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Updated: Dec 22, 2023

I was very fortunate as I was a beneficiary of many outstanding mentors. Great mentors focus on helping to shape other people’s character, values, self-awareness, and skills sets related to their lives and their professions.

First, I was blessed with great parents. My father was my first mentor and among the many things he taught me was to take a purposeful view on ethics. I remember him saying to me that in this world there are paths that you can take which are obviously good and there are paths that are obviously bad but the problem always comes with the things that lie in the grey area. When something is in a grey area folks most often will interpret it in a way that they see as beneficial to them. This is usually a biased viewpoint. The key to following an ethical life is when you are faced with something grey, you seek someone else’s opinion for confirmation rather than proceeding on your own. As a marketing director and later as a CEO, I was often saved from doing something unethical by following this “get someone else’s opinion rule.”

When I began my career on Wall Street, I met another mentor by the name of Bill Hirt. Bill was an EVP at Dean Witter but later went on to become the Chairman of Capital Research. He convinced me that the key to any financial advisors’ success was assets under management (AUM), and not activity. This became an imprimatur emblazoned on my soul and led me to constantly look for ways and methods to increase AUM. This may seem obvious to many now, but it wasn’t in 1970. I had about a twenty-five-year lead on the rest of the Street thanks to Bill Hirt. Understanding this was one of the keys to my successful career on Wall Street.

My next mentor was Theodore (Ted) Levitt. He taught me that the purpose of a business was to create and keep a customer. He also taught me the way to do that was by providing customers with products that fulfilled their needs. He convinced me that too often salespeople sold the products they had rather than the products their clients needed causing an immediate disconnect in client trust. As a marketing director this thought really came in handy and helped me define the difference between Sales and Marketing.

In the mid 1970’s I had to good fortune to be exposed to Peter Drucker.

The many lessons I learned from Peter, are far too numerous to go into in this piece but perhaps the most enlightening one was his insistence on getting rid of things. He famously reminded me that “if you don’t excrete you die.” He said the human body as a matter of fact, excretes waste to make room for more nourishment. Similarly, it is necessary to get rid of things such as bad ideas, bad relationships, and a whole host of other things, in order to grow.

Peter’s concept of getting rid of bad ideas was further embellished by another one of my mentors, Hyrum Smith. Hyrum developed a reality model that demonstrated how bad ideas are generated in the first place and how to get rid of them. He taught me that I should constantly be asking myself, “ What do I believe in that is wrong?” This is an exercise that helped me get rid of a lot of garbage over the years and avoid a plethora of mistakes.

Two of my fondest mentors were DeWitt Jones and Tom Morris. DeWitt taught me that there is more than one right answer. As a result of constantly looking for more than one right answer it unlocked a fountain of knowledge I would have never dreamed of and let me to some very creative solutions to problems. Tom Morris, who is a modern-day philosopher, gave me the secret to life.

He taught me how to create “a robust capacity to enjoy the process.” Not only did I benefit from this, but I have shared this concept over the years with thousands of people many of whom still thank me.

Along the way there were others such a Larry Biederman who taught me how to delegate, Tubby Burnham, who taught me to always have all the voted in my hand before going before the executive committee to get approval, and finally, Jeremy Siegal who taught me that stocks always return to the mean. One of the most important lessons for successful investing.

So,I really believe that my personal and business life were both shaped in a very positive way by mentors. If you have not been as fortunate as I have in being exposed to many great mentors, than I suggest you reach out to me and I can help you get the benefit of mine.

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