Welcome to Research Magazine’s Advisor Hall of Fame, now in its 21st year. This eagerly anticipated annual feature has become a benchmark of excellence in our industry and an example to all of the rewards that result from effort and integrity.
Candidates who pass our rigorous screens have served a minimum of 15 years in the industry, have acquired substantial assets under management, demonstrate superior client service and have earned recognition from their peers and the broader community for the honor they reflect on their profession.
Finding the nation’s finest financial advisors is made possible by the wisdom and discernment of our panel of three distinguished judges (named on the last page of this article). Their discriminating judgment has enriched our Hall of Fame with five extraordinary new members. With no further ado, here are their stories.
Senior Vice President/Wealth Advisor Wells Fargo Wealth Management Group — The Private Bank Wells Fargo Advisors
Career Began: 1990
Home Base: Scottsdale, Ariz.
Civic Affiliations: Fresh Start Women’s Foundation, Phoenix Zoo, Autism Speaks
Not long ago, when a client’s elderly mother was preparing to move to Arizona, advisor Theresa Chacopulos personally interviewed administrators at three retirement facilities so that she could deliver an appropriate recommendation to the family. Later, she accompanied her client to the closing to make sure everything was done right.
“I love my clients,” Chacopulos says. “There’s nothing I won’t do for them.”
The term high touch doesn’t begin to describe the 44-year-old Chacopulos, who oversees over $1 billion in assets for 82 multi-generational families. She negotiates car purchases, pays the bills, and refers hairdressers, decorators and in one case, a rehab clinic. Clients tell her when they’ve proposed to someone before they have even told their own families. When clients plan to divorce, it is often Chacopulos they confide in first. The spouse is second to know. On numerous occasions, Chacopulos has been with clients at their deathbed.
“It really comes down to family. Our clients are ethical, community-involved and I would say all of them are tops in their field. But family is number one. I find the individuals I have now in my book of business are very family-oriented,” says Chacopulos, who heads a team in Wells Fargo’s private banking group in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I think our practice reflects that.”
Chacopulos was still a senior in high school in 1984 when she began working as a bank teller for a predecessor firm of Wells Fargo. Her mother worked for another Wells Fargo branch in the same community for 30 years. “Wells Fargo helped raise me,” notes Chacopulos, who went on to work as a loan officer, in the trust department and on the trading desk.
“It still wasn’t what I was looking for,” she says. “I really wanted customer contact.”
In 1990, Chacopulos — who has been listed repeatedly on the Barron’s listing of Top 100 Women Financial Advisors — found what she’d been missing. Then an assistant to a financial advisor, Chacopulos inherited her territory when the advisor was promoted to management.
For 10 years, Chacopulos worked in the bank channel covering 12 locations and, ultimately, 3,500 clients. As it turned out, it was too much of a good thing.
“Because I had been here so long, advisors would leave and I would inherit their entire book. It happened several times. One day, I woke up and I had 3,500 clients, I was receiving 100 to 150 calls a day, and I was working seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. trying to keep up with it,” she says. “And I didn’t know half the people.”
Tired of starting every year from scratch, Chacopulos moved from the branches into private banking to start a fee-based business. Her goal: 100 clients with at least $1 million in investable assets. She cut 1,000 clients, then another 1,500. When she got to the final 1,000, she re-profiled every client.
“I told them I wanted to go in-depth with them. If it didn’t fit my parameters, I’d transfer the client to another advisor. I got my CFP and CIMA at the same time and I was serious about managing money,” she adds. “I wanted to make sure they understood I was truly dedicated to financial planning.”
Along the way, Chacopulos adjusted her goal. “I realized 100 clients was too many and $1 million not enough to do what I wanted with these clients.” As a result, she moved her minimum to $3 million, and two years ago, she pushed it up to $5 million. Most of her clients are technology entrepreneurs and physicians. Fifteen of the 82 families come from her original book. The rest are referrals from clients, attorneys and accountants.
Over the years, Chacopulos has mentored other women who wish to become advisors. “As a woman in this field, it’s tough. We’re still the minority,” says Chacopulos, who creates a career path for women by bringing them on as an assistant, getting them licensed, supporting them through their training as a certified financial planner and helping create a book for them
At the moment, she is working with three women, including client service consultant Lindsey Martin. “I mirror her a lot. Everything I know about the industry I’ve learned from Theresa,” says Martin, who has worked for her for five years. “She’s very open. Everything Theresa does, she has taught me in one aspect or another. And there is this singular focus on the client. We care about every aspect of our clients’ lives, which really makes her business unique.”
