Bon Voyage

Need a vacation but don't know how to get up and go without packing guilt along with your sunscreen? Don't worry, it's not as difficult as you think. First, recognize the value of time spent away from the office, then develop a plan to make it happen. Brokers who take vacations regularly say having the proper mind-set about time off is important. Once you feel comfortable with your decision to leave

Need a vacation but don't know how to get up and go without packing guilt along with your sunscreen? Don't worry, it's not as difficult as you think. First, recognize the value of time spent away from the office, then develop a plan to make it happen. Brokers who take vacations regularly say having the proper mind-set about time off is important. Once you feel comfortable with your decision to leave the office for a period of time, the rest is easy. Reps advise you to plan ahead, have a broker you trust cover for you and notify your top clients. Then, when you're gone, call in once in a while to ease your mind if necessary.

"Vacations get you away from your desk, away from the telephone and away from your computer monitor," says Steve Balaban, a financial consultant with Salomon Smith Barney's San Diego office. "There's a big world out there with opportunities to see things you'd never see on a day-to-day basis in your office."

Most of Balaban's early vacation destinations, scheduled over holidays and long weekends, were on the East Coast to visit family. Now, as part of the Hecklers, a San Diego recreational hockey team, Balaban's travels take him as far as Europe and the Czech Republic.

For some brokers, the idea of missing even a minute of today's volatile market is daunting. "It was easier taking time off when I first started in the business 18 years ago," says Alan Cohan, senior vice president of Prudential Securities in Bethesda, Md. "Clients demanded less. Most investors were content to buy stocks and not think about them for a few years. There wasn't the emphasis on minute-to-minute, second-to-second fluctuations that exists today."

Even so, Cohan makes sure to get away. He schedules vacations around holidays such as Christmas and the Fourth of July, when business slows down naturally. The keys are timing and communication, he says. Cohan lets his more active clients know he'll be out and coordinates with his sales assistant to make sure their absences don't overlap.

Generally heading west for his vacations, Cohan makes a practice of checking on client transactions on a daily basis. "When I'm up at 6 a.m. in California, it's 9 a.m. on the East Coast. So while my family sleeps, I go through my book and take care of business. By 1 o'clock the market closes, and I have the rest of the afternoon and evening to enjoy without thinking about work."

The time spent working on vacation is a trade off Cohan doesn't mind. "Either I give up a small part of my vacation or I come back to a stack of horror stories," he says. "I'd much prefer to correct any errors right away than have a client get an incorrect confirmation, get upset and think that when I'm away things are never done right."

Paul Buskey, a producing manager of the A.G. Edwards office in Sarasota, Fla., also calls his office while on vacation, even if it's from exotic places such as Cuba or New Zealand. "My clients know I call in at least once a day. >From their point of view, the day-to-day business operation remains seamless regardless of whether I'm away or not."

For Buskey, keeping in touch is a priority. "I'm astounded by brokers who say they don't call in when they're on vacation," he says. "We have a moral responsibility when we take over the guidance of a client's portfolio. Even doctors make sure there's proper coverage at all times for their patients."

Indeed, preparing staff and clients is a critical element in vacation planning. Mark McLamb, a rep with Edward Jones in Wilmington, N.C., schedules his vacations far in advance, blocks them out on his appointment screen and relies on both his assistant and another broker to cover client transactions as needed.

McLamb, whose twice-a-year family vacations have included trips to Disneyworld, Glacier National Park, Yosemite National Park and a Caribbean cruise, says he still experiences pangs of guilt about going away. "This is a service business. I want to be here when someone calls and has a question, but I realize I can't be here all the time," he says. "It's important to spend time with my family and to get away from this for a while."

Another broker, Sue Cortese of A.G. Edwards in El Paso, Texas, takes a more detached view of her value in the office. "In spite of our best efforts to think we're omnipotent, things go on with or without us," she says. "In the beginning I went on vacation with trepidation. I worried that production would suffer, but it didn't. If anything, it was better. After doing something completely different from work, I came back ready to work and felt excited about it."

