Hollywood scribes call them “plot points” — pivotal events that change the course of the main character’s life and, hence, drive the movie’s story.
A stroke Bob Nusbaum suffered at age 31, paralyzing the right side of his body, was traumatic but not, as you’d imagine, a big plot point. After two months, he was back at his Merrill Lynch corporate finance job — business as usual.
Rather, the high-impact event that would mark Nusbaum’s turning point came five years later: September 11, 2001.
The terrorist attacks “absolutely changed my life 180 degrees,” says the principal of Middle America Planning, a fee-only financial and life planning RIA in suburban Pittsburgh. “My stroke wasn’t nearly as bad as 9/11.”
On that day, Nusbaum, now 41, was a senior financial analyst with Merrill Lynch Investment Managers in New York City, overseeing the firm’s mutual fund business. With the wirehouse for 13 years, he felt so-so about his job but treasured Manhattan living.
Fourteen months after 9/11, he would chuck the corporate world and open his own financial planning practice to help middle-income individuals invest for their future. A year later, he split The Big Apple for Pennsylvania. Nusbaum’s decision to become a CFP came almost as fast as his judgment call after the first plane struck the World Trade Center.
At 8:45 a.m., he was seated at his desk on the 31st floor of Merrill headquarters in the World Financial Center, then connected by air bridge to the WTC. Only an hour earlier, after emerging from the “E” subway line’s “World Trade Center” stop, Nusbaum had walked through the North Tower and across the bridge to Merrill.
Now the incredibly loud explosion of the plane’s slamming into that Tower sent horrified employees in Nusbaum’s complex to peer out the windows. But this cop’s son knew it was no time to stick around wondering what happened. Moments before, Nusbaum’s boss had seen the plane fly past his private office window. It was so close that he could clearly read the carrier’s name, “United.”
Says Nusbaum: “Something in my background told me to get the heck out. An airplane had just hit real close by. I’m on the 31st floor. I knew it wasn’t a good place to be.” Further, the stroke five years before had left him with a limp. Nusbaum was unable to walk quickly; it would have been difficult, at best, to make it down 31 flights.
It took only two minutes from the time the plane hit for Nusbaum to catch a nearly-empty elevator and make it outdoors to safety. The scene there, he says, was “surreal.” “You could see a plane print on the North Tower — a big round thing and two things that were the wings. But you just couldn’t make any sense out of what had happened.”
As a teen, Nusbaum, born and reared in Matawan, N.J., says he was obsessed with business. “I was born to be a CFP. I took care of my own retirement [investing] between the ages of 22 and 40.”
Now with wife Kathryn — Middle America’s managing director — he’s turned hobby into livelihood. Had it not been for 9/11, though, the planner would likely still be churning out corporate forecasts and budgets.
In 1988, after picking up a B.A. in business from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, he began at Merrill as a customer service rep in money market operations. While working his way up through the firm, he earned an M.B.A. in finance from Fairleigh Dickinson.
Much later, on Sept. 11, Nusbaum, standing in front of his office building and looking skyward, remembers seeing “a tremendous ball of fire.” A second plane had hit the South Tower. The ensuing chaos “reminded me of the running of the bulls. But instead of bulls, there were taxicabs charging down Vesey Street and people running all around them — running away. All hell had broken loose. I was in shock.”