This month marks 30 years ago that I started my own firm. At the time, I was working at a local Financial Planning firm that was actually pretty progressive for that era.
When I had started there some two years earlier, one of my colleagues, Jacquie, took me under her wing and taught me much about employee benefits. That became an important career skill for me. Jacquie had left the firm in the spring of 1988 for another endeavor. Like many breakups I guess there were bad feelings between her and the firm’s ownership. She was very involved in a local business association and they sponsored a running race that September to benefit a charity. I was a runner (I still am) and I ran in the race. I saw Jacquie at the race and spent some time catching up with her.
Evidently, this got back to one of the owners of the firm and on a rainy October day I was summoned to his office, along with one of the senior officers. I was accused of being disloyal for even speaking with her and grilled for details of what I discussed with her. I found the implication that I was disloyal to be utterly insulting. I am certainly not perfect, but I have never been unethical. Not then, and not now.
After a few minutes of this I made a decision. I decided that it was time to leave that firm. I interrupted the tirade and let them know that I had heard enough. I offered to finish the week to tie up some loose ends with clients, and on Friday I walked out the door for good.
Rather than joining another firm, it was time to strike out on my own. I knew a partner in a local CPA firm who had a spare office in their suite. On Monday, I was a tenant.
I can’t say it was easy. Being in business for yourself never is. In the beginning there was so much to tend to and it all fell on me. Over time I got the hang of it and eventually good at it. Many of my clients over the years have been fellow business owners. I think part of the reason for that is they realize I get it.
Most of my clients came with me and I never forgot they were the reason I was there. I was able to build a firm that reflected my values. Those included listening to their concerns and helping them set goals and work towards them. Most importantly, I wanted to be able to put my client’s needs and interests first (today we call that being a Fiduciary). Rather than being part of organizations that inherently lure clients into decisions and financial products that are better for the firm than the client, I wanted to be the person that protected them from that. In retrospect, that has really worked out.
Over the years there have been many highs and lows, both personally and professionally. It has been very rewarding seeing my clients set their goals and reach them. I love what I do and being an entrepreneur. The time sure has passed by. I hope to be able to do this for a few more decades.
If you are one of my client’s thank you for sharing the journey with me. If you aren’t, consider hopping on board, I think you will enjoy the ride.
The Bottom Line: Thank you all.
Michael Ross, CFP®