How do you tell a 6”2’ 245 lbs NFL linebacker to cut back on his spending and start putting more money away for his future? Verrrry carefully! We know. We’ve been there.
Since 1992, I have had a burning desire to teach professional athletes how to use their money wisely and safely. I have kept my head down; my shoulders squared and found a way to make it happen. While working smarter to learn as much as I could about high-achieving athletes and what makes them tick, I also learned how to create long-term relationships.
I also learned how important it is to build a team. Nobody can do everything themselves. My partners, associates, and the backdrop of Hefren-Tillotson has all been instrumental in our success.
My journey into the financial markets
After graduation from New York City’s Columbia University, I was security licensed in 1989, joining D.H. Blair & Co., at 44 Wall Street, where I gained valuable sales experience. In 1991, I moved to Prudential Securities, housed in the U.S. Steel Building in Pittsburgh, before Willard J. Tillotson recruited me to join Hefren-Tillotson in 1992.
Knowing that I could prosper with Hefren-Tillotson, I had to adjust to the idea of doing financial planning before selling a product. This was unknown to me. My early years were a grind – we were ‘smilin’ and dialin’ all the time. With Hefren-Tillotson, I learned to slow down, sit with people, listen, and find out where they are and where they want to go. Investment advice came later.
I realized very early on that building relationships the right way and growing the business would have to be a team effort. So in 1995, our first partner joined us, and now we have a strong group of gifted partners and support staff. Just like some of our NFL clients, we did it the long, hard way. Our successes originated from helping people retire. We loved interacting with pre-retirees and doing their financial plans.
We wanted to meet as many people as possible with the intent to get to know them first and then see if we could help them financially later. We started by inviting people to various social functions, including dinners on the Gateway Clipper for relationship-building and sightseeing on the Three Rivers. More often than not, we would notice these were devoted Pittsburgh Steelers fans. Life was good. And that led to an epiphany.
It dawned on us one day that the financial planning aspects of retirement are similar to what could also be applied to professional athletes. A retiree has spent 30 to 40 years saving money for retirement in things like a 401(k) plan. At the point of retirement, the goal is to have that money last for the next 20+ years. Similarly, a professional athlete’s accumulation phase is shorter, and their money has to last longer in retirement. When an athlete gets that first or second contract, they may have little financial experience, and could easily be tempted to spend frivolously. We knew we could coach them to spend wisely and teach them to make their money last too.
You must have a plan
We’ve said that to people countless times. Well, now we needed one. We knew that success comes from passion, ambition, giftedness, integrity, and perseverance. After several years of persevering to gain professional athletes as clients, we finally landed our first. Since then, we have been getting a few new athletes as clients each year.
Some people ask me why we work with athletes. After all this time, we can’t not do it; we can’t sit on the sidelines and watch. We want to be in the game and be successful. That same burning desire to help these players and their families that I had in 1992 still burns today, so it benefits everyone.
Another question we get is, “What makes you different than some other advisors that may specialize in working with athletes?” Well, there are three things: we play quarterback, we are financial experts and we are life coaches. When the right client lets us do all three, it’s like running down the field toward the goal line with no one chasing after us.
Where we are today
Much of our business today is still centered on helping regular people retire, not only professional athletes. We have a thriving practice. The Simon Group of Hefren-Tillotson is a powerful team of 13 professionals who recently crossed $1 billion under management.
I am so proud of our group, this milestone, and all we have done for our clients. We have a passion to serve people, whether that’s a steelworker retiring after 40 years in the mill, or an athlete signing with their first team. To us, helping people achieve their goals is like winning the Super Bowl. It never gets old and we can’t wait to win the next one.