my satisfier, my fulfiller" -- and it shows. When he shared his clients with his sons, for example, he held on to many clients with lesser portfolios. Why? "I kept a full spectrum of socioeconomic clients. I knew some would be devastated if I transferred them," he says. "They would be deeply hurt so I didn't do it." Not surprisingly, Stanley's office has among the highest "client service excellence" ratings in the Edward Jones network.
Part of what Stanley has created over the years is something he attributes to his parents -- both of whom were huge civic leaders -- and to his Midwestern upbringing. "I'm so blessed to have had the mom and dad I had. They created in me this concern for other people," says Stanley. "And I think one thing the Midwest has that's somewhat lacking in certain metropolitan hubs -- and Warren Buffett and Sam Walton portray this -- is just common sense. So much of life is common sense and common decency. In this whole financial services meltdown, there's been a lack of that."
Stanley, who once considered becoming a minister, has had a unique career arc. The advisory business, for example, represents his second -- and fifth -- careers. For years, he was a Ford dealer in Joplin, taking over the family business at age 24 when his father died. By 1982, he owned an Oldsmobile dealership that was being unionized. The day after the union election, a friend told him that Edward Jones was hiring a lot of graduates of Westminster College, Stanley's alma mater.
"A light just went off in my head," says Stanley. At the time, he had a small account with Jim Goodknight and Mike Esser, a fraternity brother, was an advisor with the firm. It was Esser who recruited him. "He told me this will be the hardest thing you've ever done, and you've done some pretty hard stuff," Stanley recalls. "Mike Esser was absolutely right. It was the hardest job I ever had."
Edward Jones wouldn't let Stanley stay in Joplin. "You'll only ever be known here as an auto dealer," Edward Jones chief Ted Jones had told him. So Stanley opened the company's first office in Raleigh, N.C. "I didn't know a single person. I went door to door, house to house, office to office, store to store." He was on track to become a regional manager when he left the business in 1985 to buy into a Ford dealership in Colorado. As he puts it: "We bought the dealership at exactly the wrong time, almost to the day."
A year and a half later, he sold that business and returned to Joplin as a business development officer and internal sales manager for a bank. He had kept his securities licenses current and during occasional lunches with Goodknight, the man who was to become his mentor talked about putting together a partnership with Stanley.
Then came the paper napkin.
"He was good enough to come back to Edward Jones. He not only established a profitable business for Jones, he did become a regional leader of one of the oldest regions in the firm," says Esser, now a principal with the firm. "Through all his difficulties, Dan was always still Dan. He still believed that good things would happen to people who worked hard and applied themselves. If there is any more of a humane way to live, I don't know what it is."
MARGARET CHOW STARNER
Senior Vice President, Starner Group of Raymond James & Associates.
Based in Coral Gables, Fla., Starner began her career in 1981 and is affiliated with the John T. McDonald Foundation and Teach for America.
In the 1970s, Margaret Chow Starner did something almost unthinkable for a woman at the time when she created a class called "Everything You Wanted to Know about Money but Were Afraid to ask."
Through the League of Women Voters, Starner had met highly educated women who were savvy about community and political affairs -- but had no grasp of their own finances.
Starner, who was to become widely recognized as a trailblazer in the financial planning industry, was about to change that.
"It was a whole different world. Most people back then didn't even understand how to buy Treasuries," says Starner, whose bio by then included long-range strategic planning for entities such as the Stanford Research Institute, the Ford Foundation and United Airlines. "These were women married to corporate executives who wanted to be part of the decision-making of the family. They really wanted to make a difference in their financial affairs."
Ever the maverick, Starner taught the three-part class at community centers, tennis clubs and non-profits in Miami -- and in doing so recruited women who would one day become her first clients.
Starner first heard about the then new CFP designation in the late 1970s. "I really thought it would be the wave of the future," says Starner, one of Raymond James & Associates' topmost producers -- and its top woman producer. "Conceptually, it was exactly what I wanted to do."
