No two advisors are exactly the same. Their unique perspectives and experiences shape how they do their job. That’s why this year we’ve given each of our Advisor of the Year finalists a special label that signifies their individual talents for helping others.
The Connector – Thomas (Thom) Brueckner
Connectors are said to be people in a community who know large numbers of people from accross an array of social, cultural, professional and economic circles, and who are in the habit of making introductions. Although connectors are rare–only one in several thousand people might be thought of as a true connector–they are very important in the healthy function of civil society and business. Find out why we’re calling Thom The Connector.
The Survivor – Richard Clark
A survivor is defined as someone who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship or setbacks. A person is considered a survivor when he is resilient or courageous enough to be able to overcome a great ordeal or misfortune. Survivors are some of the strongest people you will ever find. Find out why Richard is The Survivor.
The Healer – Stephanie Fullerton
A healer is one who helps others be more sound or whole. They clear obstacles holding others back in their business and career, and help to attract more abundance and prosperity in one’s life. The healer supports others in their drive to take action on dreams and goals. Find out why Stephanie has been dubbed The Healer.
Brogan Financial , Knoxville, TN
Number of years in the industry: 17
Total production 2010: $34.5 million
On designations: “I am all for continuing education that will ultimately help me become a better advisor for my clients.”
On seniors: “In the early 2000s my parents were aging and I saw their needs were unique and I saw there were very few professionals who understood their unique needs and also served them effectively.”
On suitability: “As the industry moves more and more towards the fiduciary standard, as an independent RIA, I am as prepared as ever to deal with new regulation.”
What’s a guy like Jim Brogan doing in the financial services industry? Sometimes he has to pause and ask himself the same question and the answer always circles back to around 1994, when Brogan was immersed in an MBA program.
“It’s kind of funny, because the reason I got my MBA in the first place was to go into the music business.” He’d majored in music as an undergraduate after all, had been a professional singer pretty much from the time he could put words together and had his eyes set on Nashville, envisioned himself standing under the bright lights of the Grand Ole Opry; he’d even interned with one of the big record labels in town.
But, a funny thing happened on the way to crooning alongside Waylon and Willie and the boys…Brogan got hit with the investments and finance bug. Seriously.
A six-hour block of courses he took got him “really turned on to the financial industry.” And there was no looking back. After years of working with employee benefits and group health, he wanted to return to that course on finances and lean on that experience to “work with individuals on their personal finances and doing financial planning.”
By 2001 he’d left the agency where he worked to start his own firm. “I wanted to work with the couple or the individual rather than the corporation–that’s where I felt I really made a connection.” Then, by late 2002, with his own parents aging, he saw first hand the challenges they were facing and he “didn’t really see them being served effectively.”
There was something unique he identified with retirees–with no earned income, there was more stress on the nest egg and there wasn’t a plan being devised to help his parents develop a sound plan so they could really enjoy those golden years. From then on, he’s focused on that niche–the retired or those getting ready to retire.
“I like working with that market because I found that I identify very, very well with their values, they’re on time, and if they give you their word, you can pretty much take that to the bank.”
With the practice set up the way he liked and his preferred niche clearly identified these last 10 years, Brogan has really gotten to hone in on what’s made him a success: teaching. “It’s the number one thing I do in my practice and that’s my major outreach on how I market.”
At heart, he sees himself as a teacher as much as he does a financial advisor. When meeting with clients, he’s able to break down the complex topics of finance and investments into plain English, not the gobbledygook of textbooks and airings of CSPAN.
The teaching approach, whether one-on-one with a client, in a classroom setting or on his weekly radio show, is one that allows him to connect with people and understand what’s going on in their minds. Whenever he teaches in these settings, he’s constantly surveying the audience, asking them how they feel about the economy, whether they believe they’re past the worst of it, if they’re concerned about more bumps in the road, etc.
This interaction frees people up, allowing them to express their concerns and fears about the economy and their own retirement situation and it provides Brogan with the fact-based course material he then uses to educate prospects and clients. “People are looking for answers and if you educate them on what’s going on and what those risks are and you speak to them in plain language” then you gain their trust–and their business.
As far as marketing goes, Brogan says his entire marketing model is based around attracting business to his firm. “It puts you in a completely different position because everybody that walks through my front door is here because they asked to be here. They raised their hand–I didn’t call them or solicit them to be here.” Instead, whether at a speaking engagement, in a classroom or on the radio, he invites them to drop by, but he’s never soliciting their business.
So, ultimately, “they raised their hand and said ‘I want an appointment with Jim Brogan.’ ” He says this completely changes the dynamic of the client meeting–especially the first meeting. “ And that’s important because that takes me from having to worry about selling to where I can truly listen.” In those first meetings, Brogan sticks to the philosophy that “we’ve got two ears and one mouth.” He’s there to hear what the clients have to say.
As those first meetings go, he’s asking questions, finding out what the client wants. Then he turns that around and teaches them about the things they need to know in order to achieve their goals. And by the end of the day, “then process that we take people through is very educational.”
Spoken like a true teacher.
Thomas (Thom) Brueckner
Senior Financial Resources, Inc., Nashua, NH & Strategic Asset Conservation, Inc., Scottsdale, AZ
Number of Years in the industry: 21
Total Production 2010: $16 million
Philosophy: “Our conservative, frugal, Depression-era values tend to attract clients with a similarly government-skeptical perspective”
On seniors: “Over 98 percent of our clientele is made up of seniors.”
