Top 40 Under 40: Profiles in success

Published
  • April 06 2017, 1:57pm EDT
The advisers leading On Wall Street's annual Top 40 Under 40 rankings share a common dedication to serving their clients, an intense focus on honing their skills and a conservative approach to investing.

But each planner has also developed their own niche and arrived at their current success via unqiue paths. Morgan Stanley's Fulvio Urbinati transitioned from fixed-income trading to wealth management, with a special focus on Latin American clients. Bob White of HighTower works almost exclusively with multi-generation families — sometimes dealing with four generations at once.

Click through to learn how these advisers became successfully, ultimately reaching the top of the list.

Finalists had to be no older than 39 as of Dec. 31, 2016. They must be wirehouse, regional broker-dealer or boutique wealth management firm employees. Production totals were used to determine the rankings.

Ages as well as production and AUM figures are from 2016.

You may see the other advisers listed in this year's ranking here: nos. 11 to 20, 21 to 30 and 31 to 40.

The advisers leading On Wall Street's annual Top 40 Under 40 rankings share a common dedication to serving their clients, an intense focus on honing their skills and a conservative approach to investing.

But each planner has also developed their own niche and arrived at their current success via unqiue paths. Morgan Stanley's Fulvio Urbinati transitioned from fixed-income trading to wealth management, with a special focus on Latin American clients. Bob White of HighTower works almost exclusively with multi-generation families — sometimes dealing with four generations at once.

Click through to learn how these advisers became successfully, ultimately reaching the top of the list..

Finalists had to be no older than 39 as of Dec. 31, 2016. They must be wirehouses, regional broker-dealers or boutique wealth management firm employees. Production totals were used to determine the rankings.

Ages as well as product and AUM figures are from 2016.

No. 10: Fulvio Urbinati

Firm: Morgan Stanley
Age: 38
Production: $3,824,289
AUM: $479,889,003

Five years into a career as a fixed-income trader with BNP Paribas, Fulivo Urbinati decided to change course.

"I always had a very good time interacting with clients, so I decided to stay close with the clients and switch my career over to wealth management, which was not an easy thing to do," Urbinati says.

He first joined his partners Daniele Conci and Edouard Crepy at BNP Paribas in Miami, his home since 2002, and their Eagleone team moved to Morgan Stanley's boutique private wealth management division in 2011. This year marks Urbinati's third on the On Wall Street "Top 40 Under 40."

Yet he still remembers how tough it was to get the team off the ground in the early days, he says.

"The most difficult thing in the beginning was overcoming my very young age with my clients," Urbinati says. "They started to trust me. And, you know the industry that we're in, it's very much word-of-mouth. They introduce you to friends, cousins, and that's how we grew."

Urbinati was born in the northern Brazil provincial capital of Belém. He emigrated to the U.S. in 2000 to attend the MBA program at Northeastern University after his graduation from the Federal University of Amazonas. Urbinati and his wife Michelle have two daughters aged 11 and 2 as well as an 8-year-old son.

In addition to his personal roots, Urbinati maintains strong business ties to his country of birth. About 85% of his team's ultrahigh-net-worth clients come from foreign countries, and half come from Brazil, he notes.

He credits his and his partners' smooth working relationship to their shared values as a group. "We truly work as a team," he says.

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No. 9: Daniel Rothenberg

Firm: UBS
Age: 34
Production: $3,960,847
AUM: $3,246,715,247

Dan Rothenberg's career as a financial adviser was barely two-years-old when the financial crisis hit.

"I was just sort of getting up and running," he says. "In hindsight, that wasn't exactly a blessing, but I was out there trying to get new assets while a lot of financial advisers were just trying to get through."

Rothenberg, who studied economics at Harvard, says his early years involved a lot of early mornings and late evenings. In other words, a lot of hustling. "I kept my head down and moving forward," he says."

Today, the Los Angeles-based adviser attributes his and his team's success to a focus on keeping things simple from an investment perspective and fees reasonable for clients.

