Building Buckingham: The Four Founders
Middle age can be a time of crisis and an occasion to question one’s identity. Or it can be a time of creativity and an opportunity to redefine who we are and what we want to do with our lives.
Twenty years ago, four middle-aged guys in St. Louis faced those two divergent roads. Two were experienced CPAs and two were successful businessmen. All four had gone to the University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou). Three of the four had belonged to the same fraternity, AEPi. And all four were ready for a change in their professional lives.
It may be hard to believe in this highly linked-in (you should pardon the expression) era of social networking, but back then, the best way to make lasting connections was to call your friends and ask what was going on in their lives. Turns out, I was Steve Funk’s CPA and Bert Schweizer and I were Paul Forman’s. And although Bert and I knew each other through our AICPA financial planning conferences and meetings, it was only because Paul and Steve knew that both Bert and I were looking to make a change that the four of us got together to discuss the possibility of making our dream a reality. That dream was to bring the new evidence-based and academically driven world of passive wealth management to our CPA clients. And it all began with the four of us starting down that second road middle age offers: recreating our lives.
Steve, Stu, Paul and Bert in front of the Ritz in St. Louis at one of our early annual retreats.
Our objective was to take the collective knowledge we had accumulated over the years and start a new business with the client’s benefit as its primary focus. Who would have thought such a simple, some even might have said naïve, idea would prove to be so amazingly resonant?
As CPAs, Bert and I had seen up close, and sometimes too personally, how our clients’ investment and wealth management needs often came secondary to the interests of the other professionals we worked with in those days. But one of the basic premises we learned in our accounting classes at Mizzou was that, as our clients’ primary financial advisor, we had a fiduciary responsibility to do “the right thing” for them and their families.
As beneficiaries of that same approach, Steve and Paul agreed with Bert and me that a philosophy centered on doing the right thing should be the guiding principle around which our new company would be founded. Turns out, that was a pretty good call.
In 1994, four friends got together with nothing but a great idea, and our mothers’ nest eggs, to start Buckingham Asset Management. Of course, launching the firm with no clients other than our families, in-laws included, required some creative thinking and careful budgeting to get us through that first year.
We decided that Paul and I would seek four outside equity owners. Each would invest $100,000 of capital in Buckingham. In exchange, these early investors in our nascent firm would receive a small percentage of ownership in the company. Paul and I made a list of ten such possible investors. To our great surprise and delight, we didn’t have to go too deeply into the list before we had succeeded in raising the needed capital. Maybe that achievement shouldn’t have astonished us as much as it did. Other successful and astute people clearly had confidence in us from the very beginning. However, we knew we had to be prudent in the way we used this capital investment. So, we ran a very lean (but never mean) operation, and most of us took no salary that first year.
Because we believed the best way to succeed was to tell as many people as possible about our unique story, we quickly decided we would increase business through word of mouth rather than cold calls and hard sales tactics. Clients would come to us because they liked what they learned about us and our academically based, ethically founded investment and wealth management philosophy.
Over the years, that’s exactly what we did. The word continues to spread as our thought leaders tell our story nationwide. Potential clients call us almost every day to learn what we can do for them. We now operate from multiple offices around the country.
Buckingham started two decades ago with almost nothing. As of Sept. 30, the firm had $6.1 billion under management. I believe that shows what friendship, commitment to the interests of clients and professional integrity can achieve.
Did I mention friendship? Buckingham started with just the four of us, but I’m happy to say that small circle of friends grew almost from the beginning. In many ways, the relationships that have flourished over the years, both with clients and inside the firm, help make us the company we are today.
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