December 2, 2013

Driver in Paul Walker Crash: Friend, Racing Fan—and Merrill Advisor

Walker’s financial advisor, Roger Rodas, was at the wheel of the car that ended their lives

Left to right: Jeff Westphal, Paul Walker, Roger Rodas and Carl Rydquist. (Photo: Facebook — Always Evolving) Left to right: Jeff Westphal, Paul Walker, Roger Rodas and Carl Rydquist. (Photo: Facebook — Always Evolving)

While millions mourn the loss of Fast and Furious film star Paul Walker, most fans of the popular film series know little about the driver of the red Porsche Carrera GT that crashed in an L.A. suburb on Saturday: that driver was Walker’s friend and financial advisor Roger Rodas.

But the demise, as a Facebook post puts it, of “the guy who was in the car with Paul Walker who isn’t being recognized because he wasn’t famous,” has indeed been acknowledged: More than 636,000 people liked the post, and nearly 87,000 have shared it as of Monday morning, an indicator that the fatal accident has touched many.

While Rodas wasn’t famous in the way that Walker was, he evidently had a wide impact as a Merrill Lynch financial advisor.

A media spokesman for Bank of America Merrill Lynch told ThinkAdvisor that Rodas “made the Barron’s Top 1,000 Advisors list for the last three years.”

The spokeman, Bill Halden, added that “Roger worked for Bank of America for over 20 years. Given that he was 38, he spent his whole career at Bank of America and became a financial advisor in 1997.

He literally worked his way up from an entry-level position at the bank at age 18. We’re deeply saddened by this news. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to the family of Mr. Walker,” Halden said.

Rodas’ association with Walker was the subject of an article on Merrill’s wealth management website, which says the two men met at a California race track. Apparently their enthusiasm for racing extended even to the car Rodas was driving, which Walker had previously owned — a Porsche GT3.

They struck up a friendship, and Walker’s occasional questions about finances led to a formal client relationship that began in 2007.

“The first item on their agenda was reorganizing Walker's portfolio, a hodgepodge of personal investments,” the Merrill article, written two years ago, says. “Rodas suggested a diversified, relatively conservative portfolio of stocks, bonds, cash and alternative investments, aimed mostly at preserving capital. And because an actor's income is sporadic, each time Walker completes another film, he and Rodas meet to re-evaluate his financial strategy to help make sure his long-term goals stay on track.

Paul Walker was well known for his charitable foundation, Reach Out Worldwide, which provided post-disaster relief in places like Haiti and Chile.

But news reports indicate that Rodas had his own prior experience in global charitable relief before he helped Walker set up Reach Out Worldwide in 2010.

Rodas, a Salvadoran immigrant to the United States, reportedly created a foundation to help widows and orphans in his native land.

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority public records show that the financial advisor, who worked from Merrill’s branch in Glendale, a close-in L.A. suburb, also disclosed his involvement in several outside business ventures related to his passion for racing.

Most were auto-related businesses he started and then sold. One going concern, which he co-owned with Walker and two other partners, is an automotive speed shop called Always Evolving that installs aftermarket wheels and performance parts on sports cars, as well as buys, modifies and sells sports cars. “I provide my car and race car and the shop does modifications and uses the cars,” Rodas disclosed.

Rodas and Walker were reportedly leaving an event their speed shop was sponsoring shortly before the fatal crash that left their bodies badly burned and unidentifiable.

A spokesman for the L.A. County Coroner’s office is quoted saying dental and medical X-rays may be needed to make a positive identification.

The accident, which turned a cherry-red Porsche into a mangled, burnt-out shell, leaves fans and racing enthusiasts with questions.

David M. Pintaric, owner of broker-dealer WRP Investments in Youngstown, Ohio, and who also races cars as a hobby, commented to ThinkAdvisor that “for the car to be torn in half like that, you’ve got to be moving along pretty good; Porsche makes too good a car for that” [to have happened absent extreme speed at impact].

Rodas’ combining of his professional life and his most cherished hobby is a textbook example of a true business niche, something that broker-dealers and marketing experts persistently counsel their advisors to find.

“It’s what propels someone to join the Kiwanis Club or a country club — because you enjoy something and if you could rub elbows with potential clients, so much the better. It comes down to: people like to do business with people they like,” Pintaric says.

“Is that the reason why you race cars? Absolutely not,” he says, adding that “smart people will see through an impure motivation in a heartbeat. If you’re there because you like racing, that’s great. If you’re there just to get clients, you’re not going to be successful at all and you shouldn’t be.”

The 38-year-old Rodas evidently shared Walker’s level of passion for racing, which is why the two became friends. The Merrill Lynch site’s article two years ago noted the two friends teamed up side by side for a pro-am 25-hour endurance race.

Walker had nearly finished shooting Fast & Furious 7 when the Thanksgiving weekend accident occurred. The Hollywood Reporter says its sources indicate that Universal plans to release the film, its biggest box-office franchise, in 2014 after making adjustments for its star’s demise.

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Check out 7 Famous Dads Who Make Good Financial Role Models on ThinkAdvisor.

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