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How commanding gunboats in Iraq improved an advisor's practice

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How can serving as the commanding officer of a dozen gunboats protecting oil wells in Iraq make you a better financial advisor?

As the co-owner with his wife Kristen of 994 Group, a new Austin, Texas-based RIA, Ted LeClair says his firm's emphasis on planning, emergency procedures and clear communication stems directly from his experience in the Iraq War.

Part of LeClair's job as a Navy officer was to train Iraqis to be able to defend the country's oil wells themselves. "We never got underway without a plan and were training the Iraqis to do the same," LeClair says.

Tactics, techniques and procedures were critical.
"We knew our TTPs so well that emergency procedures were second nature," he recalls. "When I was emergency officer of the watch we had to check the gauges in the engine and run a plan if there were failures. One of the reasons we wanted to start our own business was because we wanted to train our clients to think that way too."

In fact, the LeClairs plan to run Navy-inspired "life boat drills" to prepare their clients for emergencies.

"We'll pick a day and say that the market drops 400 points in the morning, similar to a ship being hit by a torpedo," Ted explains. "Then we'll run through a checklist: do we have full discretion to buy and sell stocks? How liquid are the clients' assets? Who are the contacts for the accounts? How can we reach them?"

Working with Iraqis also taught LeClair the importance of effective communication.

"Different words have different meanings for people, cultures too." LeClair says. "It's vital to learn what is important to someone and focus the plan and communication with that in mind."

Communication between couples, in fact, will be a central theme of the new advisory practice.

"Money is so emotionally charged, if you can help facilitate an honest conversation about finances between couples it can be a tool to help them live a better life together," Kristen says. "We won't work with couples unless both of them are involved."

Being business partners gives them credibility with couples and should help distinguish 994 Group, named after the first ship Ted served on in the Navy, Kristen says.

"It's a fairly unique situation in the industry," she says. "And other couples respect the fact that we decided to jump of the cliff together."

Both LeClairs are financial industry veterans. Kristen supported asset managers at LPL, Kestra and UVEST Financial Services in product management, development and due diligence.

As a client solutions specialist at Natixis, Ted also worked with asset managers. He was on active duty in the Navy for four years, including deployment to Kuwait in 2004 during the Iraq War. LeClair returned to the combat zone in 2007 as a reservist and is still in the reserves as a Navy captain.

The Navy taught Ted to be what he describes as "mission-focused," and he wants to pass that sense of urgency on to his clients.

"Eventually something is going to happen," LeClair points out. "We want clients to be trained and mentally prepared when they need to be."

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