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Mother-Daughter Business

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In interviews with four sets of mothers and daughters–only one of whom practices at a separate firm–Wealth Manager discovered that it was their mothers’ success–not prodding–that influenced the younger women’s career choice.

Sue Ann Donovan and Stacy A. Clifford
(Genworth’s only women Regional Directors)
Genworth Financial Securities Corp.
Clifton Park and Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Twenty-nine years ago, Sue Ann Donovan desperately needed a job–any job. A single mother with no college education, she picked a commercial street in Albany, N.Y., and knocked on every door asking for work. When she got to the American Express regional office, the district manager happened to be up front. “He looked at me and said, ‘Just because you knocked on the door, I’m going to test you,’” Donovan recalls.

And he did–three times. Donovan passed, and became the first woman broker hired by American Express in upstate New York.

Donovan’s daughter Stacy Clifford’s entry into the business was considerably less dramatic. At first, after graduating from Siena College, “I went in my own direction,” she says. Clifford was at one time Communications Director for the New York State Racing and Wagering Board. But changing events in Clifford’s life led her to seek a career that offered more flexibility. “I’d been witnessing my mother running her own business for over 20 years, seeing her success. (“And my challenges and difficulties, too,” Donovan interjects.) What better way was there than to partner with her? It was an absolutely ideal situation to walk into.” Clifford studied, earned several licenses and made the leap.

Donovan has encouraged Clifford to build her own book although they have some joint clients. And clients love their joint seminars.

“My clients have known about Stacy, seen her picture on my desk,” Donovan says. “They know at some point I’m going to retire. Having Stacy here makes them feel secure.”

Linda Gadkowski, CFP
Partner, Beacon Financial Planning
Centerville, Mass.
Lauren Lindsay, CFP
Personal Financial Advisors, Covington, La.

Lauren Lindsay had been teaching high school English and drama in London, but when she returned to the states she found teaching no longer enjoyable. She took a job in Boston with Putnam Investments, which she left about the time Putnam became a target of the mutual fund market-timing scandals.

“Not realizing I had gotten my CFP certificate while she was in London, she earned hers,” Linda Gadkowski recounts. “I was surprised,” she adds, “because Lauren had never shown any interest in financial planning.”

Nevertheless, Gadkowski invited her daughter to work with her in Centerville on Cape Cod, where Lindsay had, in fact, grown up. Mother and daughter continued to work together until Lindsay married in 2005 and moved to Louisiana with her husband.

“Working together was wonderful; I loved it,” says Gadkowski who also taught before becoming an advisor. Gadkowski developed a mentoring routine for her daughter in the early months of their business association. “I had her shadow me for the first six months. Then I sat in on all her meetings for the next three. From then on,” says Gadkowski, “she was on her own.”

Lindsay developed her own clients and brought a “breath of fresh air and tons of ideas. She gave me a whole new perspective that helped me take my business to a higher level,” says Gadkowski.

Didn’t the strain of mother-daughter relations ever get in the way? Apparently not!

Says Gadkowski: “We’d be driving somewhere together, and she would analyze what I’d done in a client meeting or I’d analyze her work. I always told her she could say anything because ‘I’m not your mom today. I’m Linda.’ It’s not easy to develop the skills it takes to do this,” Gadkowski admits, “but we’d step out of the shoes of mother and daughter and into the shoes of partners.”

Corinne Smith and Michelle Smith, CFP, CDFA
Director and co-founder
Family Wealth Management
Alexandra & James Co.
New York City

Corinne Smith refused to make another cold call after the one that got a furious prospect out of the bathtub. “My mother came to [financial services] after a divorce that she knew was going to be a financial disaster,” says Michelle Smith, who was in high school at the time. An uncle, who worked in government bonds at Merrill Lynch, convinced the recent divorc?e that she should become a broker.

Corinne Smith argued that she was a teacher by training, and didn’t know the first thing about business–meaning finance–although she had run a nursery school and a retail business in the past. But she interviewed at Merrill, was accepted and once she got cold-calling out of the way, used her teaching skills to present seminars to well-to-do women and her women’s intuition to contact them. “She would do research and mail it out in hand-calligraphed wedding envelopes,” recalls Michelle Smith, who addressed and stuffed plenty of those envelopes when her mother insisted that she work for her the summer before she started college.

“That summer completely changed my mind,” Michelle Smith adds. “I realized that what she did was really a teaching job.” After college, the younger Smith entered the Merrill Lynch training program, but didn’t hook up with her mother professionally until a few years later. They have worked in tandem ever since as advisors to women and men with net worths of from $5 million to $50 million.

Judith A. McGee, CFP, L.H.D., ChFC and D. Linette Dobbins, CFP
McGee Financial Strategies (Affiliated with Raymond James Financial Services)
Portland, Ore.

Like most of those new to McGee Financial Strategies, Linette Dobbins started out in the file room. The difference was, she was only 11 at the time.

“Well, it was cheaper than a babysitter,” Judith McGee jokes, adding more seriously, “and it left her with a good work ethic.”

Dobbins did her homework at a tiny sales desk in a back room where supplies were kept, but if she wanted to earn some money, she was paid by the piece to assemble marketing brochures. As a teenager, she graduated to working with the office manager–former executive secretary to the CEO of a broker/dealer–who taught her about office procedures and compliance. “Early on, I didn’t think she had enough interest in the business,” McGee remembers. “She liked the idea of freedom.”

Says Dobbins: “You never want to do what your parents do, and I also wanted to work with other people for the experience.” At 21, Dobbins did just that, first at a small Piper Jaffray office, then an insurance agency.

But it’s hard to ignore a role model like McGee, who has been recognized as an outstanding financial advisor numerous times over her 34-year career–most recently by Barron’s, which ranked her 25th in its Top Women Advisors last year. In 1988, Dobbins joined her mother in the firm they now co-own. McGee is CEO, Dobbins, president and CFO. At the end of 2007, the firm–with a staff of 15 including four producers–managed some $395 million for about 650 households.

The two share clients, but Dobbins also has her own following. And McGee is currently working on a book about financial fraud on seniors.

Dobbins is hardly the only younger woman McGee has brought into the firm–and mentored–over the years. “I’m lucky enough to have their respect. It’s not just Linette, she says, adding that “The honest truth is, I’m harder on my own kids.” But Dobbins’ presence plays an important role in McGee’s goal for the firm. “For me,” McGee says, “my role is not only with the clients, but to create the vision of the firm long-term. We’re a legacy firm, a legacy team. Every day, I make sure that’s clear–that our clients are buying a very deep and sensitive practice.”


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