Cortese, who has a reciprocal arrangement with another broker to cover while she's away, didn't start taking vacations until five years after she became a broker in 1989. Since then she's traveled to Russia, Europe, Spain and Portugal. "These trips are a reward for working hard. When you put in all those hours, you should feel good about rewarding yourself. No one else will do it for you."

That's true. James McLean, a veteran with Everen Securities in Oak Brook, Ill., favors ski-oriented destinations and views vacations as part of a well-balanced life. "I don't live to work," he says. "I like my job, but it's not the end-all." His advice for getting away? "Get a partner or find someone to cover in whom you have trust and confidence. It's as simple as that."

1) Recognize the importance of spending quality time with family and friends away from the office. It is time you can never recapture.

2) Plan your vacation far in advance and take advantage of market holidays.

3) Identify the time you will be away as soon as possible and block it out in your appointment calendar or computer.

4) If you don't have a partner, establish a reciprocal arrangement with another rep. Select a broker who fits your criteria of trust, responsibility, work ethic and commitment.

5) Inform key clients that you'll be out and let them know who will be covering for you. Assure them that your sales assistant will be there and that you will be calling in from time to time.

6) Anticipate certain issues that may occur during your absence. Develop a strategy with the client regarding the action to be taken. Discuss this plan with your sales assistant as well as the person covering for you.

Steve Balaban, Salomon Smith Barney, San Diego

As a member of the San Diego Hecklers, a recreational men's hockey team, Steve Balaban has successfully combined competency on the ice with impressive European destinations, including Holland, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.

Not bad for someone who says he didn't know what a hockey puck was until age 13. That's when his family moved to Connecticut and a neighbor invited Balaban to join his hockey team. He went on to play four years of varsity hockey at the University of Connecticut.

After 14 years away from hockey, Balaban realized how much he missed the game so he joined a local senior league in San Diego. In 1997, he joined the Hecklers, traveling this past year to Europe for two weeks to play against teams from Holland and the Czech Republic.

At press time in early April, Balaban was on his way to Europe again. "I wasn't planning to go again this year, because of the time and money involved in being away for two weeks," he says. "After thinking it through, I made a deal with my partner that if I could bring in 10 million in assets from a client of ours in Germany, I'd go and take my wife and two children." A few calls later, Balaban was successful. He got the assets. His family packed for the trip.

"This kind of trip takes you out in the world where you can see things you would not otherwise see," Balaban says. "It gives you a whole new perspective of what's happening in the world."

Paul Buskey, A.G. Edwards, Sarasota, Fla.

Paul Buskey's vacations involve rappelling down a 15-story building face-first, jet boating through serious rapids at 40 knots and flying a stunt plane the size of a grand piano with wings.

Why? "It's fun," Buskey says. "The first time you go up a mountain and place your toes over the edge of a sheer drop, every shred of your DNA yells out, don't do this!"

But Buskey does risky stuff, again and again. His latest series of adventures was during an A.G. Edwards recognition trip to New Zealand this past November, which happened to coincide with his 50th birthday.

Buskey and his significant other, Mariah Sirius, arrived in Auckland a few days before the rest of the group. "We went sea kayaking," he says. "We also tried urban rappelling where you hold a rope under your arm, get up on top of a 15-story building, rappel down the front face-first over a pedestrian mall below, then jump out away from building and spin around."

Meeting up with the rest of the group in Queenstown, Buskey went whitewater rafting and jet boating. "We went through canyons so narrow you'd think it was going to take the paint off the side of boat."

During another extreme adventure on the same trip, Buskey was suspended from a 320-foot cable between two mountains, going 120 miles an hour while strapped to a board with handlebars on the front and an airplane motor on the back. Buskey worked the handlebars, enabling him to swing and turn from the cable in between the two mountains. "You have all the acceleration that gravity can give you plus the full acceleration of the airplane motor pushing you down. It's really quite exciting."

Throw in a little parapenting (originally referred to as paragliding) from a high mountain peak and bungee jumping, and you get the gist of Buskey's vacation preferences.

"Dangerous? No," he says. "Only if a cable breaks, and we don't think about that."

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