Financial advisor George Cook displays a pair of steel cuffs once worn by a child slave on his office coffee table. He knows what effect they can have on those who see them for the first time. Cook first saw cuffs like these in the office of a former colleague. When he understood how they had been used, he was aghast, then enraged, and developed a powerful desire to help.
Cook later learned from International Justice Mission that there are 25 million slaves around the globe today, among them girls as young as 13 who have been sold into sexual slavery. It was 2002, and Cook had a daughter aged 13; he immediately committed $7,000 to the organization to aid in rescue missions. Then he began to fundraise for the group, hosting dinners and recruiting donors. Last year, his nine-person team at Graystone Consulting donated $50,000.
But this cause is only one of close to 50 charities that Cook and his team have taken up, both at home and abroad. Cook feels a great weight of responsibility to help those who are neediest, considering the wealth he has had the fortune to accumulate. And it shows: He lives on just 40 percent of his income every year and gives the rest away.
“My theme is to try to support people without a voice,” he says. “I want to be their advocate — not only to support them but to tell that story to people who can do something about it.”
Other causes Cook and his team have supported include sustainable agriculture projects in Haiti as well as a locally sourced clean drinking water project they had the luck to complete just in time for the 2010 earthquake. His group also sends clothing and medicine to Cuba every year — Cook recently returned from a trip to oversee that mission. Back home in Chicago, Cook provides financial support and fundraising for several local charities including Breakthrough Urban Ministries, Chicago Hope Academy and Inner City Impact.
Cook had some good role models, including a couple of clients he worked with when he was just starting in the business. They were not wealthy people — one was a school teacher — and yet they lived on only half of their income and gave away the rest. “I wanted to have the same kind of charity and grace that accompanied these people,” he says. So far, he seems to have succeeded at that.See all of Registered Rep.'s Altruism Award Winners" class="old-inline-image">
Firm: Graystone Consulting, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney
City: Barrington, Ill.
Years as a rep: 30
Years with current firm: 27
Production: $2.5 million (individual)
AUM: $2.5 billion (team)
Product mix: managed accounts 100%
Specialty: Institutional consulting
Designations, licenses: institutional director, CIMA; Series 65, Series 7