DALLAS - Two veteran founders of well-heeled financial planning firms—Richard “Richie” Lee of Lee Financial in Dallas, Texas and Michael Leonetti of Leonetti & Associates in Buffalo Grove, Ill.—readily confess that luck as much as deliberate strategy has contributed to their firms’ success.

“My management style depends on serendipity,” said Lee, when he spoke Sept. 18, along with Leonetti,at a convention of investment advisors in Dallas, sponsored by Bob Veres’ Insider’s Forum.

Lee conceded his approach, however, could not be duplicated these days. “I would  not do as well now,” he said. The level of analytical, quantitative and technology skills necessary in the financial planning industry has risen tremendously. But Lee said he recognizes that he has had to take risks, and he thinks that his continued courage and willingness to take risks may still help him stay ahead. “You have to understand your clients and get there where they need you to be at least at the same time as them, if not before them,” Lee said.

Leonetti points to the year he started his firm, 1982, as a lucky time in terms of market conditions. He also credits his unplanned encounter and subsequent relationship with a CEO of a company that sells surgical tools to brain surgeons as a pivotal event on his firm’s road to riches. “My brother was a brain surgeon,” Leonetti explained, and he had expected to harvest at least some clients from that tie but his relationship with the CEO of the surgical tool set up Leonetti for even more favorable client prospecting opportunities, he said.

Both Leonetti and Lee stressed that after fortune shined her light on them, they further bolstered their firms’ odds by hiring intelligently. For Lee, that meant identifying what skills he lacked and finding people who had those to bring on board. And, for Leonetti, that meant making sure when news hires started letting them know he welcomed their ideas and innovation. “I just said as long as you don’t bankrupt us,” Leonetti says.

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