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Eileen DeVries, Merrill Lynch, Grand Rapids, Mich.Eileen DeVries laughs easily. Especially when asked how she gathered more than 700 million in assets and built a 2.8 million business at Merrill Lynch. "You tell me!" DeVries says, with a laugh. After a long pause, she adds: "Maybe I have a natural talent for instilling confidence. Maybe staying where I am a long time is the key."From the start in

Eileen DeVries, Merrill Lynch, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Eileen DeVries laughs easily. Especially when asked how she gathered more than 700 million in assets and built a 2.8 million business at Merrill Lynch. "You tell me!" DeVries says, with a laugh. After a long pause, she adds: "Maybe I have a natural talent for instilling confidence. Maybe staying where I am a long time is the key."

>From the start in 1976, DeVries positioned herself as someone with broad >knowledge. Her philosophy--find a client, do a comprehensive financial >plan, then provide the products and services that work best. "I got a CFP >early and did financial planning before it was popular," she says. "With a >CFP, I thought the more you know, the more you can offer to clients."

About half of DeVries' business now comes from fees. She's part of a select group of brokers that offers the firm's Asset Information and Measurement Service, a portfolio performance-tracking program. It accounts for 10% of her fee business. Another part of her fee business comes from managing portfolios on a discretionary basis.

As a senior vice president of investments, DeVries also offers clients professional money managers--local ones she's tracked and some that Merrill has picked.

DeVries attracts high-net-worth individuals looking for estate planning help, generation-skipping tax strategies or retirement income ideas. What solidifies these relationships? "We show liability alternatives that often are less expensive than competitors' offerings," DeVries says. "That makes me unique."

In 1985, DeVries became a million-dollar producer with the help of only one sales assistant. Yet she started making changes to accommodate her young family. "You can have it all, but you can't do it all," DeVries says. "I said I want a family, I want to travel and have hobbies, and I still want to be successful. I decided that I was willing to reinvest in my practice and form a team."

DeVries looked for junior brokers who could bring product specialties to implement her strategies. She gradually added four, plus another sales assistant. Mentor and asset gatherer are her main roles now, she says.

"I do a good job of understanding clients' needs and putting myself in their shoes," DeVries says. Client Jim Mitchell agrees, "She works very hard to understand my objectives, time frames and my total family." Mitchell says his portfolio has consistently outperformed the S&P 500 index by nearly 50% in the five years he has worked with DeVries.

In the early 1990s, Merrill Lynch chose DeVries for a national advertising campaign. When Life magazine published a special issue in 1992 on the New York Stock Exchange's bicentennial, it picked DeVries and one of her clients for a story on how a stock trade is executed.

DeVries has served on more than 20 civic and charitable organization boards over the years. She limits her involvement now to only two boards at a time. Since 1986, she's been on the finance committee of the Davenport College Foundation. And her love of gardening recently led her to choose Frederick Meijer Botanical Gardens as her second board position.

Twenty-three years ago, DeVries was just about the only woman trainee at Merrill Lynch. She says she was "oblivious" to the gender issue, and within two years owned the top spot in her training class. DeVries credits her parents with her quick success.

"They taught me to focus on owning my own business," she says. Then with a laugh, she adds, "They wouldn't even allow me to learn to type!"--Pamela Savage Forbat

Outstanding Traits:"She brings fresh equities ideas. She's very good at saving me from myself. She tends to talk me out of stocks I would have regretted."--client Jim Mitchell, Grand Rapids, Mich.

"She knows what buttons to push to bring in accounts. She knows how to bring in the big money."--David Whitford, a junior broker on DeVries' team, Merrill Lynch, Grand Rapids, Mich.

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