With their son Aaron a business major at Northern Arizona University, Chacopulos and her husband Louis are empty nesters. The plan is for Aaron, now a senior, to get his master’s in financial planning and taxes and join his mother as an assistant.
“Going forward, it’s really about bringing on the next generation,” says Chacopulos. “I have no desire to ever go into management, not at all. I love what I do, and that’s helping clients.”
Owner Fries Financial Services Securities America
Career Began: 1984 Home Base: Bryan, Texas
Civic Affiliations: Habitat for Humanity, Brazos Valley Gluten Intolerance Group, assorted children’s charities
Where to begin? Her unconventional career start, her out-of-the box thinking or her passion for philanthropy? One thing is for sure. There is nothing cookie cutter about advisor Denise Fries. She’s an original.
How original? Fries was the lone (and first) woman in her U.S. Army Reserve engineer brigade when she joined the military in 1981. “No ladies room in the whole building,” says Fries. “Thousands of men and me.” While still in the Army, she launched a financial planning career by calling on college professors at her alma mater, Texas A&M. Her rationale: Professors were accustomed to dealing with young people and would likely take her more seriously than would business owners. Twenty-seven years later, Fries has the largest amount of retirement assets under management in the A&M system for faculty and staff. As for philanthropy, Fries donates Tuesdays and Thursdays to charities, a full two-fifths of her work week. “The best helping hand you can find is at the end of your own wrist,” she says.
Fries, 49, who heads Fries Financial Services in Bryan, Texas, hasn’t veered far from her initial marketing strategy. With $200 million in assets under management, 63 percent of her clients either work for A&M or are retired from there. The rest are university spouses, military personnel or veterinarians who graduated from A&M, where Fries — no surprise here — lectured for free about financial planning at the vet school when she first started out. “Plant the acorn and you get an oak tree,” says Fries (pronounced freeze.) “Plant grass and you get grass.”
Fries works with two other financial advisors, A&M graduates not coincidentally, along with four support staff. While she doesn’t exclude any income level from her services, nearly half of her 874 households have a Ph.D. Not only is Fries a top producer at her broker/dealer Securities America, she owns two other businesses: a gluten-free bakery and a property management company that has residential and commercial holdings.
It’s a long way to have come for a woman who relied as a young teen on a food bank and children’s services, an experience that shaped her own philanthropic impulse. “I’m a person who loves people. I’m not judgmental,” says Fries. “Sometimes people think those on charity are lazy or somehow less-than. Very often, it’s something completely beyond their control. I’ve been able to accomplish many things in my lifetime. If I had made a few different decisions as a young person, or not had the help I needed then and there, it would have been different. I really believe in helping people when they are down.”
Securities America Advisors president Janine Wertheim calls Fries “a great leader” who knows how to take command of a situation. “She has that bright spot perspective. She knows how to put the right perspective on things and look for the bright side. She connects emotionally with people. You can tell she’s generally interested in them,” Wertheim adds. “She’s authentic.”
For her company’s 20th and 25th anniversaries, Fries held events that raised more than $250,000 and helped over 18 charities. For her 40th birthday, she challenged 40 individuals and businesses to help build Habitat for Humanity houses. Six were built. And on the two days a week she devotes regularly to charities, Fries lends her management and organizational skills to local non-profits.
“Giving money is wonderful but giving time is the higher and better use of charity. The unfortunate fact is non-profits essentially live paycheck to paycheck. I like to help create and fund endowments. Putting a person in a house is phenomenal. Putting a $400,000 endowment in place and building houses from the interest of that money is astronomically important,” says Fries, who two years ago earned a master’s-level certificate in non-profit management at the Bush School of Government and Public Service so that she could better serve what she calls “my charities.”
Fries, married to a third-generation cattle rancher, is also a fierce advocate for people with gluten intolerance. Her daughter Taylor, now 18, has celiac disease, which requires a lifelong diet free of gluten. Taylor was seriously ill for four years until her eventual diagnosis. As part of the family’s odyssey, Fries started a support group, opened the Taylor Made Gluten Free Bakery and successfully campaigned for General Mills to make its Chex cereals gluten-free. Rice Chex is Taylor’s favorite cereal.
In all things — whether it’s her financial services firm, her charities or her family — Fries openly strives to employ her talents and skills to their best and highest use.
“I think one of the reasons I’ve been able to accomplish some of the things I’ve accomplished is I have very high expectations for myself and I try to continue to develop my talents,” she says. “Every single day I want to live my life so that if my day that day was reviewed on the five o’clock news I’d be neither embarrassed nor ashamed but proud of what that day was like. So many people have the capacity to do and to be and yet they don’t.”
