Carlo Panaccione
ABOUT HIS CLIENTS: “They work with us whenever they can and we work for them always.”

Carlo Panaccione calls it his “waiter syndrome.” As co-founder of Navigation Group, he wants to know what’s transpiring in the lives of each and every client. “The ones that need us, we are there for,” he says. “It’s the waiter in me. A good waiter is always there when you need them, but they’re not hovering. They’re not obvious. One of my jobs is not to be noticed.”

It’s no surprise that Panaccione, 50, is attached to restaurant industry vernacular. He grew up in New York’s Catskills, where his parents owned a popular Italian restaurant. By age seven, he was grinding cheese and making meatballs and in later years he worked as a busboy and waiter. Today, Panaccione is known for his trademark care packages: homemade meatballs and sauce that he delivers to clients who are ill.

But not notice Panaccione? That’s unlikely.

As his partner Erik Davis observes: “This is a very personal business for us. Everyone is treated like family. If it means helping a little old lady negotiate buying a car, Carlo is going with her. One time a client was out of town and worried about a check that had been delivered in his absence. Carlo went to pick it up for him. It’s that type of thing. He will definitely go the extra mile. If it needs to get done, it will get done.”

Since 1986, Panaccione has been delivering financial advice that has resulted in national acclaim on top advisor lists produced by Barron’s, Worth and Medical Economics. A certified financial planner, he got his start with the former American Express Financial Advisors but he, Davis and the late Linda McKenzie jumped to LPL Financial in 1998 in search of a purer business model.

“I had to leave American Express to do what I really wanted to do. LPL was client-focused and independent, but they didn’t do as much planning as we did,” says Panaccione whose group is headquartered in Redwood City, Calif.

Today, Panaccione oversees $250 million in assets for clients that break down into three segments: physicians and lawyers; Silicon Valley executives; and business owners such as builders and interior designers who have thrived as a result of Silicon Valley’s success. In all, Navigation Group has a team of nine, including a special projects coordinator who is helping Panaccione write a book about family and money issues.

Panaccione stays in contact with clients through e-mails, newsletters and what he calls “touch base” calls. “If we’re doing our job, we shouldn’t be calling them every five minutes because we already know what’s going on in their lives,” he says. “And they know we’re there advocating for them.”

Again, a restaurant analogy. “Frankly, it’s doing whatever gives them the best experience,” Panaccione adds. “These are friends. It’s like having your mom and dad come into the restaurant. They better get the best service.”

Years before client mapping became an industry buzzword, Navigation Group developed MyWealthMap, an online tool that consolidates a client’s financial data into one clear picture that is updated daily. It’s not something Panaccione expects clients to look at every day but it is at the ready when a significant event happens: a job change, death, inheritance, remarriage.

“I learned early in my career that if you come in and tell me your goal is to have $5 million one day, I’m probably the wrong guy for you,” says Panaccione, whose pre-advisor jobs included writing advertising copy for department stores and bartending in a singles club. “We’re focusing more on helping you have that dream life, the best life possible. The financial stuff is important, but what you do with it is more important.”

Like his clients, Panaccione is also trying to shape “the best life possible.” He and his wife Julie, vice president of corporate culture for The Men’s Wearhouse, have three young children — hence, his other title: “coach and athletic supporter.” The couple is currently creating a Tuscan-style home and they’ve put in a vineyard. Panaccione’s grandfather’s wine press figures prominently in that endeavor.

And Panaccione hasn’t discarded a long-held dream: to open a family-style Italian restaurant one day.

Going forward, Panaccione hopes to expand his team by adding a couple of more wealth advisors and asset management and planning specialists. “We want to continue to strengthen the roots while growing the tree,” he says. “I want them to become stronger and stronger advocates for the firm as well as me. At some point, the majority of my time will be purely meeting with clients.”

In recent years, Panaccione has begun to delegate.

“I like doing things all mixed up and different but you can’t grow a business and be successful doing everything yourself. And I realized I have no problem delegating once I know someone has the same vision and direction as I do. I have an amazing team that I’ll hold up against anybody’s,” notes Panaccione. “But a good financial advisor is never really satisfied with where we are today. It’s where we’ll be tomorrow.”