Welcome to Research magazine’s Advisor Hall of Fame, now in its 18th year. This eagerly anticipated annual feature has become a benchmark of excellence in our industry and an example to all of the rewards that result from effort and integrity.
Candidates who pass our rigorous screens have served a minimum of 15 years in the industry, have acquired substantial assets under management, demonstrate superior client service and have earned recognition from their peers and the broader community for the honor they reflect on their profession.
Finding the nation’s finest financial advisors is made possible by the wisdom and discernment of our panel of six distinguished judges: Patricia Abram, Ron DeLegge , Kenneth Fisher, Bill Good, Jay Nagdeman and Stanton Selbst . Their discriminating judgment has enriched our Hall of Fame with five extraordinary new members. With no further ado, here are their stories.
Managing Director-Investments, Sargent Investment Group of Wachovia Securities, Washington, D.C.
Sargent began his career in 1966 and is affiliated with the Washington National Cathedral, College of Preachers, St. Alban’s School and Beauvior School.
Colleagues joke that Chris Sargent has operated largely under the radar because he is gentle and modest. Yet the 68-year-old Sargent has been a million-dollar-producer for over 25 years and manages close to $1 billion — not that he would tell you so himself.
Sargent, a sixth-generation Washingtonian, doesn’t seek power. Power comes to him: corporate executives, Congressmen, Senators, litigators. They’re all part of this city’s signature — and, to some extent, Sargent’s own clientele.
The soft-spoken Sargent admits to a certain amount of humility. As he puts it: “Our field is full of people that are very aggressive Alpha types. I’m always amazed when someone is that aggressive. It’s just not the way I am. I guess I’m understated. I think it’s a better way to be. You don’t have to tell everyone up front you’re particularly good at something. Let them find out.”
Over the last 43 years, Sargent has indeed become “particularly good” at something: buying micro-, small- and mid-cap companies with clean balance sheets, talented management and promising futures.
“This is my passion. It’s searching for that stock that is going to the moon, searching for that great success story. It’s the hunt,” says Sargent, who manages money for 400 high-net-worth clients in offices next to the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington. “I’m not a trader. I’m investing for the long term. That’s really Nirvana for me — to find a stock you never have to sell.”
As a case in point, a client 20 years ago introduced Sargent to Telephone and Data Systems, a Chicago-based firm. The client had gone to school with the company’s CEO and was interested in investing in it. So Sargent hosted a luncheon in Washington for company management and invited clients of his who were familiar with the sector along with analysts from local money management firms. It was all part of the hunt — and a vetting process that is all-Sargent.
“I came away knowing 20 times what I knew before. To me, management is 90 percent of the game. That stock is still going up today, and it’s up 30 to 40 times in value. We still own it,” he says. “It’s a process that has played out many times over the course of a career.”
Sargent got a taste for investment research in the 1960s when he interned in the research department of a regional brokerage, Auchincloss, Parker and Redpath, during two summers when he was in college.
“It was fun and interesting. They did their own underwritings. The senior partners were on the boards of most of the locally prominent companies. They specialized in local stocks and you really got a flavor of what was going on in the community,” he says.
After graduating from Williams College and serving three years in the Navy as a line officer, Sargent adds: “I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I came back to Auchincloss.” That was in 1966 and while the firm’s name has changed — from Thompson McKinnon to Prudential Securities to Wachovia Securities, and soon to come, to Wells Fargo — one constant has remained: Chris Sargent.
Forrest E. Williams, Sargent’s branch manager and a colleague since 1972, calls Sargent a “classic,” saying he’s had an undeniable impact on the branch.
“Branches often take on some of the personality of their largest producers. My job has been made easier in many respects by the individuals in this branch emulating Chris Sargent in terms of his presence and demeanor, his class, work ethic and high standards. Plus, he likes stocks and loves to talk about them to all levels — from the seasoned vets to new trainees. And he does it on his own, one on one,” observes Williams. “He sets a tone here. His staff exhibits these same traits, so it really rubs off on the entire office.”
Sargent’s team includes two administrators, Pamela Smith Bolanis and Mary Hong Harte — who help with investment research and clients — along with their two assistants. Sargent — who with his wife, Anne, is a passionate collector of China trade art — has never advertised and his practice, with its $1 million minimum, has grown organically through word of mouth.