Fries keeps a plaque in her office that says: “If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” She lives up to those words.
Gregory W. Kasten
Chief Executive Officer Unified Trust Co.
Career Began: 1985
Home Base: Lexington, Ky.
Civic Affiliations: Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Tates Creek Christian Church
When Gregory Kasten was an anesthesiologist in the mid-1980s, he didn’t like the advice he was getting on the retirement plan offered through his private practice. It was biased, it was weighted toward high commission-type products, and the advisor appeared undone when Kasten pressed him on fee disclosure.
“I figured nobody cared about my own investments more than I would,” says Kasten. “I needed to examine these things myself.”
So Kasten, now 56, became a successful do-it-yourselfer who in small talk with other doctors began to realize that there were a whole lot of people who needed just what he was doing — and that they might actually pay a fee for it.
Today, Kasten heads the nationally chartered Unified Trust Co., which got its start as the aptly named Health Financial in Kasten’s basement in 1985. With 95 employees and $2.7 billion in assets under management, the company has experienced a single trajectory: up. The recent launch of Kasten’s cutting-edge UnifiedPlan — a managed-account platform that creates a pension-like experience for 401(k) plan participants — could take the firm to new heights.
“Obviously, we’d like to grow. We feel we have something extraordinary,” says Kasten, the author of Retirement Success. “We want to improve the outcome for more participants. We feel that’s our mandate.”
First, a number that isn’t at all encouraging. According to industry statistics, only 25 percent of retirement plan participants are on track to retire successfully. Over the last four years, Kasten with a team of developers and analysts have fine-tuned a software solution based on actuarial science to beat that number. Early results are promising.
In the first group of existing Unified Trust plans to complete the UnifiedPlan conversion process, the percentage of people on track to retire with adequate funds increased from 33 percent to 66 percent. Participants also experienced improved portfolio outcomes with less portfolio risk and better risk-tolerance matching. Plans new to Unified Trust saw an even bigger bump, from 11 percent to 66 percent.
The goal: to replace 70 percent of a person’s annual income in retirement.
“Most people spend more time thinking about what kind of flat screen TV they’re going to buy than modeling their retirement,” says Kasten, a certified pension consultant who has given hundreds of lectures on fiduciary best practices to pension professionals and federal banking regulators. “We figure out how much your retirement is going to cost along with a solution. By age 66, this method will produce the assets that match your liability.”
Every quarter, the program collects 700 data points on each participant. Those are then analyzed to make sure the person has a prudent asset allocation to stay on track. If changes are needed, Unified Trust makes them automatically. UnifiedPlan also combines personalized “intelligent defaults” such as automatic enrollment, savings increases and rebalancing portfolios with fiduciary oversight to improve participant success.
“This is Defined Benefit 101. It’s how a pension plan would have run in the ‘50s or ‘60s. There’s nothing magical about what we’re doing,” Kasten says. “But there are a lot of moving parts. What we are able to deliver is something advisors can’t do for themselves: provide a mass-produced, individualized pension experience.”
Kasten’s career path has been nothing if not unique. During his first seven years as an advisor, he both practiced medicine full-time and ran his fee-only business out of his home. “I always kid people that my wife said in 1992 that you can have one 60-hour week job, but you can’t have two,” says Kasten, a former officer in the U.S. Army Reserve Medical Corps. When he left medicine to fully pursue an advisory career, Kasten had 300 clients and $70 million in assets under management. In 1993, he hired receptionist Michele Hardesty. The day she started, they moved to an office space. Currently, 70 percent of Unified Trust’s business involves retirement plans; the rest, high-net-worth families.
Hardesty, now the company’s chief operations officer, calls Kasten “visionary” and “driven.”
“Greg is an incredible leader. Our underpinning is we are doing things the right way for the right reasons,” she says. “We’re not doing what everybody else does. We’re not structured the way everyone else is. We feel it’s kept us ahead of the industry.”
Next year, Unified Trust will offer UnifiedPlan to all of its 30,000 plan participants. Kasten is also introducing the product — which took more than 40,000 hours to develop — at industry trade shows.
Albert Einstein, Kasten likes to point out, is quoted as saying the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. He believes most 401(k) plans fall into that category.
“Statements may be a different color or a website will change but companies basically are doing the same thing over and over again. There’s never been any real change in how many people are able to retire successfully,” he says. “This gives a solution. It figures it out. It’s not theory. We can show conclusively this works. We’re trying to get past that definition of insanity.”
