Sean Allburn doesn't work in the big city--and that's just the way he likes it.
About five years ago, Allburn, 32, a senior vice president at First Union Securities, made a conscious decision not to launch his brokerage career in a major metropolitan area. Instead, he chose Williamsburg, Va., population 12,564.
With experience as a captain in the Air Force and a fresh MBA in finance from the College of William and Mary, Allburn interviewed with several firms in several different cities. Yet he and his new wife, Lauren, decided to stay where they were already living--Williamsburg. "I believed it was a good fit," he says.
A good fit, indeed. Allburn has nurtured and grown his business, increased his office staff and earned membership on First Union's Leadership Council for three straight years. He manages 75 dollars million in assets.
The transition from serving at Langley Air Force Base to financial services was a big adjustment. "I went from one of the largest bureaucracies in America to effectively [working like] a one-man shop," Allburn says. He now employs three others, since "the days of the one-man-do-everything broker are fading away."
He scoffs at the notion that to really make it in financial services, you've got to work in a Wall Street skyscraper.
"Actually, I believe that I have better access to research and information in a timely fashion from my office in Williamsburg than do most financial advisers sitting only blocks away from the New York Stock Exchange," Allburn says. The Internet and a well-designed company intranet are the reasons.
Seeing the Possibilities It's not that Allburn and his wife were afraid of a metropolis. "I lived in Washington, D.C., and my wife is from Chicago," he says. "So we know big cities and what we like, but this is where we choose to live."
Allburn saw potential in the Williamsburg area--relatively few local competitors, pockets of wealthy people and a small-town feel.
"New York may have more people, but I believe we have more wealth per capita," Allburn says. More than a third of households earn more than 50,000 dollars annually, according to the Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce. About half of the population is classified as professional, and 17 percent of Williamsburg's population is age 55 or older.
"Retirees like the lifestyle here," Allburn says. There is ongoing expansion of retirement housing and golf courses. In addition, the historic culture of Williamsburg and a strong adult education program at William and Mary are a draw.
Working and living in Williamsburg has allowed Allburn to develop a small-town business attitude. "My clients have easy access to me," he says, compared with suburbanites doing business with big-city reps.
His office is located in "a cozy business district, sandwiched between some small businesses and a resort. ... I don't have any strict business hours."
And unlike some of those big-city brokers, Allburn gets walk-in prospects. "I always welcome a discussion," he says. "We explore the process and see if this would be the right relationship for both of us."
Ties developed in the community strengthen his business as well. Allburn is board chairman of Williamsburg's Big Brothers and Big Sisters, serves on United Way's Executive Committee and is on the William and Mary Business School Alumni Board of Directors.
Projecting five years down the road, Allburn says, "I see myself right here at this same office, sitting on this same chair. I work in a business that I enjoy and live exactly where I want to be."