Good Reasons to be a Control Freak

“To try may be to die, but not to care is never to be born.” –William Redfield

In 2008, the institutions that were the foundation of the U.S. economy dissolved as if they were built on sand.  Most of us probably couldn’t describe exactly what all of these companies did, but we recognized them from their Manhattan skyscrapers, billboards, and TV ads.

In a downward spiral that seemed to have no bottom, we heard and read that companies like AIG, Merrill Lynch, Countrywide, Lehman Brothers, and Bear Stearns were on the brink of collapse.  When Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, we learned that it was the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history.  We read that Countrywide, the company to which millions of us mailed our mortgage payments every month, was failing quickly.  (We now know that it was acquired by Bank of America).

We expressed outrage when AIG, at one point the world’s largest insurer, received federal bailout money and two weeks later rewarded a select group of employees with lavish bonuses totaling $443,344.  The corporate compensation proved to be a major public relations gaffe and fed into public perceptions of corporate excess.

Then there’s Bernard Madoff, who was once one o f the most respected private wealth advisors in the country.  From the Palm Beach elite to average New Yorkers, Madoff wiped out the savings that people had spent their lives creating.  “The message must be sent that Mr. Madoff’s crimes were extraordinarily evil.  Mr. Madoff will get what he deserves,” said Judge Denny Chin who doled Madoff’s 150-year prison sentence.

Despite the doom and gloom that started with the burst of the real estate bubble, was followed by the financial crisis of 2008, and ended with a global economic meltdown, I confidently believed that this, too, shall pass.

I’ve been in the business of financial advising for over 40 years, which means that I’ve seen my share of market peaks and valleys.  During the difficult economic times – whether the recession of the early ‘80s, Black Monday in 1987, the real estate crash in the early 1990’s, or the bust a decade later – experience guides me.

I’m accustomed to my phone ringing with clients panicking because of something they read in the Wall Street Journal or watched on MSNBC.  Whenever our nation’s economy reaches crisis mode, I take charge and meet with my clients, whether it’s in my office or a plane ride away.

In the end, I’m a hopeless optimist who bases his perspective on decades of career knowledge.  It’s a track record that has spanned generations: parents, their children, and grandchildren.

“Bob, you’re a control freak…at least that’s what my friend told me.”

This is what a client recounted when he revealed what his friend thought of our initial meeting.

I’ve heard this before.  I’ve had my share of people who’ve walked through my doors, met with me in my conference room, and afterwards decided that I wasn’t the advisor for them.  It’s expected after being in this business for so long.  The reverse is true as well.  I’ve had to let clients go because I knew that their actions wouldn’t serve their best interests, their risky behavior didn’t align with my ethics, or both.

Being called a control freak may not be intended as a compliment.  But part of having success means that you realize you can’t please everyone.  Fortunately, another part of being successful is that the vast majority appreciate my commitment to serving their interests.

If being a control freak means I work tirelessly to lay the foundations for Life Plans and help my clients stick to their goals, then I’ll proudly admit to being one.  And if it means that I’m honest with a client when she’s basing her financial decision purely on a gut feeling, a co-worker’s supposedly exclusive tip, or something equally as unpredictable, then sign me up.

Every time I meet with a client, I do so with immense humility.  The work I do has one goal: to serve my clients who will become my friends.  I know that I’m no great healer, no miracle worker, and no magician.  But I also know that everyone would benefit from a Life Plan.  Unfortunately, not everyone is disciplined and motivated enough to create one.  I can say with the upmost conviction that a Life Plan will help you weather financial storms with more security than otherwise possible.


Excerpt from Robert O. Graves book, Your Life Plan: A Guide to Financial Freedom.

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