Top 100 Profiles: Steven J. Hefter

Top 100 Profiles: Steven J. Hefter

Keeping Clients Close

Firm: Wells Fargo Advisors

Age: 57

Location: Deerfield, Ill.

Years in the biz: 29

Years with firm: 4

Specialty: Asset allocation, manager selection, alternative investments.

By the time he got his first job managing money, Steven J. Hefter had gotten a B.A. in economics at Stanford, worked as a trader in the corn and soybean pits of the Chicago Board of Trade, and graduated from Harvard Business School. He joined the private banking arm of Goldman Sachs and immediately targeted one of Chicago's wealthiest individuals, a middle-aged real estate magnate on the Forbes 400 list.

Though he had no referrals and no connection, he picked up the phone, he dialed and he scored: In spite of Hefter's lack of track record, the guy gave him $250,000 to prove himself because Goldman Sachs was a great calling card, and because Hefter told him he was smart. Hefter managed to make good on that statement with a number of prescient investment moves he attributes to Goldman's outstanding research analysts — and to luck. It was an auspicious beginning. The real estate magnate is still his client.

Today, Hefter would have a whole lot more competition. “Today you need more of an in, of someone referring you. Or maybe instead of getting to be the big guy or big woman right away, you need to meet with the assistant, tell them what you do and your track record. You have to use your humanity, your creativity, then when you get the meeting, you have to sell your firm and your strategy.”

One of the most successful advisors in Illinois, Hefter manages $2.4 billion in assets for his ultra-high-net-worth clients at Wells Fargo Advisors. He and his team of two other advisors and three support people use a top-down approach to managing their clients' money, evaluating the global economy, creating a global allocation, selecting individual asset classes, industries and sectors, and then finding the best managers in each one.

Hefter attributes his success to lucky timing, to a great team, and to an ardent love of the business. He also knew right away that he wanted to work with high-net-worth investors because of the valuable relationships he would develop. “Not only do you get to invest, but the most important people in my life today are clients,” he says. “I met a guy in 1985. He gave me $20 million and he became my mentor in life, the guy who got me into philanthropy, politics. I'm probably closer to him than his kids. Now I think of them more as friends than clients.”

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