Sargent says he has been amazed at the reaction of clients to the current market downturn. “So many have called us to see how we are doing — not how they’re doing. It’s been extraordinary and really gratifying,” he says. “You hate to see people losing money, a lot of money in this kind of market. You just try and ride through a storm like this. It’s handholding, keeping people calm and rational, and trying not to let people let fear take over. You don’t sell a stock just because the market is treating it poorly.”
Twice named to Barron’s annual list of Top 100 Financial Advisors, it was the prestigious Wachovia Way award in 2005 — celebrating Sargent’s professional successes as well as the contributions he has made to his community — that has meant the most to him.
Sargent’s plan going forward? To keep doing what he’s doing.
“I’ve been going at it for 43 years. I will at least go for 50,” he says. “I do love the business.”
DANIEL L. STANLEY
Financial Advisor, Edward Jones.
Based in Joplin, Mo., Stanley began his career in 1982 and is affiliated with the Freeman Hospital Foundation, Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and the Joplin Humane Society.
Back in 1992, over coffee at McDonalds, Edward Jones advisor Jim Goodknight sketched out a contract on the back of a paper napkin that would have him share a portion of his clients with an up-and-comer named Dan Stanley.
The story is the stuff of legend. Since then, 1,865 Goodknight plans — as they have come to be known — have been executed, allowing veteran advisors to spin off a portion of their business to those just getting their start.
Whatever became of Dan Stanley? Plenty. A household name in his hometown of Joplin, Mo., Stanley is well known for his tireless commitment to his community on the northern edge of the Ozarks. “Mr. Joplin,” he’s been called. And his production ranks him in the top 1 percent of the nation’s nearly 11,000 Edward Jones advisors. In a fitting move, Stanley has completed three Goodknight plans himself — including two to his sons.
“I’ll never forget Jim sketching out three boxes on the back of that napkin. One box represented his preferred clients, the ones he was going to hold on to because they needed better service. Another box represented the clients I would develop on my own. The box in the middle represented 1,000 accounts we would share for the next year and a half. Jim told me: ‘We’ll share those commissions 50-50 and those clients will become your clients.’ We were together five years and it just changed my life — and my family’s life,” says Stanley, 63. “I wish I still had the napkin.”
Today, Stanley manages $188 million in assets for just over 700 households. As did his mentor, he has retained his oldest clients with the most complicated situations — doctors, entrepreneurs and widows, primarily. At one point Stanley had over 100 retirement plans, but he’s transferred most of those to his sons, Ryan and Logan. Like their enthusiastic father, they too operate Edward Jones branches in Joplin.
Interacting with clients, Stanley says, is “by far my driver, my satisfier, my fulfiller” — and it shows. When he shared his clients with his sons, for example, he held on to many clients with lesser portfolios. Why? “I kept a full spectrum of socioeconomic clients. I knew some would be devastated if I transferred them,” he says. “They would be deeply hurt so I didn’t do it.” Not surprisingly, Stanley’s office has among the highest “client service excellence” ratings in the Edward Jones network.
Part of what Stanley has created over the years is something he attributes to his parents — both of whom were huge civic leaders — and to his Midwestern upbringing. “I’m so blessed to have had the mom and dad I had. They created in me this concern for other people,” says Stanley. “And I think one thing the Midwest has that’s somewhat lacking in certain metropolitan hubs — and Warren Buffett and Sam Walton portray this — is just common sense. So much of life is common sense and common decency. In this whole financial services meltdown, there’s been a lack of that.”
Stanley, who once considered becoming a minister, has had a unique career arc. The advisory business, for example, represents his second — and fifth — careers. For years, he was a Ford dealer in Joplin, taking over the family business at age 24 when his father died. By 1982, he owned an Oldsmobile dealership that was being unionized. The day after the union election, a friend told him that Edward Jones was hiring a lot of graduates of Westminster College, Stanley’s alma mater.