Key to success: “We’re committed to investing in our business, hiring competent staff, designing and working out of an efficient, impressive office, and building a thriving practice of raving fans and clients-for-life.”
How many Thomas Brueckners are there? That was the question I was asking myself after a recent phone conversation with him. It seemed impossible, after all, that an advisor could have so many irons in the fire and yet accomplish them with such relative ease.
Brueckner has a thriving practice in New Hampshire. Oh, yeah, he has one in Arizona, too. And a radio show. And he’s a mentor to advisors around the country. And, oh you get the picture, which leads me back to my original question: how many Thomas Brueckners are there?
Rest assured, there’s only one Brueckner (so, my original theory of cloning was shot down).
So what is it? According to Brueckner, there are a few factors at work. First of all, he owes much of his success to the example set by his parents. His mother was a first generation financial advisor, who worked for Banker’s Life and Casualty where she was a long-term care specialist.
“I watched her professionalism and the way she took care of her clients, baking cookies and bringing them around to clients in tins at Christmas time. She was very service oriented.” From his dad, he learned another valuable life lesson. “My dad sold luxury cars for 17 years and I watched the way he did business. He taught me the importance of a handshake, how you always maintain eye contact with people, look them squarely in the eye.”
Secondly, he took a unique path to financial services. In college he studied environmental science and wound up working on offshore oil rigs from the age of 19 to 24. The tough, hard labor of oil rigs instilled a great work ethic in Brueckner and the jobs took him all over the world, to varied places such as West Africa, Cairo, the Gulf of Mexico and the Bay of Biscayne in France, among others. These life experiences exposed him to all types of people and prepared him for a service-oriented career where it’s important to make a plan fit the person rather than have a client fit a plan.
Finally, Brueckner forged his career by locking onto an idea about the marketing of his business. “Your marketing needs to be coordinated.” For Brueckner, it’s all about the idea that the whole is greater then the sum of its parts. In his practice it’s imperative that he develop a synergistic approach, with so many pieces within his practice, working together, feeding into and off of one another.
Brueckner describes it in pretty simple terms or at least he makes it sound easy. “Your marketing initiatives need to mention each other. Our billboards talk about the radio show and they have our website on everything. Our website talks about the seminars and the radio show. On the radio show I talk about the seminar the night before and in the seminar I talk about the radio show coming up. And then you know referrals come in from all of the above and people have a place they can send their friends.”
Like I said, sounds easy, right?
But there’s a mistake too many advisors make. According to Brueckner, too often advisors fail to really develop a relationship and a trust factor with a client before they make a product recommendation. In short, they’re too busy trying to sell the client something, making themselves look like a “product seller looking for product purchasers. If instead you seek to become a trusted advisor looking for clients for life and within that subset of clients—–or within that group, that big group of clients for life–you have a subset that you can refer to honestly as raving fans.”
Once you have those raving fans on your side, you’ve got it made. They’re introducing you to friends, family, “fellow retirees, former co-workers now you have a well-oiled machine.”
A final key in connecting the dots for Brueckner is a natural curiosity about the world both within and outside financial services. If he learns of a hot button issue within the industry, for instance, he’s not afraid to pen an opinionated Op-Ed piece, as he did earlier this year in these pages on the topic of whether or not advisors should get a securities license. Months after the fact he still has a strong take on he subject, having been on both sides of the debate.
“Why does it have to be either or?” There are two sides of the financial services industry, he says, and both are equally valid.
In the end, he says, you have to carve out the path that best fits you.
Clark & Associates, Inc., Reston, Va.
Total Production 2010: $8 million
Number of years in industry: 30
Philosophy: “Depression mentality,” meaning capital preservation is paramount.
On seniors: “Once I got into the senior market I began to realize that they are the targets of many financial advisors with the wrong person’s pocket in mind when it comes to their client’s money.”
On designations: “Because of my years of experience the question of designations hardly ever comes up.”
Not even a bout with cancer that left him with a raspy voice has made Richard Clark any less outspoken. No question he tells it like he sees it. Just listen to what he has to say about the difference between the Greatest Generation of seniors versus the baby boomers.
“The Greatest Generation were savers and the baby boomers were spenders,” he says. “They spent their way right out of retirement unfortunately.”
Such a sentiment is not surprising coming from a man who characterizes his investment philosophy as a “Depression mentality.” For him capital preservation is paramount, regardless of whether the stock market is up or down at any point in time.
“We think it’s really important that we set people up in retirement so that no matter what happens they will have a sustainable income,” he says. “A lot of people are going to run out of money without proper planning. The Social Security system wasn’t designed to be a pension plan. Unfortunately, I think too many people are going to end up trying to rely on Social Security and we don’t know where that is going to go.”
Clark surely didn’t know what would happen to him when he was diagnosed with cancer at the back of his tongue in 2003. He endured as series of treatments only to have his vocal cord damaged during a checkup about three years later.
Yet he says the experience only reinforced his passion for the mission behind the company he founded in 1987, Clark & Associates, Inc. in Reston, Va.
“I realized how precious life is and that for the rest of my life, I wanted to do something that made a difference,” he says. “As an advisor, I have a real passion for helping people and there are so many people out there that are so misinformed. They don’t teach this stuff in college. They don’t teach people how to have a sustainable income that is going to hold them their whole lifetime.”