"I think we price ourselves attractively and we focus on overall expense to the client. We think that makes a big difference. It also gives us an easier hurdle to beat rather than a benchmark," he says.

His team is also comprised of two other advisers and four staff members. Their practice is largely referral-based. It is a combination of private clients and endowments. With new clients, Rothenberg typically doesn't talk about stocks, bonds or other securities, he says.

"Really, starting out it's never about the investments or the allocation," he says. "It's: What are the goals? What are the spending needs? What is your risk tolerance?"

Rothenberg notes that new technologies, especially robo advisers, are changing the wealth management business. But as they work to further grow the practice, Rothenberg's focus remains on tried and true methods: "Keep doing what we're doing, keep it simple and don't stray into areas that we don't necessarily understand."

No. 8: Mihir Patel

Firm: Morgan Stanley
Age: 36
Production: $4,228,723
AUM: $235,833,330

The beginning of Mihir Patel's career coincided with the Dot Com bubble and bust. That was a good thing, he says.

"I felt like I learned a ton — not only dealing with market fundamentals but also with what clients needed at the time. It was the best learning experience in my career," he says.

He's been making course adjustments ever since.

The New York-based adviser has been with Morgan Stanley since 2011. He previously worked at Merrill Lynch, having started there as an intern while studying at the University of Richmond. At the start of his career, Patel had the advantage of working under a veteran adviser who mentored him, he says.

Today, his practice includes about 300 high-net-worth clients.

"Our team is 100% referral only. We don't take strangers. I kind of put a joke out there that we interview clients as hard as they interview us because we want it to be the right fit," Patel says.

He says additional growth will come in the form of more referrals and meeting more client needs.

"I want to deliver all of Morgan Stanley to everyone. But I know that I personally can't do it alone, so I need a team that has personalized niches," he says.

To that end, Patel has plans to add a second CFP and a liability manager to the team next year. The team currently comprises of Patel, a partner and two assistants. But even as it grows, he says it will remain a close-knit business.

"I don't know how to make this sound not cheesy, but I think the family-based nature of our book of business give us a little bit of a different philosophy in terms of how we manage relationships," he says. "I think our clients appreciate that."

No. 7: Bruno Miranda

Firm: UBS
Age: 35
Production: $4,301,352
AUM: $385,012,954

Growing up the son of an attorney, Bruno Miranda had planned on following in his father's footsteps. During his college years at Florida International University, he decided to switch career paths when he landed a summer internship with a small brokerage firm.

"I became addicted to the investment side of the business," says Miranda, who also ranked no. 11 in the 2014 Top 40 Under 40. He returned to school in the fall and changed his major to finance. By his senior year, he began exploring potential jobs. He looked into working in life insurance, administrative positions at commercial banks, management and teller positions.

Then he stumbled across another internship opportunity with Julio Mendoza, who worked for Merrill Lynch's Miami-based Latin American business.

"[Of] all the interviews I went to, wealth management was the one I related to the most," Miranda says. He said his interest was piqued because he would be able to work with people in addition to investments.

In 1999, the team transitioned over to UBS. Miranda stayed with the group and was hired as an adviser three years later. His relationship with Mendoza would eventually grow to the point where he became the veteran adviser's top choice for succession.

"We started sharing more and more accounts together. We eventually built a business that was 50/50 around 2008, and then it was 25/25 soon after," he remembers. "We did that for a few more years when he retired in 2012 and I bought his half (of the practice)."

After Mendoza left, Miranda joined forces with a friend to create a new team.

"We've grown. There's two FAs and two assistants that are still with us," Miranda says of the business which has catapulted him into elite circles within the industry. He credits Mendoza for giving him a chance in the business that has translated into success.

"He was a good mentor," Miranda says, adding that the flexibility and autonomy Mendoza handed him helped inform his work.

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No. 6: Dane Runia

Firm: Merrill Lynch
Age: 33
Production: $4,843,019
AUM: $2,050,264,166

At a recent conference with other advisers from Merrill Lynch's elite Private Banking & Investment Group, Dane Runia says he realized something that set him apart from his colleagues: he often gets to eat lunch at home with his wife and children.

