Building Buckingham: The Beginning

Wow! Has it really been 20 years since four friends got together in 1994 to start Buckingham Asset Management? Seems like only yesterday that we started with no clients and zero assets under management (AUM) on the 4th floor of the building at 230 S. Bemiston in Clayton, Mo.

Our original plan was to achieve $100 million of client assets in 3 to 5 years. We hoped to double our AUM every 6 years or so once we hit that first goal, and I knew from the start we would be successful. And not only did we meet that goal, but we far exceeded our expectations. As of June 30, Buckingham had more than $6.2 billion in assets under management.

What a journey it has been, and continues to be. Going from one tiny office and a small cadre of professionals, we have grown to seven Buckingham offices located across the U.S. The firm now employs about 200 talented men and women.

I still remember the hand-drawn poster we hung on the wall of our all-purpose room in the firm’s first year. It depicted a thermometer, and there was just a thin line of red at the bottom when we first began to track our AUM. This represented, for the most part, much of our parents’ life savings, as well as their unconditional love and belief in our new business concept. At first, the red line would rise just a little every quarter. Slowly, we began growing our client base and the amount of assets they entrusted us to manage. In about three years, we achieved that first target goal of $100 million. Back then, we used to say, “Every million counts!” And just as Buckingham’s AUM grew, so too did the number of people who worked for the firm. Still, it took 17 years for us to reach our first 100 employees.

But – under great, young leadership – it has taken only three years to double that figure. In that short time, we’ve grown from 100 to 200 associates.

We’re now in St. Louis, Santa Rosa, Palo Alto, Irvine, Dallas, Burlington and, most recently, Indianapolis. And we’re not stopping there. Strategic growth to key markets remains a central part of the firm’s future plan.

Even so, adding that first additional Buckingham office in Santa Rosa, Calif., took some time – about 15 years. Irv Rothenberg’s wealth management company, which was (and still is) located in the heart of the Sonoma valley wine country, seemed the logical choice for our first attempt at adding another office. Irv and I got to know each other when we both served on the AICPA’s national Personal Financial Planning Executive Committee back in the 1990s. We and our families quickly became good friends, and have remained so to this day. For years, over many meals and glasses of good California wine, we discussed the possibility of merging Irv’s RIA into Buckingham. Then, a few years ago, it actually happened. That transaction started a trend. Additional Buckingham mergers and acquisitions have resulted in our growing national presence.

Has our growth come from just the passive, diversified, low-cost, tax-efficient, academic-based investment approach that we decided to follow from the very beginning? Or is it that we assembled an incredibly bright group of individuals to work with? Or is it that we believe in the ethical precepts of our CPA background and know we have to be fiduciary advisors, doing what is in the best interest of our clients? Or could it be because of our strategy to develop industry specialization groups within the firm and to concentrate in areas such as 401(k) and institutional/nonprofit clients? Then again, might it have something to do with all the books and columns written by our national thought leaders?

Most likely it is a combination of all these things, along with high-quality training, organization within the firm into small teams, having an open door culture, developing new specialty offerings and taking compliance seriously.
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Al Sears, Adam Birenbaum, Bert Schweizer and me on the cover of Town and Style

But if I had to summarize what makes Buckingham the firm it is today, I’d say it’s because we build lasting relationships with our clients by doing the very best thing for them while having a good time doing it.

Stay tuned as in the coming months I explore Buckingham’s history, its people and the many interesting stories that illustrate this special company’s success.

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The opinions expressed by featured authors are their own and may not accurately reflect those of the BAM ALLIANCE. This article is for general information only and is not intended to serve as specific financial, accounting or tax advice.

© 2014, The BAM ALLIANCE

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