“A light just went off in my head,” says Stanley. At the time, he had a small account with Jim Goodknight and Mike Esser, a fraternity brother, was an advisor with the firm. It was Esser who recruited him. “He told me this will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, and you’ve done some pretty hard stuff,” Stanley recalls. “Mike Esser was absolutely right. It was the hardest job I ever had.”
Edward Jones wouldn’t let Stanley stay in Joplin. “You’ll only ever be known here as an auto dealer,” Edward Jones chief Ted Jones had told him. So Stanley opened the company’s first office in Raleigh, N.C. “I didn’t know a single person. I went door to door, house to house, office to office, store to store.” He was on track to become a regional manager when he left the business in 1985 to buy into a Ford dealership in Colorado. As he puts it: “We bought the dealership at exactly the wrong time, almost to the day.”
A year and a half later, he sold that business and returned to Joplin as a business development officer and internal sales manager for a bank. He had kept his securities licenses current and during occasional lunches with Goodknight, the man who was to become his mentor talked about putting together a partnership with Stanley.
Then came the paper napkin.
“He was good enough to come back to Edward Jones. He not only established a profitable business for Jones, he did become a regional leader of one of the oldest regions in the firm,” says Esser, now a principal with the firm. “Through all his difficulties, Dan was always still Dan. He still believed that good things would happen to people who worked hard and applied themselves. If there is any more of a humane way to live, I don’t know what it is.”
MARGARET CHOW STARNER
Senior Vice President, Starner Group of Raymond James & Associates.
Based in Coral Gables, Fla., Starner began her career in 1981 and is affiliated with the John T. McDonald Foundation and Teach for America.
In the 1970s, Margaret Chow Starner did something almost unthinkable for a woman at the time when she created a class called “Everything You Wanted to Know about Money but Were Afraid to ask.”
Through the League of Women Voters, Starner had met highly educated women who were savvy about community and political affairs — but had no grasp of their own finances.
Starner, who was to become widely recognized as a trailblazer in the financial planning industry, was about to change that.
“It was a whole different world. Most people back then didn’t even understand how to buy Treasuries,” says Starner, whose bio by then included long-range strategic planning for entities such as the Stanford Research Institute, the Ford Foundation and United Airlines. “These were women married to corporate executives who wanted to be part of the decision-making of the family. They really wanted to make a difference in their financial affairs.”
Ever the maverick, Starner taught the three-part class at community centers, tennis clubs and non-profits in Miami — and in doing so recruited women who would one day become her first clients.
Starner first heard about the then new CFP designation in the late 1970s. “I really thought it would be the wave of the future,” says Starner, one of Raymond James & Associates’ topmost producers — and its top woman producer. “Conceptually, it was exactly what I wanted to do.”
Starner, 70, carved out a career path at a time when there were very few mile markers. “I formed relationship groups with a handful of other planners around the country. We taught each other,” says Starner, whose wealth management group manages $330 million in assets. “It was a very pioneering time.”
When she joined Raymond James & Associates in 1981, she even cut a deal where she wouldn’t be responsible for selling anything her first year. Rather, she wanted to spend her energy learning the business.
“Women take a little longer to develop. In general, women want a higher degree of confidence before they tell someone what to do. Make no mistake, women are great advisors. From a competence standpoint, there’s not a huge difference,” says Starner, who earned $12,000 her first year. “I wasn’t interested in making a lot of money. That wasn’t what I was looking for. I was interested in learning the ropes. I had a unique situation — but underneath it all, I think they thought I would make it.”
Today, Starner and her two associates, Scott Weingarden and Bruce Cacho-Negrete, have 150 client units — high-net-worth widows, corporate executives, business owners and other professionals — with an average account size of $3 million to $8 million. Their business is purely referral, primarily from attorneys and accountants. And, as Starner puts it, it’s invitation-only.
“One of the criteria is that you really have to buy into the planning process. This is a process all about where you want to go in your life. Money is just a proxy for your options in life. Yet a lot of people say, ‘I just want to make as much money as I can.’ We’re not the right group for that person,” says Starner, who has a degree in economics from Stanford University. “There’s no point in taking clients if you can’t make a difference in their lives.”
Starner grew up in small-town Mississippi. Her family, the only Chinese in the area, operated and later owned a grocery store there. When her father insisted she attend Stanford, she reluctantly left.