Starner, 70, carved out a career path at a time when there were very few mile markers. "I formed relationship groups with a handful of other planners around the country. We taught each other," says Starner, whose wealth management group manages $330 million in assets. "It was a very pioneering time."
When she joined Raymond James & Associates in 1981, she even cut a deal where she wouldn't be responsible for selling anything her first year. Rather, she wanted to spend her energy learning the business.
"Women take a little longer to develop. In general, women want a higher degree of confidence before they tell someone what to do. Make no mistake, women are great advisors. From a competence standpoint, there's not a huge difference," says Starner, who earned $12,000 her first year. "I wasn't interested in making a lot of money. That wasn't what I was looking for. I was interested in learning the ropes. I had a unique situation -- but underneath it all, I think they thought I would make it."
Today, Starner and her two associates, Scott Weingarden and Bruce Cacho-Negrete, have 150 client units -- high-net-worth widows, corporate executives, business owners and other professionals -- with an average account size of $3 million to $8 million. Their business is purely referral, primarily from attorneys and accountants. And, as Starner puts it, it's invitation-only.
"One of the criteria is that you really have to buy into the planning process. This is a process all about where you want to go in your life. Money is just a proxy for your options in life. Yet a lot of people say, 'I just want to make as much money as I can.' We're not the right group for that person," says Starner, who has a degree in economics from Stanford University. "There's no point in taking clients if you can't make a difference in their lives."
Starner grew up in small-town Mississippi. Her family, the only Chinese in the area, operated and later owned a grocery store there. When her father insisted she attend Stanford, she reluctantly left.
Starner's first career in strategic planning helped prepare her for the eventual move to financial planning. At United, for example, she worked on allocation models for purchasing decisions -- providing a nice segue to asset allocation.
"All my experiences transferred," she adds. League of Women Voters meetings, for instance, are built around consensus and participation. "You cannot stay silent at a meeting. You're encouraged to articulate what you're thinking. I saw a lot of women really develop," she says. "It's the same with the planning process -- helping people begin to articulate what they want or how they feel about things."
Starner has always been an advocate for women -- both clients and other advisors. In 1992, she helped establish the Raymond James Women's Advisory Board, focused on fostering opportunities for women at the firm. In 2006, she was honored as the Raymond James "Woman of Distinction," an annual leadership award recognizing a senior-level woman who has made a significant impact on the firm and created opportunities for the women who will follow.
"She likes to mentor," notes Karen Schultz, director of the firm's Network for Women Financial Advis ors. "She's an idea person, she always has ideas: how to do it, how to do it better, how to do it more efficiently. She's always trying to get other advisors to look at their own practices and challenge them. She's someone people listen to."
Named in 2007 and again this year by Barron's as one of the "Top 100 Women Financial Advisors in America," Starner continues -- deep into her career -- to push her own boundaries. "The nice thing about this business is that it's very mental instead of physical. I'm still fascinated and energized," she says. "Best of all, I'm having fun and, I hope, making a difference."
GERALD "ZEKE" STRID
Managing Director, Strid Wealth Managment Group of Wachovia Securities.
Based in Berwyn, Pa., Strid began his career in 1968 and is affiliated with Project H.O.M.E. and Siloam.
When Erik Strid was a boy, he remembers his father disembarking from a Philadelphia commuter train after work wearing no socks. Asked why, his dad replied: "Someone needed them more than I did."
The story is signature Zeke Strid, a man who has been an indefatigable advocate for Philadelphia's homeless for 40 years. For the 65-year-old Strid, it's not just about writing checks but delivering clothing, blankets, water -- and hugs.
"The thing that would amaze you, if you came with me for a day, is the intelligence level of people on the street. They all have a story, some trigger in their life that put them in this position. When you sit down, you can't fool them and when you walk away, you think: 'Holy mackerel. I just had a good conversation.' The only difference is that the person behind the teeth is dirty," says Strid. "Everyone has a right to human dignity, a right not to sleep out in the cold, a right to have someone give them a hug. We give dogs more human contact. These are human beings. Can't we just show them some human decency?"
