Ruven Rodriguez Discusses his Keys to Success

Ruven Rodriguez Morgan Stanley Wealth Management Financial Advisor

For the past 23 years, Ruven Rodriguez has been helping his clients manage their portfolios, their intergenerational wealth transfers and their philanthropic endeavors.  We sat down with Ruven to discuss his keys to success.

Your practice focuses on the highest end clients in wealth management.  Are there specific issues that other Financial Advisors may not have to deal with?
High-end clients represent the greatest challenges from a planning perspective and are oftentimes the largest clients.  As a result, that’s been my focus.  And the work we do with my clients centers around not only, of course, traditional wealth management, but we address all facets of a client’s wealth, to include their family capital and their intellectual capital.  What I mean by that is that oftentimes, clients think that their most important form of capital is their monetary wealth, when in reality what they should focus on more is generational wealth transfer or ensuring that the entire family is aware and consistent in regards to their values and goals. 

You’ve been doing this for more than 20 years.  It must have been a very interesting ride since we’ve had some very impressive highs and lows in that time.  How do you keep your clients on an even keel when the markets are volatile?
Ultimately, before we take on a client, we’re adamant that we have a plan in place.  And just like you wouldn’t necessarily plan to drive across Europe without a map or a plan, we wouldn’t endeavor to invest one’s assets without a plan and we stick to that plan. 

During times of duress and anxiety, we refer to the plan and where are we along that plan. And everyone knows that investing in today’s market – both the equity and bond markets – are sometimes hazardous and perilous. 

But what we have to do is stick to our blueprint.  By re-balancing one’s portfolio and by sticking to a plan, that is an asset allocation and really being dedicated to it is that it alleviates the need to jumping in and out of the market, which inevitably leads to portfolio ruin.  When you feel the worst about investing, i.e., 2008-09, the last thing you felt like doing was pulling money out of your bank and investing in the stock market. Ultimately, though, that was an opportune time to do it, right?

What’s the size of your practice and how did you build it to this level?
About 100.   It’s a fee-based practice and I work with some very successful entrepreneurs.  Normally post-merger acquisitions – once clients sell their business or people sell their business, they will come to us with large sums of capital to allocate, so that’s how we have a lot of our clients come to us, via the sale of their businesses or their family business or some sort of enterprise, and then we help them with their estate planning, their generational wealth transfer, their philanthropy, etc. 

One really interesting and fulfilling thing I have been doing the last few years has been mentoring financial advisor trainees, and I found that to be very interesting and fulfilling as an adjunct to my existing practice.  And by mentoring these people who are younger in the business actually helps me to sharpen my own skills.  Sometimes I revisit concepts and even prospecting strategies that I haven’t employed for a while, but sometimes it renews my energy and enthusiasm for the business, so I really enjoyed my recent mentoring position here at the firm.

And are you looking to expand the practice by bringing in a partner?
If there’s a right fit, yes. It’s something that I think within the industry has proven to be a viable and successful strategy to bring in a partner.  So I’m going to look to bring in the right fit.  So far I haven’t found one but I would like, at some point, to consider someone.

What kind of qualities and background are you looking for in a partner?
A smart, hungry, ambitious candidate.  Someone who’s willing to learn and willing to work really hard.  Empathetic, caring and trustworthy are the three characteristics that would help to make a really good advisor.  To be able to be empathetic, to be able to listen to a client, to try to understand their true needs, aside from just making money, knowing what really makes these people tick.  Ultimately, my goal is the client’s peace of mind - and by being a good listener and truly empathetic, you understand what a client really needs, not necessarily just a simple rate of return.  So that’s what I would look for in a partner, someone who’s truly empathetic and incredibly hard worker, smart and typically hungry and ambitious.

You definitely learned that through your own self-experience. Describe your first ten years in this business.
I started at Smith Barney in 1990 and was number one in my training class because I simply worked harder.  When I was being paraded around as a success within the firm back then, they would ask “what makes you successful?” And I’d respond that I’m not any more talented or knowledgeable than anyone here, I just outwork everyone.  And that’s why I ended up moving into an apartment directly across the street from my office in downtown Boston so that I wouldn’t even have a commute.  I simply worked harder than anyone else in that training program.  I put in longer hours and prospected harder than anyone else.  It takes a long time to build a business, especially coming out of school and not knowing anyone. You hone your skills over the course of a number of years, but it takes a lot of work. And that’s what I did – I worked harder than anyone else.

You’ve recently brought foundations and clients together to discuss philanthropy.  What are you trying to put together and what’s your vision for that program?
Philanthropy is an ever-changing sort of game and what you begin to realize over time in this business is that it becomes a very big focus for people who have been very successful and they realize you get back a lot more than you give when you get involved in philanthropy.  It’s a big focus for a lot of our clients so what I’ve been trying to do over the past 23 years is understand a client’s motivation for their philanthropy.  To understand “is there a method to their madness” or are they just a checkbook philanthropist, which is also good.  Writing 24 checks a year to different charities is good.

But if you can kind of refine and distill your philanthropic vision and then apply the same sort of criteria to your philanthropy that you do to your investment in the venture capital sort of length to your philanthropy – what do you expect to receive as a result of your donation in relation to time and money?  How do you measure those results?  Are you really making a difference?  Is that something you really want to do?

By applying these sorts of principles to your philanthropy, you become much more successful with your philanthropic dollar and your philanthropic time.  So what we do is we bring in some outside experts to discuss the venture capital sort of method of philanthropy and measuring one’s results and what sort of results one might expect from their philanthropy.  So far, this has been very successful.  Clients like to learn about the new age of philanthropy and how to measure and affect change with their philanthropic dollar.  It’s no longer an issue of writing a check nowadays.  It’s how you get involved and what sort of vision do you have for your philanthropic dollar and how do you measure success, and we help clients achieve those goals and I think it’s been very successful.

Are there any particular events, or a particular client, when you suddenly knew that you really like what you do?
It’s whenever you get the impression you’re making a difference.  This business is one that’s measured by dollars and cents.  That’s not a great yardstick as far as I’m concerned.  What’s really more important is understanding how you’ve made a difference in a family’s life.

I recently had a wonderful referral to an ultra high-net worth family in town and the email from my existing client says to this prospect:

“I wanted to introduce you to Ruven.  My wife and I have been truly blessed to have met him and he’s made such a terrific impact on our lives and I thought that you should meet him.”  

And that really resonated with me.  What we ended up doing for this guy to make him feel good is that we instituted a portfolio and a generational wealth transfer plan and even addressed his philanthropy and children so that he really felt there was a second pair of eyes on his money, on his wealth that he created over a number of years and he felt comfortable that we had his best interests in mind and that we were responsible stewards of his capital.  And he felt so very strongly that what we have done for him has truly changed his and his wife’s life for the better.  And that’s really what’s important.

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