Every Monday at Beck Bode, we have a team call where I share some thinking that will hopefully get people excited about our work, dare I say will inspire some reflection or soul searching about the reasons they were drawn to this business in the first place. Sometimes the calls spark some thinking about a childhood experience, or some other key events that culminated in folks wanting to get into this line of work to help people. My intention is to fire up our team!
I have learned a lot in this business, certainly from my days back at Merrill Lynch but particularly in the last eight years since Jim and I left to start our own firm. This work never ceases to fill me with wonder. We have an unbelievable opportunity every single day to grow our personal capital by helping people grow theirs. I can’t think that there is much better work than this. Yes, we make money, and our work comes with huge responsibility to take care of our clients, but at the same time, it’s enormously thrilling.
There is a type of person that I call the “true” financial advisor – the person who gets into this work for the right reasons, who considers it their calling to be of service. I don’t think that the true financial advisor considers the responsibility of holding peoples’ vision for the future a burden. No, I think the “true” financial advisor is an entrepreneur who comes at this career with an eye for opportunity for everyone, for the client, and for him/herself. We get up in the morning, excited about this work, never questioning whether this is the right career for us. And then we get to work putting people in front of opportunities that can dramatically change their lives.
My mentor, David Mallach, author of Dancing with the Analysts, says that when he gets in the office in the morning, perhaps he’s just completed a phone call with a new investor... and then he sits down to follow through on the act of investing their money. He describes a “feeling of electricity” shooting through his fingers as he places trades into their account for the first time. That’s a pretty intense statement, to say the least. But the crazy thing is that when I do the same thing, I have this experience, too. I palpably sense the excitement, the thrill, the excitement of putting someone in front of something that has the potential to be unbelievable.
To this day, it doesn’t matter if someone gives me four million or forty thousand dollars, when I place that trade, I feel an electric charge in my hands. I also know that over time, if they stick with the program, they will have more than they started with. I envision the future conversations we will have about a particular company they invested in, and I imagine the delight of giving them a call and saying, “Hi Mr. and Mrs. Client, remember that company we bought for you then, it was announced that they’re being bought out, and the stock is up XY%. Nothing you need to do, I just wanted to let you know the good news.” How amazing is it to be able to have that kind of impact for people?
The excitement that I feel taps into experiences that are deeply imprinted in me from childhood. I know how fortunate I am when I say it’s a feeling that gets awakened in my everyday work. I was recently reminiscing with my brother about my first recollection of feeling this way. I don’t think about it as often as you would think...it’s one of those things that I am perhaps not conscious of, but it’s ingrained in me, all the same.
So, our dad was a US Army helicopter pilot. He flew Hueys in Vietnam. If you aren’t familiar with the Huey, it was a workhorse of a helicopter, versatile for moving troops and equipment. One of its distinctive features was its twin-bladed rotor that made a tremendously unique sound in flight.
“It was a particularly noisy helicopter because, when in forward flight, the tip of the advancing rotor blade broke the speed of sound, creating a small sonic boom.”
After Vietnam, my dad was awarded various medals. He continued to fly in the Army Air National Guard for 20 years. At the same time, he was a high school math teacher. The story I’m about to share with you took place when I was five years old. I was in kindergarten. It was a late spring day, right around the time that school was going to be getting out for the summer. Sometime in the middle of the day, maybe right before lunchtime, we were still in the classroom with our teacher, doing whatever you do in kindergarten. All of a sudden, the school building started shaking. It was as if there was an earthquake, we were stunned, looking at each other. Obviously, the first thing you do as a kid, you look over to a grownup to see their reaction. All we could see was a big smile on our teacher’s face.
Then she said, "Everybody go over to the window and look outside." I heard the sound outside getting louder and louder, the vibration of the building getting stronger and stronger. We lined up along the window looking out onto the field, as we prepared ourselves to go to recess. The rhythmic thumping, the primal sound that was getting louder and louder was unmistakable. At that very moment we looked upwards, we saw descending from the sky this green grasshopper of a machine, and it landed about a hundred feet away from us. It was right then that I knew it was my dad. To all of us watching, the helicopter was massive and we were mesmerized.
