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George T. Cox: Building Character in Kids

Firm: Morgan Stanley Smith Barney

City: Seattle

AGE: 68

Years as advisor: 25

Years with current firm: 3

AUM: $250 million

12-mo. Production: $1.75 million

Product Mix: Stocks, 65%; insurance, 3%; bonds, 30%; managed accounts, 2%

Specialty: emphasis on value.

Designations, licenses: CFP, CIMA, CAP, CPWA, Series 7, Series 63

One evening over a decade ago, George T. Cox was standing in the history section of a book store when he noticed a single lonely volume on Alexander Hamilton. “I opened it up and I was hooked,” says Cox of the Hamilton biography, which was authored by Forest McDonald.

He was drawn to Hamilton's story because he felt it demonstrated the power of character and the importance of mentorship — Hamilton's father abandoned the family when he was young and his mother died when he was 13, and yet two decades later, with the help of a mentor, he was helping to write the U.S. Constitution. Numerous conversations and his own observation had convinced Cox — who attended West Point, University of Washington and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — that American kids today are poorly prepared for college and adult life, both financially and emotionally, and need better role models.

In 1998, Cox decided to start an essay-writing contest in Seattle high schools about citizenship, and he named it after Hamilton. Fast forward six years, and Cox was meeting one of Hamilton's descendants in New York, as well as Ron Chernow, a recent biographer of Hamilton, and Louise Mirrer, president of the New York Historical Society. These meetings convinced him he had to do something more with the Hamilton concept. “Honestly, it was a passion in search of a strategy at that point,” he says. Soon after, he launched the Alexander Hamilton Friends Association.

Today, on top of his full-time job as a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley, Cox devotes 20 hours a week and 45 percent of his income to the foundation, which has a budget of close to a half million dollars. The foundation's aim is to help develop leaders of great character over time. Every year, the group identifies 35 talented, financially needy high school juniors — many of them from broken homes. The foundation then helps them to identify their core values and develop written mission statements, teaches them about budgeting, planning and Hamiltonian character and makes heroic efforts to get them into the best colleges in the country. So far, out of the 125 kids who have gone through the program, 14 have attended Harvard.

Cox gets very involved personally, calling individual students to offer encouragement. Ultimately, he wants to offer the kids a five-year curriculum that extends through the college process, but today, just two of the five years have been put into practice.

Cox is looking forward to finishing up the programming so he can focus on raising money and making speeches. “I'm trying to build a public charity, not a private foundation,” he says. “This is named for Hamilton, not George Cox.”

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