The accidental advisor

Michael Foguth backed into a career he never dreamed of and discovered it was exactly what people needed

How Michael Foguth backed into a career he never dreamed of and discovered it was exactly what people needed. How Michael Foguth backed into a career he never dreamed of and discovered it was exactly what people needed.

Like most kids, Michael Foguth didn’t dream of becoming a financial advisor when he grew up.

His sights were set on a career in sports or business. But that changed in 2002 when the Internet stock bubble burst. Market prices plunged, taking with them his grandmother’s retirement savings.

“I saw the changes it made in her life from a personnel standpoint,” says Foguth, 34. “So I got plugged in to help her get on track with her financial needs.”

Once “plugged in” Foguth realized that his grandmother wasn’t alone. There were lots of people her age and younger who needed help planning their retirement. So he took a job in life and annuities with an independent advisor and started learning the job he never dreamed of.

“I said, man this is the place to be,” he remembers. “This is what people need.”

One day after training with the independent advisor and talking to other successful advisors, Foguth decided he knew enough about being an advisor to go out on his own.

 “So I opened my own shop,” he says.

Today, Foguth Financial Group LLC, located in Brighton, Michigan, handles different lines of insurance. But Foguth spends the majority of his workday helping older clients plan and manage their retirement because he has never forgotten the impact that a dramatic dip in the market had on his grandmother’s life.

“When you really have the opportunity to set the record straight and take care of people, it goes on for years and years,” the FFG’s founder says. “It’s something that impacts generations

It wasn’t so long ago that sports had a big impact on Foguth. As a kid he pulled the sports and business sections out of the morning paper as soon as it hit the ground. While in college he lived his dream, working in sales and marketing for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. He liked it but realized the job had its limitations.

That’s when the stock market bubble burst and Foguth “backed” into his future career.

“It isn’t a job you put on your transcript, you know when I grow up I want to be an advisor,” laughs Foguth, who is married and the father of five daughters. “I joke with my kids (asking) what do you want to be when you grow up. Nobody ever says an advisor.”

A decade later Foguth has compiled a pretty impressive portfolio of accomplishments. Along with appearing on network and cable business shows, he has been interviewed in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Time, Newsweek and Forbes magazines. He co-authored his first book, “Successonomics,” with Steve Forbes, the magazine’s editor in chief.

Foguth ascribes part of his firm’s success to people who mentored him along the way. While many of those people come from within the insurance community, he’s made a point of surrounding himself with successful people from outside the industry.

“I think that it is always important that you have mentors who can share things they did with their clients and that are business related,” he says. “But it is also important to have someone to guide you from outside the financial advisor realm.”

Clients walking into Foguth Financial Group's office won’t find a stuffy corporate-style office of glass and marble. FFG’s office is done in a palette of earth tones, giving it a warm, relaxed, welcoming feel. Foguth wants his clients to feel like they are part of the family.

The other part of FFG’s secret sauce to success is the company’s family feel that comes from Foguth’s devotion to family and faith. For all the notoriety and accolades Foguth has earned, you won’t find a plaque or an award anywhere in his office.

“The only thing that is on my wall is pictures of my family, a couple of crosses, and my kids’ art work,” he says. “I don’t have any stock market pictures or tickers. I don’t allow that stuff to be consuming.”

It’s not that tracking the market isn’t important, Foguth says. It is. He simply refuses to allow it to be everything. An advisor who follows the market too closely, he says, can lose sight of the most important things in life.

“You forget about clients,” he says. “You forget about your family and your faith if you are just looking at a ticker all day and worry about the next bull-run or the next bear market. Those things are important, but what I focus on is my family and my faith.”  

His Midwestern clients identify with Foguth’s dedication to family and faith. Most of his clients are in their 60s and have worked and saved all their lives. The average client account ranges from $750,000 to $1.5 million. Most have a pension and Social Security. And even though he’s half their age, they trust Foguth to guide them through retirement.

“They feel like they are part of something more than a business,” he says of his clients. “It is more than a client transaction. There is a connection there. We attract like-minded people.”

While he focuses on financial advice, Foguth is always glad to help clients interested in buying life insurance. If someone comes in and asks what he would recommend for their kids, he’s happy to map out a plan for them.

In that way his career has already come full circle because he places all of his life insurance business with the agent who helped him get started not that many years ago. But it’s the future and the continued growth of his company that commands Foguth’s full attention.

“My eyes and ears are open,” he says. “It’s about getting better, about learning and listening to what others are doing. I’m big on building the process. The idea is only as good as the implementation of the idea.”

Keeping his eyes and ears open — not to mention his mouth — has given Foguth the opportunity to have his own television show. The 30-minute program will be called Retirement Spotlight — also the title of his third book — and air Sunday mornings in the Lansing and Saginaw markets.

“They say I have a face for radio but they somehow talked me into doing television,” he says. “What I’ll try to do is shine more light on different topics and subjects, like investment options, different strategies, estate planning, beneficiaries, and Medicare, anything that retirees are faced with.”  

Know a great young advisor who is making a difference in the industry? Nominate them to be featured in The Succession Initative or LifeHealthPro's 30 under 30 feature by emailing kbeckman@alm.com.

Related: 30 under 30: Meet the millennials who are transforming the insurance industry

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