Getting Better by Degrees

For anybody, earning a CIMA designation is a milestone. For Aaron Gabriel, it was much more. Passing it was proof that he had make a full recovery from a near-death experience. Two years ago, doctors told Gabriel, now 37, that there was a 50 percent chance he would die after an operation to correct an aneurysm suffered during a run. And even if he did survive, there was a 50 percent chance his memory,

For anybody, earning a CIMA designation is a milestone. For Aaron Gabriel, it was much more. Passing it was proof that he had make a full recovery from a near-death experience.

Two years ago, doctors told Gabriel, now 37, that there was a 50 percent chance he would die after an operation to correct an aneurysm suffered during a run. And even if he did survive, there was a 50 percent chance his memory, thought processes or motor skills would be permanently damaged.

That's when Gabriel, an A.G. Edwards broker in San Jose, Calif., vowed not only to recover, but to get his CIMA certification. Oh, and an MBA degree, too. Gabriel was certified as a CIMA in March 2001, less than a year after his surgery. He's on track to earn his MBA in September.

“I just wasn't ready to throw in the towel,” he says. “I convinced myself if I could study to get my CIMA and MBA it would prove that I was totally cured.”

Gabriel runs what he describes as a general practice, with about 30 percent in managed accounts, a side of the business he hopes to expand. Clients include individual investors, foundations and nonprofit organizations and endowments.

“If someone wants to buy stocks and mutual funds, well, the reality is they don't need me,” says Gabriel, who works on a team with his father, Joe, a former Registered Rep. Outstanding Broker. “But if they want to address the full financial planning picture and issues, including asset allocation, risk tolerance, well, those are areas where we provide added value.”

The Gabriel team's 12-month production figure is $1.5 million and it oversees assets of $150 million.

He built his business mainly on the strength of referrals, and he uses outside money managers so he can concentrate on serving clients in “every way possible.” Since his brush with death, he's become closer to the families of his clients, attending funerals as well as celebrations.

Gabriel was felled by the aneurysm while jogging two days before his 35th birthday. Suddenly, he began to suffer from a vicious headache. “I figured I'd just run it off,” he says.

Instead, he collapsed. A nurse who just happened to be passing by rushed him to the hospital, where X-rays revealed his brain was hemorrhaging. He underwent surgery a few weeks later. “I remember thinking, ‘This can't be happening,’” he recalls.

Now, he views the experience as a hard but valuable lesson about family and work. “Everything has more meaning now,” he says. Especially since his wife, Roberta, gave birth to the couple's first child, Joshua — born one year and nine days after Gabriel's surgery.

As for work, he says: “It's more than managing investments; it's about the human relations side. I didn't pay as much attention to it before as I should have.”

Now he does.

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