Every Investment Begins with a Story
Being an exceptional investment advisor is about much more than picking stocks and helping people reach their financial objectives. It’s about getting to know people and their unique stories of how they got to where they are today and where they want to go in the future. I don’t work with clients; I work with individuals who have hopes, dreams and fears - just like all of us. It’s these people who have inspired me to share my personal journey into the investment world and my path to becoming an independent advisor.
I am the eldest of five children from a middle class family, and I learned valuable lessons about the importance of living within one’s means that laid the foundation for my convictions when it comes to saving and investing.
Like many children, I adored sports and harbored dreams of becoming a professional athlete. Knowing that the fees associated with participating in sports would be a burden on my family, I got my first job as a paperboy for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1989. At 9 years old, I managed a neighborhood paper route of 75 local neighborhood clients and earned around $40 a week. I saved at least half of my weekly earnings and invested them in a mutual fund by mailing checks to Vanguard in Valley Forge, PA. I used the remainder to pay for my sports equipment, league dues and splurge on collecting baseball cards.
I kept my sports dreams alive through high school where I balanced school with my position as a starter on both the baseball and football teams as well as maintained a rigorous work schedule at employers such as Chick-Fil-A, UPS, and Costco. My high-school days instilled in me a tremendous work ethic and a belief that nothing is beyond your grasp if you can dream it.
In 1999, I attended Clemson University and made the football team as a walk-on linebacker playing for Reggie Herring and Tommy Bowden was the head coach. During my time on the team, I refocused my passions toward my academic studies of accounting and finance specifically investments. I graduated with a degree in accounting and my first “real life” financial test was much closer than I had imagined.
While I was in college, my family experienced a significant windfall from UPS stock, as in late 1998 (during the tail-end of the great late 1990’s stock bull market), UPS Inc. after being founded in the early 1900’s and staying a lean private company decided it was time to go to the public markets via an initial public offering (IPO). Unfortunately for my family, many of the common problems that come with a significant amount of money swiftly followed. Financially, diversifying from a core concentrated holding can be challenging, and my father took a “do it yourself” approach, and invested in doomed Technology and Internet stocks that were popular in the late 90’s .com mania. This strategy caused a significant loss of capital in excess of the several million dollars. Personally, my parents went through a divorce, which was an emotionally taxing process that lasted over four years and unnecessarily drained at least over another million dollars in professional services fees.
“RISK COMES FROM NOT KNOWING WHAT YOU ARE DOING" ~ Warren Buffett
While many families suffer similar struggles, there was a silver lining in mine: I was appointed “on paper” managing partner in a mismanaged family partnership. This gave me the opportunity, at only 23 years old, to manage a stock portfolio of over $14M with the goal of maximizing returns, minimizing taxes, and risks and strategically diversifying from UPS.
I managed this partnership portfolio from 2003-2007 in addition to working in grueling public accounting and corporate finance positions. Despite my limited experience and multiple professional commitments, the portfolio returned 103% and outperformed the S&P 500 by 26% from 2003-2007. From a technical perspective I learned about the management and taxation of trusts, and from an emotional perspective the difficulties of managing family business relationships.
“RULE NO. 1 : NEVER LOSE MONEY. RULE NO. 2 : NEVER FORGET RULE NO. 1.” ~ Warren Buffett
While managing the family partnership, I applied the formula of saving and investing to my personal finances. My first year out of college, I managed to save the entire $35k after tax earnings by living frugally. I moved back home and relentlessly saved so I could invest in the companies I doggedly researched and studied. That year my personal portfolio returned over 100%, allowing me to accumulate over $70k in my first year out of college.
After this, I was hooked. I became enthralled with the principles of successful investing and read every book I could get my hands on. My favorites were about the practicality of Warren Buffett and the “buy what you know” strategy employed by Peter Lynch. I developed a desire to know as much as possible about investments, which led me to the grueling journey of the CFA Institute program and earn the CFA Charterholder designation.
With CPA, CFP and CFA credentials, I was offered numerous opportunities to work with large firms or big banks. But the hard lessons I learned about managing wealth and my desire to help individuals grow on their financial journeys guided my decision to start Meridian Investment Partners.
“IT TAKES 20 YEARS TO BUILD A REPUTATION AND FIVE MINUTES TO RUIN IT. IF YOU THINK ABOUT THAT, YOU’LL DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY.” ~ Warren Buffett
I’m grateful for the path that has brought me here and the lessons learned along the way. Some of the most crucial things I’ve discovered include:
As you accumulate wealth, there is a need to find competent, honest advisors to manage complex tax, investment and legal issues. I witnessed my family choose poor advisors who worked for well-known banks, accounting firms and financial advisory firms create irreparable damage. From a CPA who recommended an unregistered investment in order to earn a 20% commission, or to a “hand-picked” trustee who misappropriated and embezzled funds, it turns out a big name does not necessarily make a trustworthy one.
You must be patient and disciplined as investor. In 2007, after removing myself from the management of the family partnership, I saw my family increase the debt leverage of the portfolio in order to invest in highly speculative “commodity type” stocks. This was followed by emotional panic selling in 2008 and early 2009 as the markets dropped – these decisions led to a 55% loss that was never recovered.
Most importantly, I have learned how to apply my life’s lessons in building and preserving financial wealth. While I have become what some consider an expert in wealth management and spend most of my time helping clients figure out the best way to manage their wealth, I believe that money is rightfully at the bottom of Napoleon Hill’s list of things that make people rich and is a byproduct of doing the right things in all aspects of life.