From the May 2011 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

May 1, 2011

Life After Wall Street

For some professionals, leaving finance is a step toward changing the world.

The “Me Generation” could be aging into the “Benevolent Generation” — at least evidenced by the humanitarian second acts of a number of Wall Street war baby and baby boomer retirees.

For their next chapters, these men and women who built lucrative careers in financial services are following another passion, working not to make money but to make a difference.

George Clooney and Angelina Jolie may bring star power to philanthropic pursuits, but the fabulous four profiled below — including two former financial advisors — are no less deserving of a shout-out.

Virginia DeCristoforo

Virginia DeCristoforo, 61, has never had a shortage of dreams that came true: to become a business success, a pilot and a hot air balloonist — and to one day discover who her mother was.

But not even in her wildest dreams did she envision adopting three at-risk young children at age 57 and in the aftermath of a divorce. Yet, that’s what the ex-financial advisor did when she adopted Nicole, Tyler and Stella Rose — then 12, 11 and 7 — nearly half a decade ago. Siblings with a traumatic past, they had been split up and living in foster care in three different cities.

At the time, the ever-optimistic DeCristoforo — herself orphaned at age 2 — was a private banking vice president at Credit Suisse Securities in New York City, catering for 12 years to ultrahigh-net-worth investors and entrepreneurs with philanthropic foundations. Her prominent advisory clientele ranged from athletes to ambassadors.

About a year later, she retired to devote full-time care to Tyler, diagnosed as terminally ill and given six months to live. She had been an FA for 23 years.

“I didn’t feel it was right to continue to come up with creative advice for clients while trying to save my son’s life,” says DeCristoforo, who by then was managing assets of $500 million.

She was originally an insurance adjuster specializing in airline disaster cases. Shocked at the numerous victims swindled out of proceeds by bad investment advice, she thought: “I can really help these people.”

Thereupon, she picked up a master’s degree and became the first MBA that Morgan Stanley hired in its then-new MBA training program.

Born in Chicago, DeCristoforo as a toddler was yanked from her abusive parents’ home and abandoned to an orphanage.

At 18, never knowing who her parents were, she set out on her own, working three jobs daily to survive. A decade of night college later, she had a BS in hand. Following 10 years at Morgan Stanley, where she rose to vice president, she joined Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, later acquired by Credit Suisse.

More than two years after her retirement, son Tyler is doing so well he’s even attending school.

DeCristoforo had taken the youngsters into her big, suburban Redding, Conn., home in 2006 — through Connecticut’s Department of Children and Family Services — for “temporary respite care” in an effort, she says, “to put a family back together.”

Ending a nearly four-decade search three months earlier, she’d finally located her mother — a week after her death — and five incredulous siblings who never knew she existed.

Friends told the single DeCristoforo, then 56, that she was “too old” to rear more kids, the youngest of them age 6. Her biological daughter, Megan Marie, 24, had reservations as well.

But DeCristoforo paid no attention. “I truly believe that I can create anything by my sheer will and with God’s help,” she says. “He never gives us a dream without the capability to fulfill it.”

A year later, she legally adopted the children and received the People’s United Bank Humanitarian Hero Award; the family was named The Voice of Adoption for the State of Connecticut.

“This has been a full-time emotional, intellectual and spiritual journey,” DeCristoforo says. “I see my flaws. It’s all about personal growth.”

Does the former million-dollar producer miss Wall Street? Frankly, no. “What I liked about it was that we could really help people and provide tremendous service because clients weren’t as educated then in financial matters as they are today,” she says. Also, “all the scandals changed the industry. I didn’t want my name associated with it anymore. I still have the spirit to help people — but in other areas.”

Jim Owen

Watching Gene Autry and Roy Rogers westerns at Saturday kiddie matinees in Lexington, Ky., not only captured Jim Owen’s youthful imagination, it gave him a set of life-long values.

“At the end, the good guys — honest, loyal, courageous — always seemed to prevail,” says the forthright Owen, 70, a pioneering money manager and Wall Street Journal-dubbed rainmaker who triumphed in hedge funds and co-founded the Investment Management Consultants Association (IMCA).

In 2004, dismayed by corporate scandals that were rocking business, he retired from financial services and wrote the book Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West (Stoecklein, 2005).

Now, through his not-for-profit Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership (www.cowboyethics.org), he’s dedicating his time to inspiring corporate America and educators to adopt the values of the Old West.

“I’m not a cowboy — I don’t ride and rope. The cowboy is a symbol,” says Owen, based in Austin, Texas.

In 2004, he saw the emotionally moving western Open Range. “That was the spark that caused me to change careers. It took me back to my childhood, and I literally lost interest in the world of business. I spent my whole career chasing the buck,” he says. “Now I work for passion.”

Starting as an investment management consultant in 1975, he forged ahead and eight years later became a partner in NWQ Investment Management Company, where he spent the next 15 years.

