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I grew up in one of the poorest households in one of the richest communities in America, Pacific Palisades, California. Often called “the Palisades”, my town was a bedroom community of Los Angeles nestled between Malibu and Santa Monica. It was home to movie stars (Dom Deluise, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Sylvester Stallone, and Arnold Schwarzenegger) and famous politicians (Ronald Reagan and again, Arnold Schwarzenegger our one-time “Governator”). It offered gorgeous beaches, great public schools, and a small-town feel despite being a part of Greater Los Angeles County.

My father was a deputy sheriff, and my mother was a schoolteacher before my sister and I came along, at which time she became a full-time homemaker. My father inherited the enormous sum of $40,000 in 1968 and my parents decided to move the family from a little home in hot, smoggy Van Nuys to our new 2,600 square foot, a quarter-acre castle in the Palisades. That was, by far, the single best financial decision they ever made.

I think my father made enough to make ends meet as a deputy sheriff, but in 1976 my parents began a bitter divorce. I was too young to remember most of it, but I know my mother was left with our house and a very small amount of spousal and child support. I really didn’t see my father again until I was 15. My mother attempted to re-enter the workforce and drifted from teaching to subbing to tutoring. She had a really big heart and loved children, but she was just really bad at making money. Watching her struggle shaped my relationship with money at an early age.

Despite money being in very short supply, I really can’t say we were “poor.” We lived in a fabulously rich, low-crime community, I went to fantastic public schools, and my friends, whose parents were generally very successful financially, didn’t treat me any differently. Compared to the rest of the world we were a long, long way from “poor”.

However, because I lived where I did, I always felt “comparatively poor.” I got meals provided by my elementary school. We only ever bought clothes on sale. We would spend hours cutting coupons from the newspaper to apply at the grocery store. If we ever did travel, we stayed at budget motels and ate at fast-food restaurants. We never got food stamps, but I think my Mom was awfully close to applying. Our diet was VERY heavy on avocados because we had a giant, prolific avocado tree in our backyard. My sister and I would go around the neighborhood every season and sell avocados to our neighbors, 10 for $1.

We weren’t destitute but our mother instilled in us the value of money and how to make a dollar stretch as far as it could. I distinctly remember one Christmas, I think I was 11 years old when my mother was flat-out broke. She didn’t have even a dollar to spend on presents. My sister and I were walking through a parking lot at the grocery store, I looked down and saw a crumpled $10 bill on the ground! I gave it to our mom, and she was so happy! She called it “the $10 that saved Christmas” and used the money to fill a whole stocking full of candy and small toys for us. She reminded us of that story for many, many years.

At a very early age, my friends would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I think they would have guessed “policeman”, following in my Dad’s footsteps. But my answer was always “I want to be a Bank President someday.” It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in psychology to see the connection between the relative scarcity of money in my youth and my aspiration to be in control of large sums of it in the future. Fortunately, I never suffered from “money envy” or financial jealousy, despite growing up in the land of flashy cars and McMansions. I think my sister and I learned to appreciate what we have and make the most we could of it.

After public elementary, secondary, and high school, I was fortunate enough to be accepted to UC Berkeley to study Economics in 1986. I graduated four years later with a modest amount of student loans (thanks to generous financial aid packages) and took a job with a litigation consulting firm in Los Angeles. We would calculate the damages in very complex commercial litigation and provide expert witness testimony as to our results. Our analyses were critical in these cases, and we were given enormous responsibility. Consulting was a fantastic first career, exposing me to a wide variety of industries and instilling in me the confidence to speak authoritatively to CEOs, CFOs, and General Counsels — many of the cases we worked on were so big that the company might go bankrupt if they didn’t win.

After two and a half years at litigation consulting, I married my wife Marci and returned to school, entering the joint JD/MBA program at UCLA. This program combines two graduate degrees that normally take 5 years to complete into one 4-year program. After graduation, we moved to the Bay Area and I went back to work at the same litigation consulting firm I had worked at previously.

Three years later I made partner at that firm and came to a crossroads. Litigation consulting was great, but it was a very narrow, highly specialized field. Either I would have to do this for the rest of my life or figure out a new plan. Remembering my childhood dream of working in financial services, I made a leap of faith. I quit, took a 50% cut in pay, and was hired on as a brand-new financial advisor with Merrill Lynch in 2000. Thus far, it was the scariest decision I made in my career.

Looking back, I’ve often wondered how I could have been so rash. I still had student loans and a hefty mortgage, and we were trying desperately to start a family. I was giving up a six-figure salary and an impressive title to embark on an uncertain career with no experience and no contacts. But I knew I always wanted to try it - to help people manage their money to achieve their own definitions of happiness - just as my sister and I had been taught to do by my mother.

On a good day as a litigation consultant, I would help a company win $100 million by defending some lawsuits. On a good day as a financial advisor, I get to tell clients they can retire early, live the life they have planned for, send their children to college, or support a charity that they love. I think the latter “good day” is so much more satisfying than the former. Indeed, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do for a living.

Twenty-two years later I left Merrill with my team of eight and founded Quorum Private Wealth. While joining Merrill was the scariest decision, this was by far the boldest. But it worked! Almost all our clients joined us at the new firm. We have the privilege and awesome responsibility of managing nearly $1 billion for some of the most successful, dynamic, interesting, and generous people in the world. My title isn’t “bank president” - it’s Managing Partner - but the idea is the same. We help our clients have a better relationship with money. It’s exactly what I’ve always wanted to do.