August 17, 2012

Olympians and Advisors: A Win-Win

Two Merrill Lynch advisors share how they came to have top athletes as clients and as business partners

Merrill Lynch's Pearce Group of Towson, Md. Merrill Lynch's Pearce Group of Towson, Md.

Olympic athletes are, as expected, highly motivated, focused and competitive individuals. But according to several advisors who have them as clients, they also are easy to work with and highly engaging busines partners.

“I met [Olympic ice-hockey goalie] Jim Craig about five years ago, when he was hired by Merrill Lynch (BAC) to give a speech to the Mid-Atlantic reps,” said Kent Pearce of the Pearce Group in Towson, Md., in an interview with AdvisorOne. “There was a dinner afterward, and that was when we completely clicked. It felt like I’d known him for 20 years.”

The two have formed a fairly close relationship, says Pearce. After he met Pearce’s private-wealth team, Craig said he wanted to have the group “protect all our resources, including our name and legacy,” said the advisor, who leads a group of 10 professionals with about $1 billion in assets under management. “It’s a great honor to work with such a recognized icon in sports.”

Craig, the goaltender for the U.S. Olympic hockey team at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, is best known for helping the Americans to defeat the Soviet and Finnish teams—and win the gold medal. He played in the National Hockey League in the 1980s and now runs a consulting firm, Gold Medal Strategies.

“He is the epitome of a Total Merrill client, since we work with him on real estate, other properties like yacht, personal investments, trust accounts, business accounts and more,” said Pearce. “This also shows the power of resources and the power of Merrill to help run the legacy of someone not in the same area.” (Pearce is in Maryland, while Craig is based in Massachusetts and Florida.)

Advisor Patricia Barksdale (left), an advisor with Merrill Lynch in Newark, N.J., met four-time summer Olympian Joetta Clark Diggs at a YMCA golf tournament about 10 years ago. “She was in my group, which included two of my clients. A lot of camaraderie developed, and she stayed in touch,” said Barksdale, who manages about $165 million in assets.

Like Pearce, she says her Olympian client (who ran the 800-meter event) “fits into my mix because we are very community oriented,” said Barksdale. “This makes the relationship more binding, as we share the same passions. Many people see you as being sincere (or not) with your passions, and that is really what bonds relationships—outside of the investment world.”

Barksdale is involved in financial literacy work, for instance, as well as programs that support youth and families in transitions.

“Also, we both believe that to main a healthy lifestyle involves many things. She has Health, Wealth & Fitness program—which is her concept, which ties many of the topics we’ve shared in conversations together.”

Also like Pearce, Barksdale works with a variety of clients in the sports world, as well as with entertainment professionals and other community-oriented individuals. “I am selective in that way and believe there has to be more than investments that tie people together. It’s about the things that help us cohesively bond—the things that are truly important.”

For Pearce, who works with several National Football League players and other clients, his team’s client base, priorities and success have become very well aligned over the years.

“It comes down to the matching of personal, family and firm-level values,” he explained. “I’ve been here 18 years. It’s all about integrity and the value systems lining up. Trust is built this way.”

Pearce’s relationship with Craig, for instance, means that the two contact each other about everything. “It’s a great relationship. He’s in touch with everyone on my team, and it’s opened doors to other professional sports-team owners and business executives.”

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