Stephen P. O'Donnell Sr. is a bit of a Renaissance man.
He is former Marine, whose two sons are also Marines. He's a former police officer and law enforcement trainer and a martial arts expert, proficient in jujitsu, aikido and his own style of martial arts he calls O'Domhnaill Ryu Aiki Bujutsu.
He also recently became a painter, immersing himself in the art community in Orange County, N.Y., and Pike County, Pa. O'Donnell says the art and martial arts worlds are not that far removed from each other.
"The movements in martial arts, at the higher levels, are very artistic," he says. "When I first thought of painting, I wanted to portray some of the more artistic movements of martial arts on canvas with paint."
Last, but not least, he is a financial advisor, and has been for the last 13 years. He currently helms his own practice, O'Donnell & Associates in Port Jervis, N.Y., as president. (The fee-based firm is affiliated with Ameriprise Financial Services Inc.) Though he focuses on clients with a net worth between $1 million and $5 million, he also caters to teachers, police and firefighters. He has one assistant and 300 clients.
O'Donnell switched professions 13 years ago after finding it difficult to provide for a growing family on police salary. Business and numbers had always been attractive to him.
"I was in public service as a police officer, and being a financial advisor is a public service, too; you are still helping people," he says. After 13 years in the business, some of his clients have become friends. That puts more pressure on him to succeed, he says.
When he first switched careers, he started at the bottom at Merrill Lynch as a trainee, answering phones and slotting the mail. He was promoted to financial advisor, then later recruited by Smith Barney, where he became a certified portfolio manager and branch manager. Then it was on to Morgan Stanley, where he was made a vice president.
When the company closed his office in the middle of the financial crisis, he decided to go independent.
O'Donnell set up a fee-based practice for both asset management and financial planning. He handles the investments himself. He says he tries to plan for each client as an individual, and does not have a cookie-cutter approach.
"I am open to looking at and analyzing any kind of investment for my clients," he says, "but ultimately, it has to make sense, and most importantly it has to be the right thing for the client."
The office space his practice occupies feeds his artistic sensibilities. O'Donnell & Associates takes up the second floor of a 122-year-old restored railroad station known as the Erie Depot. His ancestors, as it happens, worked for the Erie Lackawanna Railroad when they first immigrated to the United States from County Donegal (the land of O'Donnell) in Ireland. "We have 14-foot-high ceilings and colored glass transoms above the doors. Everybody who comes in here loves the space," he says.
The high ceilings are part of what inspired O'Donnell to host an art exhibit at his office, since he had a lot of empty wall space, "not to mention my wife wanted me to get the paintings out of the house," he says.
It was five or six years ago that O'Donnell conceived the idea of incorporating movements from his martial arts background into abstract, minimalist and expressionist style art. As a policeman, he had combined his martial arts, military hand-to-hand combat training and police defensive tactics into something he calls the O'Domhnaill Ryu Aiki Bujutsu method. (O'Domhnaill is Gaelic for O'Donnell.) Over the years, he has owned and operated five martial arts studios and he still teaches select adult students.
With everything else he's involved with, he was too busy to try out his painting ideas until six months ago, when he started working in acrylic.