Runia and his father, Scott Runia, lead a seven-employee team out of an office in Provo, Utah, where Runia was born and raised. The untimely deaths of his father's longtime business partner and friend and Runia's older brother have buffeted his career, Runia says.

"Having gone through those two deaths, you learn what's important in life," he says.

The father of four and onetime Brigham Young University Cougars basketball player began working at the elder Runia's office in 2006.

He says that his dad, who has worked over three decades for Merrill, made him an "errand boy" for the office before promoting him to be an analyst, adviser and, subsequently, a partner.

"He really had me start from the ground up," Runia says.

While Runia jokes that his lifelong hometown is a "booming metropolis," he notes the area boasts more clients with the private banking unit's required account size of $10 million or more than one might expect in "flyover country." The practice's clients know their advisers well, he says.

"It's a very different feel from the typical wealth management office," Runia says. "We really have a great relationship with our clients. They pop in our office a lot."

He wants to keep that "high-touch approach" intact at the practice moving forward, he adds.

"We could expand, and we certainly have a good foundation to do so, but we want to make sure we keep a balance and don't outsource too much," Runia says. "We deal with people that are nice. And if you're not in that bucket, then it's not a fit for us."

No. 5: Bob White

Firm: HighTower
Age: 36
Production: $5,418,940
AUM: 647,389,833

While some advisers might be striving to win their clients' kids over as new clients, it's not unusual for adviser Bob White to work with four generations of a single family. In fact, his team is tailored for it.

"At least 50% of our assets are three generations or more," he says. "It's more of an oddity to have a single person or a couple."

White says his niche is beneficial to developing strategy. "You know the different levels of wealth. It's also much more personally rewarding," says White, whose group includes seven team members.

The smallest families they serve tend to have around eight members; the largest have upwards of two dozen, he says.

The practice is almost entirely referral-based, and new clients are asked to provide a lot of personal information in a confidential manner. White says it's "labor intensive," but critical for their clients' success.

"We are able to give better advice the more we have at our disposable. If someone isn't comfortable giving us information, it's probably not the right relationship and we'll express that," the Manhattan-based adviser says.

There can be hurdles to working with multiple family members. If just one is dissatisfied, it can "rock the whole boat," says White, who started at his career at UBS before transitioning with his team to HighTower in 2010.

"Family dynamics are interesting and nuanced and they are all different," White says. "But that challenge is also what makes it interesting because you are truly acting as a fiduciary to that specific person and that specific family. There's no rule of thumb that applies to every family."

No. 4: Adam Merino

Firm: Morgan Stanley
Age: 33
Production: $5,587,249
AUM: $468,241,737

When Adam Merino ended up the only team member to remain with his group at Morgan Stanley in the years following the 2008 financial crisis, his boss and mentor Bob Stolar offered words of encouragement. "If you can prove to the client you know what you're doing, and you know your stuff, that role is only going to get larger," Merino recalls Stolar telling him.

Merino, his dad a high school teacher and mom a speech pathologist who worked with children with disabilities, enters the Top 40 Under 40 ranking for a second time. He placed 31 in 2016.

The Phoenix native studied economics at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. He worked at U.S. Trust after college, which is where he met Stolar.

In the years since the crisis, Merino's group at Morgan has grown to have nearly a dozen members, split between New York, where he is based, and San Francisco.

"We've grown our book of business organically. We don't do any marketing. We don't do any cold calling," he explains. "Our growth is entirely on client referrals."

Merino credits Stolar for both of his entries into the Top 40 under 40 rankings.

"It's quite a simplistic approach if you think about it," Merino says. "You have to be able to trust the people underneath you, and it's almost a trial by fire approach [for many]," Merino says about Stolar.

"He gives you all the responsibility in the world at a young age," says Merino. "If you do well, he gives you more. It's how I got to where I am now."

