From the October 2013 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

October 1, 2013

Fast Riser

Neil Weissman has moved rapidly to build a thriving practice

Neil Weissman doesn’t just meet challenges—he vigorously seeks them out.

Take, for example, becoming an FA during the financial crisis—and in the devilishly hard-hit Detroitmarket, at that. A career-changer, he had not a single client at the outset. Yet the resourceful rookie achieved uncommon success: In his first year, he raised $20 million-plus in assets—$13 million more than his goal.

Starting at an independent firm, the advisor, 40, has managed the Weissman Eppler Showich Investment Group of Wells Fargo Advisors since 2011. He personally has more than $93 million in assets under management; the group’s total AUM, from high-net-worth individuals and families, totals nearly $350 million. Based inAnn Arbor, Mich., Weissman specializes in alternative investments.

A calm and collected type no matter the chaos swirling, he has a motto: “People who put themselves in a position to be successful, find themselves successful.” The FA has indeed proven that by the speed at which he has developed his practice. Over the last five years, he has raised approximately $150 million in assets.

He was recruited by Wells Fargo from Telemus Capital Partners, a large RIA in Ann Arbor, where he set up shop in 2008.

“Neil is brilliant at finding out what you need and figuring out how to meet that need when you didn’t even know you asked for it,” says Heather Hunt-Ruddy, managing director and market manager for Wells Fargo Advisors’ Detroit market. She recruited Weissman.

The automotive industry was where he spent the first seven years of his first career. An engineer by training with a master of science from Stanford University, Weissman challenged himself indeed by switching to financial services.

“Learning a whole new industry was the toughest thing but also the best career decision I’ve ever made,” he says.

The financial crisis was, for him, a blessing in heavy disguise. “It turned out to be great timing because people were willing to listen to new ideas; [many] didn’t trust their advisors. I talked about the importance of staying rich, not getting rich—and winning by not losing,” he says.

Now that interest rates are on the ascent, “It’s the same message about wealth preservation but being tactical in a volatilely changing market. For a retiree,” he notes, “you’re going to shift some fixed income into a variable annuity, equities or cash.”

A step back to the future: Fresh from Stanford in 1996, Weissman joined the Ford Motor Co.’s management training program. He worked in a variety of areas, including engineering, manufacturing and business, and was based in Dearborn and Saline, Mich., and Cleveland.

From Ford, he moved to the Becker Group, an automotive supplier located, at the time, in Troy, Mich. It was during the company’s sale to Collins & Aikman that he was introduced to the world of finance.

“I got exposure to the investment banking side, the income statement side, building forecasts,” he recalls. When the Beckers launched a family office, “I began managing assets, half of which were hedge funds, private equity, and stocks and bonds. We used external managers, and I learned a lot about investing.”

So much, in fact, that he decided to become a financial advisor. By then, “I was managing the family’s money and had built a network of friends and colleagues. I felt I could help a lot more than this one family,” he says.

That’s when he picked up a Series 7 and opened for business at Telemus. Diving into his Rolodex, he prospected folks he knew from the automotive industry or through philanthropic and social ties. He set up breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings and even held a few roundtable events with investment experts.

But “it was a very soft sell. I told people I was [now an FA] and that if they ever knew of anyone I could help,” to refer them,” he says. Quickly, “it took on a life of its own.”Weissman, however, didn’t skip cold-calling the metro-Detroit area and also pursued out-of-town connections in New York-New Jersey, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Today only 25% of his book consists of Ann Arborclients.

During the meltdown, he “communicated safety” to nervous prospects who had lost money and no longer trusted their advisors, he says. He talked about being a long-term investor, diversification and the value of cash in a portfolio.

After three years with Telemus, he realized “I would never have a seat at the ownership table. And I also needed a bigger investment platform,” he recalls. Wells Fargo recruited him and fellow Telemus advisor Ron Eppler to team with Tony Showich, Weissman’s longtime personal friend whose employment at Wells Fargo dates from predecessor firm A.G. Edwards.

“Our group has a totally independent architecture with a very large amount of choices,” says Weissman, who serves on the boards of several organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor and the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a Detroit charter school.

He grew up in the village of Northport, Long Island, in New York, and received a bachelor of science in engineering from the University of Michigan. He recalls his engineering-teacher father advising: “If you get an engineering degree, you’ll have a very high-quality education and you’ll be able to do anything with it—become a lawyer, a doctor, a businessman or an engineer.”

Two out of four, so far, isn’t bad.

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