Research Magazine found the special blend of empathy, integrity, discipline and an attitude of gratitude that made these financial advisors inductees into our 20th Annual Advisor Hall of Fame, written by Ellen Uzelac.

Jeff Erdmann oversees an astounding $4 billion in AUM, and is consistently ranked among Merrill Lynch’s top three advisors, but it is perhaps the empathy he has for clients that makes him Hall of Fame material. He describes as “malpractice” the current fashion of pruning one’s book of smaller clients. “First and foremost, you need to do what’s right and take care of the people who got you where you are.”

Stephen Johnson has known adversity — for example, the hardscrabble life of a dairy farmer managing Bessie the Cow in the wee hours of a frigid Colorado night. More significantly, he is familiar with the challenges and rewards of raising a severely handicapped child to adulthood. Such experiences have brought a sensitivity and integrity to his dealings with clients. Says Johnson: “I’ve never made a decision based on what’s best for me; it’s always been what’s right for the client first.”

Mitchell Kauffman exemplifies an attitude of gratitude and caring for clients, which is all the more impressive in that his early life experiences, including abandonment as a child, could have reinforced a sense of resentment and failure. From pumping gas and bagging groceries, Kauffman turned himself around and established a record of educational and professional accomplishment that has been a boon to his clients.

Bryan Sweet brims with determination and discipline. “Everything about Bryan is long-range and planned out,” says Jeff Greischar, a longtime client. When nearly all your clients are retired or within five years of that milestone, those are exactly the attributes you need in an advisor. Because most people recoil from mapping out the steps they need in their retirement journey, Sweet’s the kind of advisor you want on your side.

Freeman Welch has experienced hard knocks in life, but he’s benefited from unprovoked kindness. Perhaps that is why the personable and “in the moment” FA (as his client associate describes him) cares so much for his clients. As he himself puts it: “When my phone rings, I know it’s someone I like and someone who likes me. Maybe I have all their assets and maybe I don’t — but it’s a great relationship.”

Read Ellen Uzelac’s Hall of Fame profiles for further inspiration, and publisher emeritus Bob Tyndall’s lessons learned from the distinguished crop of 2010 honorees.

In addition to our Hall of Fame cover story, the December Issue of Research includes our always thought provoking Research Roundtable, featuring the highly opinionated and decidedly mixed views of Ken Fisher, Forbes columnist and Fisher Investments CEO; John Buckingham, manager of the Al Frank Fund and editor of The Prudent Speculator newsletter; Nicole Gelinas, CFA, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research fellow and author of the acclaimed After the Fall: Saving Capitalism from Wall Street — And Washington; and Robert Horrocks, co-manager of the Matthews Asian Growth and Income Fund.

Fisher and Gelinas in particular seem to be the panel’s antipodes, with Fisher saying: “I’ve got rosy-colored glasses on again. Sentiment is lower than it’s been for most of modern history. Next year is more bullish than most because…we’re going to move to gridlock; there will be little or no legislation that takes from these and gives to those — and scares the heck out of everyone else.” In contrast, Gelinas’ glasses appear much dimmer: “It’s like we’re looking into darkness. Its’ very hard to see what the outcome will be. This comes from government not understanding its role in the market. It’s been propping up certain sectors, letting others go. How long does this extraordinary government picking and choosing last, and what will happen when it starts to go away?”

ResearchSenior Editor Kenneth Silber has been writing Historical Research, our series on financial history, for three years. In Excavating Finance’s Past, he draws lessons from this well of historical experience for financial advisors — from the general lack of popularity of financial people and concomitant difficulty of winning trust to the constant change and innovation that points towards advisors’ need to retrain on an ongoing basis.

Other articles of particular interest from the December 2010 issue of Research: