Bruce Johnson, CapTrust Financial Advisors, Holland, Mich. Bruce Johnson couldn't find a job in the brokerage industry. Firms weren't hiring in the bear market of early 1982-especially for college kids like Johnson, who had just ditched plans for law school to try out the investment world. Then Jack Korff entered his life. Korff managed a branch of a small regional firm in western Michigan.
"I said, 'I need just one person to give me a chance; I know I'll be a success,'" Johnson says. "He called my bluff and asked me when I could start. I was there at 6:30 the next morning." Johnson built a client base from the Yellow Pages. He called CPAs with local municipal bond ideas.
Korff mentored Johnson, then the two became partners. "Jack made a huge investment in me," Johnson says. "He talked me up in front of his friends. He believed in me when I didn't."
Korff's influence helped Johnson take risks to build his business. In 1988-still under 30 years old-Johnson went solo to open a branch for McDonald & Co. Only a year later he began retooling his business to investment management consulting.
"The way I was doing business didn't feel like I was adding value," Johnson says. "I didn't want to spend the rest of my life soliciting."
Today Johnson runs an independent consulting business through CapTrust Financial Advisors in Holland, Mich., managing 250 million dollars in client assets. Nearly all of Johnson's 1.5 million dollars production comes from fees. In the past two years he's more than doubled both his assets and production.
Investment management consulting changed the way Johnson perceived his clients. He immersed himself in education, earning a CIMA designation in 1993. He discovered, he says, that his job was to empower clients to make wise investment decisions. Click on Johnson's Web site at www.captrustholland.com and you'll find his purpose statement: "We are our clients' advocates in the financial marketplace."
Johnson says creating and following an investment policy is central to his success. It takes an average of three meetings before a policy is complete. "If you take the time upfront to write an investment policy, all the advice you give from then on flows from it and makes sense to the client," he says. "It's very powerful."
About two-thirds of his business is in individually managed accounts. Most of these clients are family business owners or families who've sold a business. He also handles endowments connected to the families and is a trustee for Michigan's Municipal Employees Retirement System, which oversees 4 billion dollars in assets.
There was a time when Johnson couldn't imagine success. When he was 6 years old he learned his father was missing in action in Vietnam. Johnson's youth was clouded by alcoholism in the family and anger as he struggled to accept that his father would never return. The tough experiences brought on a deep religious faith, which he quietly takes into his business and community.
Johnson holds weekly mentoring meetings with his five team members that include helping them build spiritual strength. He also leads a weekly Bible study for a group of clients. Johnson has served for two years as board chairman of Ottagam Addictions Rehabilitation, an organization that runs halfway houses for recovering addicts.
For Johnson, business is much more than a quest to make money.