Gerard (Gerry) Klingman
President Klingman & Associates Raymond James Financial Services
Career Began: 1983
Home Base: New York
Civic Affiliations: Best Buddies International, Hope’s Door, World Vision
For years, industry consultants and other advisors urged Gerry Klingman to focus on a single client market. Senior corporate executives, professional athletes, entrepreneurs, retirees — couldn’t he pick just one? Not if you’re Gerry Klingman.
“I resisted and I’m grateful. I learn things from my clients all the time. It keeps the business interesting and fresh,” says Klingman, who manages over $1 billion for 250 families. “We may have been more profitable if we had just focused on one, but we have a more vibrant practice.”
Today, Klingman’s New York City-based team of 11 essentially operates as a family office for high-achieving individuals who need sophisticated advice on everything from risk management and legacy planning to employment opportunities and family decision-making. It gets personal.
“Our goal is to make our client’s life better and easier. For all practical purposes we will coordinate whatever is necessary to serve a client. We help clients meet their financial goals, whether managing a portfolio or hiring a bookkeeper to pay the bills. If a senior executive goes to a new company, we have them forward the new benefits information to us and we’ll summarize for them the decisions they should be making,” says Klingman, 50. “Whatever the issue, service is paramount. We do everything — almost everything. We won’t walk dogs.”
A typical Klingman & Associates client has a net worth in excess of $10 million. As Klingman puts it: “They’re generally at the point where money is no longer an issue for them in terms of what they’re going to eat, what house they’re going to live in or where they are going to travel. These are smart people who want to talk about things that matter to them relative to their money, not about the dollars and cents themselves.”
In many ways, Klingman’s career has been defined by an independent streak. While still at Princeton University, where he majored in economics, Klingman accepted a job with a large investment bank. “At the orientation, they talked about being an employee and the culture of the firm. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I started to get a queasy feeling,” says Klingman. “The concept of being an employee didn’t really jibe. I wanted to work for myself.” He quit before he even started.
In 1983, Klingman joined First Albany as an advisor. Three years later, rejecting the retail industry’s “smile and dial” philosophy, Klingman broke with tradition and formed his own planning practice. “I just knew financial advice had to be different than that,” he says.
From 1987 to 2006, Klingman was affiliated with Northwestern Mutual Life and its broker/dealer affiliate Robert W. Baird. He was Baird’s top producer for each of those years. Klingman, in a move to secure greater independence, formed an RIA and joined Raymond James Financial Services in 2006.
It was a big move for him — and for Raymond James.
“When Gerry chose to affiliate with us, he raised the bar in terms of the caliber of advisor we could expect to recruit,” notes Richard G. Averitt III, Raymond James Financial Services’ chairman and CEO. “He is one of Raymond James’ most outstanding advisors. He sets the sort of altruistic example others merely aspire to in his professional performance, his superior ethics and his generous philanthropy.”
Klingman and his wife Penney are deeply involved in several charities, including Best Buddies, which Klingman calls a “civil rights movement” for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Klingman has provided financial guidance to the organization for 20 years. When he first became involved, the budget was under $200,000. Today, with an annual budget of $40 million, Best Buddies is the largest non-profit worldwide devoted solely to providing friendship, employment and leadership to the intellectually and developmentally disabled.
Anthony Kennedy Shriver, who founded Best Buddies, calls Klingman “a humble and behind-the-scenes kind of guy” who has become an ardent advocate for people with disabilities. “If only I could find just 10 other Gerry Klingmans, my job would be done on January 1st of each year,” adds Shriver.
One of the biggest challenges Klingman faces going forward is to create a firm that outlives him.
“It’s about developing the next generation of people in this firm that will help me to continue to help clients. For the next five to 10 years, it’s something I’m going to think hard about,” he says. “It’s not that we have to get to $2 billion or $3 billion. It’s: How do we service the clients we have and that will be referred to us?”
Notably, many of Klingman’s clients, across a broad range of talents and skills, have advised him on the most efficient way to run a top-level organization.
“The challenge for me always is that I love working with clients and I enjoy dealing with finance and managing money, but you also have to be a business owner,” he says. “If I’m blessed to have good health over the next 28 years, this firm will outlive me. The concept of selling my business or retiring is something I can’t fathom. My clients have become my closest friends. How do you retire from your closest friends?”
Sheryl (Sherri) Stephens
President Stephens Wealth Management Group Raymond James Financial Services
Career Began: 1975
Home Base: Flint, Mich.