It's a question that has helped define this financial advisor's life. His passion is so well known that clients and friends routinely leave clothing and blankets in Strid's car or garage in anticipation of his next visit to the streets. In 2006, he organized a gala that raised $1.7 million for Project H.O.M.E. in a single night. Earlier this year, Strid was given the Heart of Siloam award for his work with an organization that serves street people who have AIDS.
Strid's heart is so big, in fact, that he and his wife, Kris, have provided a home to 23 students from Villanova University over the years. Some simply couldn't find on-campus housing. Others had more serious problems -- substance abuse or academic and financial challenges. Most stayed a year; one student lived with the Strids for four.
"We have five kids of our own, nine grandchildren and two on the way," says Strid, a former defensive tackle for Villanova who lives across the street from the campus. "What the hell is the difference? One more face at the party doesn't change the stew."
A natural storyteller, Strid lives by example -- a fact that's not lost on the families and business owners that make up his client base. While many advisors have kept a low profile during the market meltdown, for example, Strid has been actively contacting clients, even if they don't own stocks, and dispatching a weekly commentary on market volatility. And here's a real measure of the man: Between August and October, the wealth management group Strid operates in Berwyn, Pa., with his two sons, Erik and Paul, took in $30 million in new client assets.
"People don't leave their advisors because of performance in most cases. They leave because of a lack of service or they feel they've been left in the dark and no one cares about them," says Strid, who manages $300 million in assets. "We care."
An advisor since 1968, Strid got his start at several Philadelphia brokerages, then spent 23 years with Merrill Lynch. As a young parent concerned about how he was going to finance the college educations of his five children, Strid developed an education planning program -- based on Treasury-insured zero-coupon bonds -- that went firm-wide.
Strid joined Wachovia Securities in 2003. His son Erik, 39, serves as the firm's managing director/investment officer, and Paul, 33, is managing director/financial consultant. During the market's recent travails, no one has appreciated Strid's long view of investing more than his sons.
"It's been great to lean on him, sitting at lunch, and saying: 'Take me back to 1987, what was it like? What were you going through? What were clients saying? How did you handle it?' He's not only been through this before but he's been through this with our clients before," notes Paul Strid. "The experience of him having lived through various markets over time has been invaluable."
As for the elder Strid, he says the most important thing right now is to successfully manage client behavior. "We're down like everybody else. Nobody saw this thing coming," he says. "But we keep a pretty balanced portfolio, depending on age. We'll weather the storm."
Strid also worries about the psychological toll the market tumult is having on some advisors.
"What we have tried to do, and I have always told my boys: You run toward the problem, you do not run away from it. Our job right now is to manage people so they don't go crazy and make an irrational move in an irrational time. You only take a loss when you sell. Personally, in my heart, I think we'll come through this -- like everything," Strid adds. "Initially, we were calling clients weekly, if not daily. Now we're at the point where they are saying to us: 'How are you guys holding up?' That's the turn I was waiting to see."
IRA A. WALKER
Senior Vice President-Investments, The Walker Group, UBS Financial Services.
Based in Red Bank, N.J., Walker began his career in 1985 and is affiliated with the New Jersey Paper Mill Playhouse and the Ranney School.
Ira Walker has been called an "organizational genius," a "true visionary" and one of Wall Street's "most watched" financial advisors.
With more than $1 billion in assets under management, the 52-year-old Walker has created one of the industry's most successful financial teams with a core clientele that reads like a Who's Who of New Jersey.
But in some respects, Walker is just getting started. His goal is to manage $10 billion to $20 billion in assets over the next 10 years and build a business he can one day turn over to his children.
As he looks across the industry, something he studies carefully and critically, Walker observes: "The industry is changing rapidly, and the professional advisors that will survive will be the best. Ultra- and high-net-worth clients will be better served, in my opinion. It will be a great benefit to the investor."