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No. 3: Sean Yu

Firm: Morgan Stanley
Age: 39
Production: $5,674,736
AUM: $432,024,349

Sean Yu attended the University of Chicago to study international relations and expected to use his gift for speaking in front of large groups to become a college professor. But realizing that it wasn't the path for him, he opted instead to become a financial adviser upon graduation in 2002, and started cold calling.

"I had $100,000 in student loans that I had to pay, so I worked hard," he recalls of his early days at Morgan Stanley.

Yu is appearing in the Top 40 Under 40 for the fourth time after he placed fourth in 2016, sixth in 2015 and seventh in 2014.

Soon after starting, Yu discovered that seminars were a more effective way of landing prospects. Tapping into his skills as a lecturer, he began hosting events with groups affiliated with Kiwanis International and Lions Club International and arranged several lunches and dinners to speak with potential clients. He says he was organizing as many as 50 seminars a year.

"I'm not shy to present in front of people. Seminars put you face to face with others," he says. "Plus, I pay for your lunch. Ideally from a group of 10 to 20 people, all I need is one client."

Yu has since become more selective about the clients he works with. He now mainly focuses on Chinese clients. Yu has expanded his team to six associates, including a new financial adviser who joined in recent weeks. And he also has transitioned over to a strictly fee-based business to be compliant with the Department of Labor's fiduciary rule.

"I'm lucky to be in the right area," he says.

No. 2: JR Gondeck

Firm: HighTower
Age: 35
Production: $7,100,000
AUM: $886,932,342

For Walter J.R. Gondeck, an affinity for hard work started as early as the second grade.

"I earned my first paycheck from a paper route," Gondeck remembers. "It got me grounded and working, and in high school I actually spent three years working on a farm."

He didn't grow up wanting to be an adviser, but Gondeck's industriousness helped him excel academically and he was able to rise at a swift pace. The Wisconsin native headed to Marquette University to pursue a degree in engineering at first, eventually shifting his focus to finance. Eager to work in the field, Gondeck graduated early and an IT temp job got him through the door at Morgan Stanley.

Gondeck joined the training program and ended up working under the wing of his now-partner and mentor Gene Lerner.

"I probably spent the first three years in the business not opening my mouth with clients and just learning from him," Gondeck says. He jokes he "got his PhD" under his mentor, who actually got his under Milton Friedman years ago.

Gondeck is now a partner of the same Deerfield, Illinois-based team. Now with HighTower, the Lerner Group has shifted its focus away from stock picking to wealth planning. He attributes his success not only to working with his mentor, but also helping put together the 13-person team he works with today.

"I don't think anyone can do it all," Gondeck says. "I think my success is a testament to a great mentor and putting together a good team — and at the end of the day, having great clients."

No. 1: Nick Kavallieratos

Firm: Morgan Stanley
Age: 37
Production: $7,400,953
AUM: $1,965,197,419

What's propelled adviser Nick Kavallieratos to the top of this year's list?

Honing a personal style of communication and building a team of specialists, the New York-based adviser says.

Effective communication is paramount for Kavallieratos, a theme he returns to again and again. It helps clients stay on course when major events like Brexit can stir emotional responses, causing people to act irrationally.

"Brexit was a lot of noise," Kavallieratos says of his team's work with clients during and after the U.K. vote.

He had poignant conversations with clients where he was able to explain the importance of staying calm amid big news and market volatility. "We've spent countless hours creating a road map for you and your family," Kavallieratos told clients. "Does it make sense to make an emotional decision based on one event?"

Of course, developing effective listening skills didn't happen overnight, he says. "It has taken time to refine that element."

Kavallieratos also says that fostering a team of specialists has also been a key factor in his success. Over the past eight years, he's almost doubled the size of his team to 15, including four advisers.

"It's a sheer necessity to want to grow the business and offer more to clients. Being a jack of all trades and a master of none helps no one," Kavallieratos says.

Noting his firm's size and capabilities. Kavallieratos says he's also focused on finding new ways to leverage them for his clients. Adding subject matter experts to the team has helped them better tap resources at Morgan Stanley, where he has been his entire career.

"It goes back to our cornerstone belief that if you don't have the right customer service there is no basis on which to grow the business," he says.