The “Me Generation” could be aging into the “Benevolent Generation” — at least evidenced by the humanitarian second acts of a number of Wall Street war baby and baby boomer retirees.
For their next chapters, these men and women who built lucrative careers in financial services are following another passion, working not to make money but to make a difference.
George Clooney and Angelina Jolie may bring star power to philanthropic pursuits, but the fabulous four profiled below — including two former financial advisors — are no less deserving of a shout-out.
Virginia DeCristoforo, 61, has never had a shortage of dreams that came true: to become a business success, a pilot and a hot air balloonist — and to one day discover who her mother was.
But not even in her wildest dreams did she envision adopting three at-risk young children at age 57 and in the aftermath of a divorce. Yet, that’s what the ex-financial advisor did when she adopted Nicole, Tyler and Stella Rose — then 12, 11 and 7 — nearly half a decade ago. Siblings with a traumatic past, they had been split up and living in foster care in three different cities.
At the time, the ever-optimistic DeCristoforo — herself orphaned at age 2 — was a private banking vice president at Credit Suisse Securities in New York City, catering for 12 years to ultrahigh-net-worth investors and entrepreneurs with philanthropic foundations. Her prominent advisory clientele ranged from athletes to ambassadors.
About a year later, she retired to devote full-time care to Tyler, diagnosed as terminally ill and given six months to live. She had been an FA for 23 years.
“I didn’t feel it was right to continue to come up with creative advice for clients while trying to save my son’s life,” says DeCristoforo, who by then was managing assets of $500 million.
She was originally an insurance adjuster specializing in airline disaster cases. Shocked at the numerous victims swindled out of proceeds by bad investment advice, she thought: “I can really help these people.”
Thereupon, she picked up a master’s degree and became the first MBA that Morgan Stanley hired in its then-new MBA training program.
Born in Chicago, DeCristoforo as a toddler was yanked from her abusive parents’ home and abandoned to an orphanage.
At 18, never knowing who her parents were, she set out on her own, working three jobs daily to survive. A decade of night college later, she had a BS in hand. Following 10 years at Morgan Stanley, where she rose to vice president, she joined Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, later acquired by Credit Suisse.
More than two years after her retirement, son Tyler is doing so well he’s even attending school.
DeCristoforo had taken the youngsters into her big, suburban Redding, Conn., home in 2006 — through Connecticut’s Department of Children and Family Services — for “temporary respite care” in an effort, she says, “to put a family back together.”
Ending a nearly four-decade search three months earlier, she’d finally located her mother — a week after her death — and five incredulous siblings who never knew she existed.
Friends told the single DeCristoforo, then 56, that she was “too old” to rear more kids, the youngest of them age 6. Her biological daughter, Megan Marie, 24, had reservations as well.
But DeCristoforo paid no attention. “I truly believe that I can create anything by my sheer will and with God’s help,” she says. “He never gives us a dream without the capability to fulfill it.”
A year later, she legally adopted the children and received the People’s United Bank Humanitarian Hero Award; the family was named The Voice of Adoption for the State of Connecticut.
“This has been a full-time emotional, intellectual and spiritual journey,” DeCristoforo says. “I see my flaws. It’s all about personal growth.”
Does the former million-dollar producer miss Wall Street? Frankly, no. “What I liked about it was that we could really help people and provide tremendous service because clients weren’t as educated then in financial matters as they are today,” she says. Also, “all the scandals changed the industry. I didn’t want my name associated with it anymore. I still have the spirit to help people — but in other areas.”
Watching Gene Autry and Roy Rogers westerns at Saturday kiddie matinees in Lexington, Ky., not only captured Jim Owen’s youthful imagination, it gave him a set of life-long values.
“At the end, the good guys — honest, loyal, courageous — always seemed to prevail,” says the forthright Owen, 70, a pioneering money manager and Wall Street Journal-dubbed rainmaker who triumphed in hedge funds and co-founded the Investment Management Consultants Association (IMCA).
In 2004, dismayed by corporate scandals that were rocking business, he retired from financial services and wrote the book Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West (Stoecklein, 2005).
Now, through his not-for-profit Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership (www.cowboyethics.org), he’s dedicating his time to inspiring corporate America and educators to adopt the values of the Old West.
“I’m not a cowboy — I don’t ride and rope. The cowboy is a symbol,” says Owen, based in Austin, Texas.
In 2004, he saw the emotionally moving western Open Range. “That was the spark that caused me to change careers. It took me back to my childhood, and I literally lost interest in the world of business. I spent my whole career chasing the buck,” he says. “Now I work for passion.”
Starting as an investment management consultant in 1975, he forged ahead and eight years later became a partner in NWQ Investment Management Company, where he spent the next 15 years.