I remember very little about the exact chain of events, but I remember distinctly the moment when I knew it was my dad. I felt a concentration of nervous energy, but not nervous of the negative kind. It was a sudden surge, a mixture of pride and awe. It’s like that feeling you get when you know you’re on the verge of something unbelievably good. And you know for sure that it’s going to happen – to you. The only real thing I can compare it to is back in the day when I played baseball. I experienced it then, too. One of the best home run hitters of all time, the baseball player, Mark McGuire, used to talk about the split second when he made the connection with the ball. It’s a thousandth of a second, probably, but you sense the contact between the bat and the ball, and it’s gone, you know it’ll be a home run. That, for me, was when the teacher said, "Okay, when the bell rings, you guys can all run out to the field."
I remember running out to my dad, he was dressed in his military gear. He picked me up. And the only other recollection I have is of Westbrook Street, which was the fairly well-traveled road the school was on. Cars had pulled over, lined up along the side of the road with people getting out, and other cars trying to get by, everyone probably wondering what the hell is going on here? Here was this great big helicopter landing in a fairly small area, right next to an elementary school.
I remember the news vans showing up, and the cameras coming out. This was in 1985… imagine if it happened today, my dad would probably be arrested! Basically, he called to let the principal know, to let the teachers know, that "Hey, I'm going to be flying into the Portland area and I'm going to drop down and land right in the field behind the school. And we'll do a kind of a show and tell."
It's pretty amazing to think about. As I think of it, that’s where a lot of what I'm made of comes from. That experience had a deep impact on me, it inspired me to cultivate a willingness to do what others won’t. That has remained inside of me and has grown significantly over time – it shows up in my personal life and in business. The helicopter pilot, and military pilots generally, are known to be maverick-type personalities. In Top Gun, Tom Cruise’s character – his call sign was Maverick. Mavericks are willing to do things that others won’t, taking calculated chances to achieve something great. So are true entrepreneurs. Now as entrepreneurs can we get ourselves into hot water? Of course. For this reason, when it comes to managing people’s money, we do it with an abundance of caution. There’s a reason why we follow a precise and fully transparent methodology, rather than simply operating on a feeling. As you know, there’s a huge amount of analysis behind how we do what we do.
This may be a roundabout way to say that that it doesn’t really matter what it is– whether it’s the feeling of the crack of the bat hitting a ball for a home run, the joy of a child jumping into his hero’s arms, or the feeling of electricity that comes with putting people in front of opportunities so that their dreams may be realized. Feeling successful boils down to being fanatically passionate about something. It’s about feeling that wild excitement in your body, that feeling of “Yes!”
Our work is not about selling or convincing anybody. All we have to do is talk about something that lights us up – even if it’s got absolutely zero to do with investing. What are you an expert in? What have your life experiences taught you? What are you uniquely qualified to help your clients with outside the world of finance? Are you a former pilot? Did you play baseball or another sport? How can you relate your knowledge of that field to what you're doing today?
Investing doesn’t have to be complex. Similarly, sales doesn't have to be miserable. Find something that you really, really enjoy. Maybe it’s an experience you had in your life. Talk about it all the time and how it relates to our work. David Mallach, who is also a pilot, talks about his investment strategy in very simple terms, from a pilot’s point of view. He talks specifically about not caring what the weather was like last week, last month, or last year. He’s only interested in what the weather is like today. He’s interested in the potential risks and how they may impact his flight plan.
We are all unique in the sense that we have our own personal experiences that light us up. I urge you to think about finding your own electricity. Remember where you come from and what you’re made of. Feel your own electricity, and then go and share it with everyone you know. Get up in the morning with that electricity at your fingertips, and most of all – have fun!
Ben Beck is Managing Partner & Chief Investment Officer at Beck Bode, a deliberately different wealth management firm with a unique view on investing, business and life.