"The keys are continued education, ethics
and persistence," says Zhang, 38, who recalls the daunting
challenges he faced as a 23-year-old Western Michigan University
graduate looking for a job in Kalamazoo. "You need
to focus and work hard," he says. "Ours is a very
tough profession, especially initially when you are building
a client base. We see a lot of smart people, but it doesn't
work out because they give up."
For Weinstein, 52, success has come over the years as he
honed his insights — which have included observing how quickly
a respected firm can evaporate.
"You can have the best reputation and it can be destroyed
overnight," he says. "I learned that lesson in 1982
while working for Continental Bank." Then one of the
nation's top banks, Continental "lent a lot of money
to the oil patch," Weinstein says. When the economy tightened,
oil prices crashed, and the bank's "sloppy paperwork"
"Those mistakes can haunt you," states Weinstein,
a former F.C. Austen Scholar. "But I also learned that
if you have a commitment to quality and ethics, then that's
how you will be ultimately judged."
This attitude served him well when forming Altair Advisers,
whose name derives from a principle navigation star. He sees
the firm's mission as successfully shepherding people through
the maze of choices in the wealth management environment.
"I'm in this business because I really like helping
people," says Weinstein, who remembers growing up wanting
to be a doctor, until he cut himself and learned "I couldn't
stand the sight of my own blood."
Weinstein believes his profession will remain important,
especially as the United States continues moving away from
a "paternalistic society" where corporations ensure
their employees' retirement savings.
The Kellogg School JD-MBA
graduate says that the shift toward securing one's own retirement
finances was "inevitable, based on the cost structure
dynamics of the market." Many employers simply couldn't
keep funding pensions while also competing in the global arena,
so people have had to educate themselves about their investment
"There's been a tremendous democratization of the investment
marketplace over the last 25 years," says Weinstein.
Even the gurus have had to keep learning. Zhang notes that
a comprehensive financial adviser must be conversant in six
broad areas: investment, taxes, estate planning, cash flow,
protection planning and retirement planning.
To keep his skills sharp, Zhang chose the Kellogg School's
MBA program because of its "first-class finance professors
and general management curriculum."
"A lot of people may not know this, but Kellogg has
awesome finance professors," says Zhang, himself an adjunct
finance professor at Western Michigan. Zhang, who along with
his wife Lynn Chen-Zhang, a CPA and an EMP-57 graduate, authored
the book Make Yourself a Millionaire, has found
the Kellogg management insights a potent addition.
"If you want to be a successful adviser, you need to
manage not only your clients' money, but also motivate your
staff," says Zhang. "I learned a lot about this