Father-daughter team develops relationships with community service-minded people then turns them into clients.
For almost 24 years, Jim Eckert watched the investment industry develop from the inside. He was an assistant controller and accountant at Dain Rauscher in Minneapolis.
"The business used to be really hard-sell," he says. "But I saw the industry evolve into a relationship-oriented business."
So in 1991, he made the risky move to become a financial adviser, based largely on his skill in building relationships.
Eckert cultivated clients by relying on ties he had made through volunteer work in his church, athletics, the Rotary Club, Junior Achievement and local politics. His presence in community service circles brought in a solid base of clients right away. It was "reverse selling," as he calls it. He built the relationships first, and the business came to him.
After only two years, Eckert's efforts landed him on Dain Rauscher's President's Council, the top 20% of the firm's 1,200 brokers.
His quick success also stretched him thin. "Business, all of it referrals, was so good that I knew I was going to have to bring in someone," Eckert says. "But I also knew my clients would want to deal with someone who shared my value system, my faith and my work ethic. They would want someone they could build a relationship with."
Given those considerations it seemed perfect to have his daughter join him. So in 1997, Jennifer Eckert came on board.
With a degree in international business from St. Cloud State University and three years experience dealing with customers at an office supply company, Jennifer was ready.
"Because she was my daughter, she had instant credibility," Jim says. "Clients are much more comfortable with her than if I brought in some 24-year-old they might like down the road."
Today, the Eckert Group is a true family enterprise with $140 million in assets. Jim - still the relationship builder - is frequently out tightening bonds through golf and volunteer work, while Jennifer concentrates on the administrative end with financial plans and reviews. Ann, Jim's wife and Jennifer's mother, is also involved. She helps out from home with special extras for clients. She designs birthday and holiday cards on the computer and arranges any gifts.
Father and daughter work together when meeting with clients. And clients see the pair as interchangeable. For example, trades are handled by "whomever answers the phone because our clients know both of us and trust us," Jim says.
Their clients aren't the only ones happy with the arrangement. "I think I learned the business from someone who is the best in the industry," Jennifer says. "We have a great father-daughter working relationship."
Jim agrees. "It's nice to know that I'll eventually pass on something that has been a big part of my life to someone who really cares about it," he says. "It's much more sentimental to pass it on to my daughter than to some business partner."
However, both Eckerts say the biggest negative about working together is that it's easy to dump on the one you love. "Sometimes Dad gets frustrated with issues at the firm or things not working out. I'm the first one - and usually the only one - to hear it," Jennifer says.
Still, Jim likes to look ahead. "It's my hope that the business will continue to grow, and we can continue to serve the clients as we have in the past," he says. "I plan to slowly transition out and let Jennifer run the business."
Adds Jennifer, "But I want Dad to always be involved to some degree, whether it's golfing with clients, hosting annual dinners or building relationships." That last duty Jim won't see as work at all.
Jim Eckert's sales style is no style at all. He prefers to serve the community, figuring the rewards will be returned to him in the form of business.
"It was a real benefit that I waited until later in life to start this business," says Eckert, remembering his rookie year at age 44. "By then I knew a lot of people."
He may have known them, but they often didn't know what he did for a living. "Many of my friends didn't even know I was a broker until they were looking for someone to help them with investments," Eckert says.