Old-Fashioned Integrity

Jess Grundy is not exactly a broker who's going places. Grundy, a senior vice president at Everen Securities in Seal Beach, Calif., joined its predecessor, Los Angeles-based Hill Richards, right out of the Navy in 1945. He has since sat tight through a number of corporate changes, and is now in his 54th consecutive year at the firm.Grundy is as upbeat as always about the business, his firm and the

Jess Grundy is not exactly a broker who's going places. Grundy, a senior vice president at Everen Securities in Seal Beach, Calif., joined its predecessor, Los Angeles-based Hill Richards, right out of the Navy in 1945. He has since sat tight through a number of corporate changes, and is now in his 54th consecutive year at the firm.

Grundy is as upbeat as always about the business, his firm and the future. He sips his morning tea--a ritual since he swore off the "battery acid coffee" from his WWII days--and provides glimpses of his long career.

Relaxed and informal is the office mode Grundy prefers. When visitors say that he need not wear his bow tie for appearance's sake, he rips it off. And recalling his years as manager of the Bateman Eichler Hill Richards office in Long Beach, Calif., he notes that "most of my brokers were in sport shirts by the time I left. We made the office look like a resort town." The firm didn't mind an office sans suits? "No," he says, with a laugh. "For 20 years, I made them money. They left us alone."

One former charge, now an office colleague, confirms that Grundy made work fun, had a hands-off style but "always knew everything that was going on."

Grundy himself says that having fun is what keeps him going. "I love what I'm doing," he says. "I still look forward to coming to the office every day." Every day except Fridays, that is. The 82-year-old takes those off as part of his so-called retirement. The other days he's in by 6 a.m. And for a change of pace, he spends the first week of the month at the Everen office in Palm Desert, a resort and retirement community two hours by car to the east.

He says the greatest part of the business is helping clients and becoming close to their families. "The day before yesterday, I met with a young couple, the third generation of a client, just married. They came in with a ยง20,000 check in hand. They'd been on the Internet and had about 20 companies they were looking at. I spent an hour with them. They picked out 10 stocks," he says. "I told them I'd give them a big discount on commissions for a wedding present."

With clients, he follows the golden rule--never selling them anything he wouldn't buy himself. Satisfied customers have rewarded him handsomely for that care. He's consistently the No. 2 producer in his office.

"Jess is one of those guys who is a really good stockbroker," says his branch manager Ernie Suwara. "I'd give him my own account."

His investment style is very conservative, Grundy says. One of the books he studied in preparation for his career was Graham and Dodd's classic text, "Security Analysis." He read the book while enrolled in an extension course at UCLA, paid for under the GI bill. He can't remember if a license was even required in those days, but he and his peers got a good grounding in security analysis, investment banking, accounting and estate planning.

"I just follow all the old rules--none of them have been repealed," Grundy says. He still finds value stocks at seven to 12 times earnings. "Two-thirds of stocks haven't increased in price" with the market, he notes. About a third of his typical portfolio is in bonds. Other than some mutual funds, he's stayed away from packaged products "because I always figured I'd make my own mistakes, and I've made them all, like speculating and not being balanced," he says.

The phrase "being balanced" has given way to the fancier term "asset allocation," Grundy says. But it's just another sign that there aren't new ideas in this business, he says. "You see these people on the Internet. They think this is something new. Folks will always find a way to gamble. They did it in '29 and long before. ... They never learn."

But the Internet is new, and a lot of brokers feel threatened. Any ideas on what to do to compete? "The business has never been easy and never will be," Grundy says. But the Internet "will actually build more stockholders than we've had in the past. And they're going to need help."

Grundy has done his part to build the shareholder community. For 25 years, he lectured at a community college about the importance of owning equities. Meanwhile, he started foundations for the Long Beach State athletic department and the Long Beach Community Medical Center.

"I've helped raise millions for both," he says, proudly. "I've always had a desire to help organizations, to put something back into the community I love. The good Lord gave me the ability to organize." So much so that he's been offered jobs as a professional fund-raiser.

When pressed about the key industry changes he's seen over the years, Grundy dismisses the question, saying there hasn't been much fundamental change. True, the scale of the business is larger, and technology has had an impact, he says. "But the basics of integrity and good judgment are the same and will always remain the same."

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