I grew up in Wilmette, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. I always liked numbers, so I majored in finance at Indiana University and thought I'd be an accountant or tax attorney. I had a great tax professor, Dr. Frumer, who said tax accountants would be set for life because there was no such thing as tax reform or tax simplification. During one class, he held up the original copy of the internal revenue code from the early 1900s in one hand and two volumes of the latest tax code in the other. He said that every president had run on a platform of tax reform or tax simplification, and neither was ever going to happen. He was also fond of saying: "There is no such thing as a fair tax; the only fair tax is one that someone else pays."

After graduating in 1984, I enrolled in law school. I had passed the CPA exam and wanted to work in compliance during the day while putting myself through law school at night. Then Chase Manhattan Bank offered me a job in commercial banking so I left law school and moved to New York. While working for Chase I learned about the importance of cash flow and how to sell and service clients. In 1989, I was recruited by the Sara Lee Corp., [which had become] my largest client at Chase. I started as Director of International Finance in the Treasury group and moved into business and general management. I worked for Sara Lee for 11 years, five of them in Paris. I spent most of my career working in their branded apparel division, which meant sweatshirts, underwear and panty hose. In 2000, I joined Merrill Lynch to run its retirement plan business. Next I headed strategy and finance in the private client group for a year and later restructured the firm's call center brokerage. From 2003 to 2008, I led the Retirement Group and then left Merrill in 2008 to run my own investment business. J.P. Morgan enticed me back to the industry at the beginning of this year [for my present position].

My experience in consumer marketing—from branding to product line management and profitability—has been helpful in serving the retirement market. [It] is the best market to be in now. To me, the retirement business is why people are saving—whether for their children's education, or to set money aside for when they're no longer working. The majority of clients want an advisor to help them sustain their quality of life. What's most interesting about the retirement business is that it's not limited to one product, distribution channel, account type or generation. When people of means consider retirement, they think about philanthropy or passing money on to the next generation.

In my personal life I'm known as a foodie. I like fine dining, but at the same time I'm a burger and beer guy who knows where the best hot dog cart is. I firmly believe that the Chicago "red hot" is better than a New York hot dog. I also like to play golf, but I'm decidedly better at eating.

As Told To Pat Olsen

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