The Navy Seals' of Business
Hobart alums and best friends find success in finance
by Jessie Meyers '10 and Melissa Sue Sorrells '05
Gerson, Guarino & Meisel Group of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney are guided by Warren Buffet's first two rules of money management:
Rule number one: don't lose money.
Rule number two: don't forget rule number one.
"We're the conservative money guys," explains Greg Meisel '87. "First and foremost on our minds is fulfilling our commitment to our clients and protecting their assets."
"When the markets are choppy, you can feel like a medic in the Battle of Normandy," says Jeff Gerson '85. "You're just as likely to be a victim on the battlefield, but you can't worry about yourself. Similarly, we have to protect our clients, first and foremost."
The Hobart graduates, along with three other business partners, oversee what Gerson jokingly calls the Navy Seals of advisory businesses.' One of the nation's most successful wealth management practices, Gerson and his team were recognized as one of Worth magazine's Top 100 Wealth Management Advisers in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.
But the pair wasn't always making headlines. After meeting during a Sigma Chi party in 1983, they were roommates on-campus and in Manhattan, where Gerson went into finance and Meisel went into real estate.
"My relationship with Greg is one of the best in my life," says Gerson. "From nearly the moment we met we became best friends."
"When I decided to get out of real estate, I told Jeff I was going to be interviewing," says Meisel. "He said, Can you be in my office at 7 a.m. tomorrow morning?' When I got there, we went through an intensive, day-long interview and testing process. In the end, they wanted to hire me, I agreed to go into business with Jeff and off we went."
Over time, the men evolved their business, making feebased money managing the cornerstone of their practice and divvying up the tasks so that each member of the team was working to his full potential. "We took on roles we would do well with," says Gerson. "And then we really focused on them. I believe that successful teams are built by making sure to fill the areas where there are weaknesses, and that's what we've tried to do."
These days, Gerson and Meisel work in side-by-side offices at the recently-merged industry leader in wealth management, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, managing more than a billion and a half dollars. Gerson is a Director of Wealth Management, Senior Portfolio Management Director and Senior Family Wealth Director, and Meisel serves as a Senior Vice President of Wealth Management and Portfolio Management Director.
Gerson, who majored in economics, credits his experiences at HWS with preparing him for a career in finance. As treasurer of Sigma Chi fraternity, he learned to apply accounting and computing to real-life situations. His studies in anthropology still come in handy, albeit in unexpected ways.
"Look at a puzzle with 1,000 pieces; one piece on its own doesn't mean anything," he explains. "But the culmination of experiences at HWS is like the pieces fitting together and creating the big picture."
"All of the courses I took at HWS taught me to think and reason on many levels," Meisel agrees. "My economics courses were important in preparing me to manage wealth for individuals and non-profit organizations, but my job isn't just figures and numbers - it involves interacting with people, understanding their personalities, psychology, fears, hopes and dreams. It marries all those pieces to a long-term, holistic financial plan."
And these two are in it for the long-term. Even in these difficult economic times, Gerson and Meisel love their careers. "I make a significant difference in the lives of our clients," says Meisel. "We shepherd them from the accumulation phase, to retirement, to the next generation. To be able to work with multiple generations and to help people live out their dreams is very fulfilling."
Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC. Member SIPC. "Worth Magazine's 100 Wealth Advisors" bases its rankings on qualitative criteria that include: professional designations and educational credentials, professional experience, acceptable compliance records, outlook on the investment climate, model portfolio returns, and client retention rate. Worth editors receive thousands of nominations nationwide from Worth readers and investment professionals. Nominated advisors are then asked to complete an extensive survey. All credentials and designations are verified and nominee compliance records are verified. For more information on raking methodology, go to http://www.worth.com/Editorial/Wealth-Management/Advisors/subarticles/Takingthe- Measure-of-Your-Managers-The-Top-100-Methodology.asp. The rating may not be representative of any one client's experience because it reflects a sample of all the experiences of the advisor's clients. The rating is not indicative of the advisor's future performance. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney does not pay a fee to Worth Magazine in exchange for the rating.
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- The 'Navy Seals' of Business