Civic Affiliations: Community Foundation of Greater Flint, McLaren Hospital, Fentura Financial
When Sherri Stephens was a high school senior, legendary advisor John Winton sent a message to her business teacher: “Send me someone who can type, take shorthand and has a reasonable aptitude.” That “someone” was Stephens, then on track to get a teaching degree.
Sometimes, it’s a good thing when a plan derails. “I kind of hit the jackpot but I didn’t know it at the time. He was very visionary, very ethical, a pioneer,” says Stephens. “He was a true mentor. Without him, I would have never gone down this path.”
Today, the onetime secretary now runs the firm. As president of Stephens Wealth Management Group, a Raymond James Financial Services affiliate in Flint, Mich., Stephens is a diminutive woman who casts a long shadow. With $359 million under management, Stephens, 54, tends to roughly 375 households. Her team — 10 in all — also works with retirement plans, a niche Winton astutely developed in the early 1980s when the area, due to its robust automotive industry, had the second-highest per-capita income rate in the nation. To her credit, Stephens has made repeat appearances on the Barron’s listing of “Top 100 Women Financial Advisors,” among other rankings.
As RJFS advisor Judith McGee, CEO of Portland, Ore.-based McGee Financial Strategies, puts it: “Like they say, dynamite comes in small packages. She has command presence, which I think is an incredible thing to say about someone whose demeanor is as gracious as hers. She can walk into a room with top-level advisors and she holds the room. It’s hers.”
No success story — and Stephens’ is surely that — comes without growing pains.
After Winton moved to Florida to start a practice there in 1982, Stephens, by then a partner in the firm, stayed on to manage the Michigan office. She will never forget her first solo meeting with a client. “It was a review with a dentist and his attorney. The attorney literally chewed me up and spit me out. I wasn’t really prepared,” she recalls. “I was humiliated. I always wanted to be taken seriously. After that, I vowed: ‘This will never happen to me again.’ It didn’t. It was a big aha.”
In 1994, when Winton died unexpectedly, Stephens faced the greatest challenge of her career. Fortunately, they had a buy-sell agreement. And for the previous five years, Winton in every client meeting had said: “This is Sherri. You can trust her as much as you can trust me.” But the reality was a little different.
“He was the face of the company,” says Stephens. “When you are in the shadow of someone like that, no one really knows who you are or what you can do. All I knew at the time was I had to be able to make this work. These clients needed reassurance. And his family needed me to be able to maintain this, too. This was his life’s work. So I put my head down and did what I knew, which was to go to the relationships, be very transparent, explain what I was doing, and explain how I was doing it so they would feel safe. Basically, it was about helping them understand what I do do and what I do know.”
One of the first moves Stephens made was to sell the business in Florida so that she could focus fully on her Michigan clients. Notably, she didn’t lose a single account during the transition. “I’m more of a dig into the details kind of person. I have to know myself cold,” says Stephens. “My clients today say: ‘I raised you since you were 18.’ They know me, my family, my upbringing. One thing they also know is that we’re in this together.”
Over the years, Stephens has invested heavily in staff, including three other advisors who are certified financial planners. Her son Tyler works as an assistant to the firm’s analyst. Every year, Stephens, continuing a tradition that started with her, takes on a student from her former high school. College interns are also part of the mix.
During off hours, she devotes time to community engagement. “I love the board work I do,” she says. “I enjoy that way of giving back.” A member of the Raymond James Chairman’s Council and on the board of its Network for Women Advisors, Stephens also gives back to the firm.
As fellow Chairman’s Council member Kathy Muldoon, senior vice president of Carter Financial Management in Dallas, notes: “She brings a deep humanity to her involvement with clients, staff and colleagues. And she grows each year, never content with her current accomplishments, ready to stretch and to share what she learns along the way.”
Today, Stephens Wealth Management, whose assets have tripled in size under Stephens’ tenure as president, is not the firm it was before — and neither is economically stressed Flint. At the moment, Stephens is thinking about building a second practice in Florida, perhaps buying a firm that’s a good fit.
“We’re doing well for where we are. I’d like to grow, even if we can’t do it locally,” she says. “The one thing I do know is I don’t want to slow down. That’s just not me.”
Winners to Date
Alexander P. Armour
Davenport & Co.
Gruntal & Co.
David A. Noyes & Co.
Shearson Lehman Brothers
The Bendix Financial Group/Royal Alliance
Spire Investment Partners
Morris B. Blumenthal
Lyman H. Bond
LPL Financial Services
Arthur H. Bougae
Alex. Brown & Sons
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter
Thomas F. Bullock