Advisor's Small Town Practice Grows Across Generations, States

I’m from Greenville, Alabama, a typical small Southern town where everyone knows one another. It was a wonderful place to grow up in the 1950s and 1960s.

After college at the University of Alabama, my wife and I moved to Selma in 1977. I started a business investing in real estate, but I found that the fun part was working with clients and not actually managing the property. So in 1984 I made the switch to a brokerage practice.

We had the great fortune to be associated with A.G. Edwards. This may sound trite, but Edwards really had a culture of putting the client first, and I attribute our success to internalizing that belief. Today, we’re building a similar culture at Wells Fargo Advisors.

While I still hold on to that client-first approach, other aspects of my practice have changed. For the first 20 years of my career, I was a traditional broker helping people build portfolios of municipal bonds and large-cap common stocks, and my clients were almost exclusively from Selma. But then there were dramatic shifts in Selma’s economy—we lost the apparel industry and a major air force base—and this caused many people to leave the area.

Our clients are now in many states across the country, although most of them still have roots in Alabama and many are the children of our original clients. Because we don’t have a significant influx of new wealth into Selma, it’s been imperative for us to retain relationships across generations. We’ve held on to these clients because of the positive experiences they or their parents had with us, and because they want to maintain a connection with Selma.

As my client relationships have endured and grown, so has my practice. There are now five people on the team, each playing an important role. Both of my children work with us, and I consider myself fortunate that they wanted to come into the business even though we are violating a key tenant of sound investment practice—our family isn’t particularly diversified when it comes to career choices.

Our business changed in the mid-1990s to an advisory practice. The typical day now does not involve picking up the phone and offering a product. Rather it’s sitting down with a client, listening to what is important to them. That may include their investment portfolio, but it revolves around other things, such as their family and personal issues. Our business has really never been about beating an index. It’s important that our investments do well, but it’s more about having the client understand what we’re doing and accomplishing their goals over time and over generations.

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