From the September 2011 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

September 1, 2011

American Dream

Earl Feldhorn of Wedbush Securities has worked to improve the lives of thousands of clients and has prospered along the way.

Earl Feldhorn; senior vice president; Wedbush Securities; Los Angeles, CA; AUM: About $300 million with partner Timary DeLorme

Why he likes his job: “The stock market is great fun. What we do as financial advisors has a lot to do with everything in the world. If I can improve clients’ economic well-being, it’s very wonderful.”

In 1938, 24-year-old Charlotte Feldhorn was nine months pregnant when she traveled from Vienna, Austria, to the Gestapo in Berlin to try to convince the Nazis into releasing her husband Julius from the Dachau concentration camp.

Despite the savage secret police pushing her down a flight of stairs, she managed to get to the Nazi in charge and indeed talked him into freeing Julius, who earlier had been imprisoned for months in the Buchenwald concentration camp.

The day after returning to Vienna from Germany, Charlotte delivered a son. Julius was released three months later — a hair’s breadth before Hitler stopped freeing prisoners — and with baby Earl in tow, the family fled to the United States.

“My father had started the process to get to the U.S. as soon as Hitler was elected. But one day the Nazis came and took him away,” says Earl Feldhorn, 72. “For years my mother didn’t like to talk about what happened. But just the other day [at age 96] she elaborated a bit. She said that the Gestapo supervisor was moved because she looked just like his daughter.”

For 49 years, Feldhorn has been a financial advisor at Los Angeles-headquartered Wedbush Securities, a brokerage firm and investment bank with 100 offices nationwide. He and partner Timary DeLorme manage about $300 million in assets for some 1,500 clients.

Feldhorn grew up mostly in New York City, but his career began in L.A., where it flourishes still. He joined Wedbush in 1962, six months after Dad Julius came aboard as a broker.

Based in the heart of the city’s revitalized downtown, the unassuming younger Feldhorn started as a 24-year-old trainee and rose to become producing branch manager of the L.A. office for 18 years. Now senior vice president, he was also, at various junctures, compliance officer, Pacific Stock Exchange floor trader and over-the-counter trader.

“Earl is one of the most honest people I know,” says Sam Yellen, a retired accountant and a client for two decades. “He never asks anybody to invest in anything he doesn’t believe in. Everything is thought out and a good decision.”

Feldhorn focuses on investing large-cap equities for high-net-worth clients and generating income via covered-call options. But he has no account minimum: “I don’t want to shut people out. It’s a lot of fun if you can take someone who has a modest amount of money and make it into” a lot.

The FA enjoyed his first taste of that in the 1960s, when he turned a pre-retiree postal worker’s $400 life savings into $40,000 — in three trades.

Feldhorn entered financial services following graduation from Bradley University, with a B.S. in business administration, and a short sales stint in the family furniture business. When Julius, a rabbi’s son who owned a furniture store in Austria, arrived in America, he could secure only odd jobs. Eventually, he went on to pioneer the aluminum outdoor furniture business and with great success.

But when, in Los Angeles, he was defrauded by his business partner, he made the move to stock brokerage. He died in 1992 at age 82.

As a struggling rookie broker, Earl worried that he’d fail to build a book of business.

“I was extraordinarily shy, and that made it harder,” he recalls. He hated telephone cold-calling and instead knocked on doors, delivering prospectuses to sales leads supplied by mutual fund companies. He specifically targeted African-Americans.

“I thought they, in particular — and minorities in general — were poorly represented as shareholders,” Feldhorn says.

The break he needed came when one lead, in the predominantly black, downscale L.A. neighborhood of Watts, gave him “a modest order,” he says, and then promptly provided him with 15 referrrals, all of whom became clients and referral generators too. In total, Feldhorn picked up more than 100 new customers.

He then began holding monthly seminars at meetings of an African-American club in L.A.’s Inglewood community. The talks brought him numerous referrals, including many business professionals.

At the office, he soon became a producing manager but ultimately found greater stimulation in working full-time with clients.

“As in sports, the real fun is being the player, not managing the team,” Feldhorn says. “What I really enjoy is the interaction with [clients] and trying to make them money.”

His research is meticulous. “The more I can learn about the product, the better,” says the advisor, who visits CEOs “to understand their companies’ potentials. I read a tremendous amount of annual reports — from the back page forward. P.R. is in the front; the back has numbers and who the directors are.”

Notable for his philanthropy, Feldhorn has been honored with chairs in his name at the University of Southern California; University of California, Los Angeles; and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

He has been most active in the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Los Angeles, serving as both past-president and treasurer. He became involved when a friend developed epilepsy after being struck by a car.

“Because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re about to see an explosion of epilepsy — the veterans’ hospitals are loaded. And it’s going to get worse,” the FA says.

When Feldhorn turned 40, his parents gave him a celebratory, first-time trip to his Vienna birthplace. They stopped also in Germany to see the Dachau concentration camp, which had been turned into a museum.

In Dachau, Julius got all dressed up in suit and tie. As he explained: “There’s always a chance one of the Nazis that imprisoned me is living here. I want them to see that Julius Feldhorn is alive and well and prosperous.”

But on their visit, Earl was deeply saddened when he saw the camp, his father’s barrack, “the ovens and maybe even worse, the hooks they put [the Jews] on before they put them in the ovens. A group of German nuns were there with us and started to cry uncontrollably. Everyone is shown a film; and,” Feldhorn says, “there are pictures, which are very gruesome and horrible.”

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