“I’ll just say this, and it’s coming from someone who got his Ph.D. at age 26, John Haase is a very smart guy,” says entrepreneur David Lowe.
Lowe, co-founder of Stacy’s Pita Chip Company (along with his sister, Stacy) helped grow the company from $100,000 in annual sales to $65 million over an eight-year period, before selling the company to PepsiCo in 2006.
It’s safe to say if someone like Lowe calls you smart (and entrusts you with his money) he has to be taken seriously. Haase, a senior partner with Boston-based Fireman Capital Advisors, recently left Goldman Sachs for the independent world, and the manner in which he did so, as well as the wealth management model he’s employing, should serve as an example for other advisors contemplating the leap.
But it’s not to say he made the decision lightly, as an anecdote from his days as a Naval Academy midshipman illustrates. Upon graduation, Haase received a coveted slot as a Navy pilot, something many people want, but few achieve. But he quickly became disenfranchised with the repetitive flight maneuvers (that’s right, he was bored with death-defying stunts in multi-million dollar aircraft owned by Uncle Sam). Of course, Haase isn’t quite so flip when describing that time in his life.
“What I discovered was that I was supposed to become excellent at doing those same things over and over,” he says. “I didn’t have a whole lot of interaction with people, and a day-in-the-life wasn’t as dynamic as what I would have hoped for. That drove me to choose a different career path which led me to leave the Navy and go to Harvard Business School. But it wasn’t so odd; my roommate in flight school ended up in the same business school five years later.”
Was it tough for him to have made that commitment and then have to back out?
“Yeah, it was,” Haase says. “I can still vividly remember walking through the Squad Room and into the commanding officer’s office to let him know that I was making the decision. The only two things I’ve ever quit was flying planes and leaving Goldman Sachs almost a year ago.”
Not that the two can necessarily be tied together. As Haase notes, in the Navy he moved away from something negative; something he didn’t want to do. The move from Goldman was a movement towards a positive—and he would be hard-pressed to make the case that his time at Goldman was anything but positive.
Upon graduating from Harvard, he joined the firm to help open their Seattle office, where over the next few years he built a team of six people who managed $12 billion for 30 individuals and families. After just a few years, the firm asked if he would run the entire office (in addition to his money management duties).
“Goldman very much believes in a producer-manager type role, as opposed to strict manager role,” he says. “When my predecessor left to co-head the investment management position in Asia, they asked me to step in. At the time I had between two and three years of experience. When I looked up and down the West Coast, the people running the San Francisco and Los Angeles offices had 16 to 20 years of experience. The head of the investment management division called it a ‘battle field promotion,’ where he reached into the organization and grabbed me by my lapels and pulled me up to take on a more difficult assignment then I might have signed up for originally.”
That opportunity led him to run the Boston office, which the firm considered to be one of its finest. At the time he was told the promotion was a new “land speed record” and that few, if any, had made managing director that quickly.
It sounds like a pretty good gig, one to which he was well-suited and that few people in his position would relinquish. So why did he?
“I wanted the opportunity to build something on my own,” he responds matter-of-factly. “I didn’t want to reflect back later in life and regret not having attempted something around building a business in a specialty area, one in which I have a lot of skills.”
He says he wasn’t really looking around; he wasn’t talking to head hunters, or interviewing with independent wealth management firms. Rather, the catalyst for the move was when people he liked and respected came calling. He says it was a bit more of an entrepreneurial path than he otherwise might have taken, but it was the one he took nonetheless.
“One of my mentors at Goldman said to me ‘You only have one opportunity to leave, so when you do, make sure it’s for the right opportunity.’”