Today, he’s driven to spread the cowboy ethics gospel. “We need to get back to basics, and the cowboy is a source of inspiration, representing the best of America: courage, optimism, self-reliance. Good ethics is good business,” he says. “Wall Street is worried about how to rebuild trust…. That’s why I do a lot of speaking to brokerage firms.”

Beyond the corporate arena, about 20 high schools — and the State of Wyoming — have adopted the Owen-created cowboy ethics code, which includes: “Live each day with courage,” “Be tough but fair” and “Remember that some things aren’t for sale.”

Owen now spends zero time studying the stock market, he says. “I’m bored discussing investing, stocks, economics and the Federal Reserve. I’ve been a right-brained guy in a left-brained career. Let’s talk about music and art.”

Jamie Waller

It’s a huge stretch from director of separately managed accounts in New York City to Christian missionary in Guatemala City. But that’s Jamie Waller’s true-life story.

“I knew God would call me and send me someplace to do something. I just didn’t know what or where or when,” says Waller, 54, founder of the Guatemalan Orphans CadaNino Mission.

In financial services, he created ground-breaking SMA technology and started the organization that became the Money Management Institute.

Since his retirement at the end of 2008, Waller has been helping severely mentally and physically disabled children, ages 6 to 13 — unable to speak or even crawl — as well as others with profound developmental disabilities, all living in Guatemala’s Centro Residencial Psiquiátrico Neurológico (Psychiatric and Neurological Hospital).

Living in an apartment two blocks away, he is a close-by and hands-on participant, giving the orphans play therapy and driving them to distant doctor appointments.

A 25-year Wall Street veteran, Waller ran Citigroup’s SMA unit with about $50 billion on the books. He launched the non-proprietary multiple disciplinary account, considered at the time to be “unique and cutting-edge,” he recalls.

Today, he misses the industry excitement and intellectual stimulation — “when times were good,” he says. But working with the children is “immensely emotionally rewarding. After our basic necessities are taken care of, whether we’re religious or not, we look for meaning in life. These are some of the happiest days of my life, fulfilling beyond my wildest imagination.” (His blog is at http://cadanino.blogspot.com).

The Schenectady, N.Y.-born son of a Bache broker in management, Waller boarded at the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy as a teen, then graduated from Syracuse University with a bachelor’s degree in English.

Just before turning 40, he sold the company he’d founded, Security APL — whose technology helped create the SMA industry — to CheckFree Investment Services and found himself wealthy enough to retire.

He opted against that, however, staying in the industry another 12 years, at Citigroup from 2001 to 2003.

By the end of 2008, the tech company he was then running hit a wall. The following year, he began missionary work.

“I love the kids, and I want everyone else to like them conceptually. We ignore the needy and most vulnerable people in society at a time when, generally, we have so much,” he says. “It’s been a thrill getting to know these children and to see God’s handiwork in their eyes.”

Hal Young

He is Don Hal, or Boss Hal, to the orphans of Venga Tu Reino.

Hal Young, 62, spent 28 years as a financial advisor, chiefly helping clients plan for retirement. Now he’s giving computers to destitute orphans in Nicaragua so they’ll have skills to land their first job.

Co-founder of award-wining broker-dealer Brecek & Young Advisors, Young retired three months after the firm’s 2008 acquisition by Securities America.

On a tour of Nicaragua four years earlier, he brought Christmas gifts to the children of Venga Tu Reino, an orphanage founded in an impoverished rural area near Leon for children whose parents perished in 1998’s catastrophic Hurricane Mitch. The orphanage’s name translates as Thy Kingdom Come.

“When we sold the stock in our company, we said we’ve been very blessed — now let’s give something back. The children of Venga Tu Reino stood out as an opportunity to help people that were in need,” says the father of seven with wife Denise. In 2006 the Youngs renamed their family foundation — established the previous year as a resource to help the orphans — Worldwide Child Relief Foundation (http://wwcrf.org).

Several times a year, Young and the other foundation volunteers bring the orphans a variety of supplies and crafting items. In February, they came with computers and began lessons in how to use them. Plus, the group cleared brush with machetes for a volleyball and soccer field. And Young was set to take six dentists with him in May to give extractions and provide preventive care.

The Santa Monica native’s first career was teaching junior high school math. On the side, however, he and school psychologist Roland Brecek sold 403(b) retirement plans to colleagues.

By the mid-1980s, Young was making as much in part-time financial services as in full-time teaching. Come 1992, he and Brecek launched their own Sacramento-based broker-dealer with 33 advisors. That team grew to 400 nationwide; and in 2004, the B-D’s gross revenues totaled more than $25 million.

Now an occasional advisor to advisors, Young plans to soon begin helping a second orphanage or school.

“All of us are God’s children,” he says. “What it gets down to is that one person isn’t worth more than another.” 

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