Walker, who grew up in Brooklyn, had been intrigued by the stock market when he was in college and became hooked when he watched a stockbroker work the room at a party in the mid-1980s.
"The whole party, and there were probably 20 people there, was listening to this one person. The command she had over these people, the knowledge she had...I thought that's something I'd love to be able to do," says Walker. And do it he did.
In 1985, Walker joined Shearson Lehman Brothers, becoming one of the top rookie financial consultants in the firm's history. Two years later, he joined Morgan Stanley, his corporate home for 20 years. Earlier this year, he and his seven-member team left Morgan Stanley for UBS Financial Services, where he is ranked among the top 10 producers.
Walker, in constant touch with his top clients, says he joined UBS because its focus on wealth management is more in line with his practice. "It was very hard to leave, very stressful," he says. "But it's the greatest move I've ever made."
Jamie Price, co-head of UBS' Wealth Management Advisor Group US, calls Walker a self-made man who wisely built a team early and has "outworked" most people. "He's extremely hard-working, extremely competitive and he's always focused on what he thinks is right for his clients and his business," says Price, who helped recruit Walker. "When we hired him he brought all his assets -- and then some. He's a person who takes very much pride in his business."
A lot of advisors have robust businesses, but Walker's has been a little different from the start. His vision always, he says, was to act as a financial advisor and planner as opposed to a traditional stockbroker. "My interest was finding out everything I could about an individual and really understanding an individual's objectives, investment goals and personal life -- and then create an asset allocation model based on those objectives," Walker notes.
Moreover, since he inaugurated the platform at Morgan Stanley in 2002, Walker has managed portfolios entirely composed of ETFs. Operating as a boutique asset management firm, Walker says the all-ETF strategy has allowed him to reduce fees and to give clients more flexibility, liquidity and greater tax efficiencies. It's also enabled him to access different financial markets worldwide.
"It's a tremendous platform and every year it gets better and better as ETFs in the marketplace increase. And it's a very scalable program," he adds. "A client with $1 million can be invested in the same way as a client with $300 million."
It's an investing model that has also insulated his clients from the vagaries of the current market climate. As Walker puts it, "They don't own individual stocks, and therefore the ETF strategy instantly diversifies them. It's a major benefit in this kind of environment. My clients understand the strategy and because they know they're diversified, it minimizes the amount of stress a client has."
Nonetheless, Walker and his team are in regular contact with clients, keeping them apprised on a daily basis by e-mail or phone about what's going on in the market. "A lot of people have a fear of communicating," says Walker. "Client communication is paramount for us."
Walker once said about his team: "We frequently joke that we are all parts of one body. One person's an arm, one person's a leg, one person's the head -- everyone has a different function, but we fit together into a whole, and that's what makes us go. It's a very healthy environment to work in. We focus solely on making the clients happy."
The group doesn't just help clients with their financial needs. If a client needs a private jet, Walker can make the arrangement. He also counsels clients' young heirs about the responsibility of wealth. As for his annual client event, it is reputed to be among the best on Wall Street.
Over the next years, look for Walker to grow the business he hopes one day to give to his children, now 17, 16 and 14. "I'm building the business up for them. They're all tremendously interested in the financial markets. They manage their own money in their accounts through me," he says. "In five to 10 years, hopefully, there will be more than one Walker in the Walker Group."
2009 Research Advisor Hall of Fame
Nominations are due: Sept 4, 2009. Advisors must be 15 or more years as a registered rep; show superior performance in building business, servicing clients and managing money; have recognition/respect of peers; show civic, community and other professional involvement; have an impeccable compliance record.
Nominations should include support materials, like client testimonials; letters from managers/executives at the respective firm; and any press stories or public notices of advisory services and/or community involvement.
For both, send materials to: email@example.com or
Hall of Fame
c/o Jamie Green
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Hoboken, NJ 07030
NOTE: Photos by Mark Regan, Mark Wright, Matthew Pace, Dave Moser and Daniel Byrne.
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.