Advisor Steven Wightman is building dreams, and doing it his way.
Soaring above the North Woods of Maine in a
homemade, single-engine airplane, a person might think that balancing
an investment portfolio would be the farthest thing from the pilot's
mind. But Steven D. Wightman, a CFP practitioner and an
instrument-rated pilot, could be mulling over a client's investment
options at the same time that he looks for a place to land.
In reality, Wightman cannot fly his homemade plane as yet, because he is still in the process of building it, but he flies other single-engine planes and one of his lifelong dreams is to fly one that he made with his own hands. Achieving dreams is very important for Whitman-and for his clients.
Wightman is the founder of Wightman Financial Network LLC, in Lexington, Mass. He only accepts clients who are willing to let him make the investment decisions and who agree with his philosophy of life, which centers on achievements more than monetary goals. One such dream for Wightman was becoming a pilot, and after hours of training and flight tests he achieved that goal. Now he can fly and land seaplanes, as well as conventional single-engine planes.
But the project that is consuming much of his spare time now is building what he hopes will be one of the fastest single-engine seaplanes in the world, a project that probably will take 3,000 to 4,000 hours to complete. Wightman is quick to point out the difference between a seaplane and a floatplane. "A seaplane is amphibious and made to land on its hull in the water. The hull is so strong you could land it without the gear down on land and it would only scratch the hull. It has the engine on top, so you cannot hurt it. Float planes are just that-they have floats to land on water and are much heavier, so they are much slower," Wightman says.
Once completed, he would like to use the seaplane to volunteer for environmental missions in remote areas, or to fly children and families from remote areas to city hospitals for needed medical treatment. Financial planning, and building airplanes on the side, is a third or fourth career for Wightman, who started developing his sense of values early in life.
Growing up relatively poor, he joined the Army during the Vietnam War and became an airplane mechanic almost by accident, learning to fly on his own time during his military stint. "I also had a dream that when I got out of the Army I would get an acre of land and go to college," he says.
True to his promise to himself, he bought an acre of land in New Hampshire for $250 and began saving for college, which he paid for by working and taking advantage of veterans' benefits. It took him ten years to obtain a liberal arts degree because "the more I learned, the more I realized I wanted to learn," Wightman says. "I bought my first stock when I was 22, just to learn what it was like." Now he lives off of the income from his portfolio investments and he says his conservative investment strategy "outperforms the big companies" all the time.
The acre of land in New Hampshire, where he built a small cabin, grew to be 30 acres, and the dream to build a seaplane and fly it for environmental and humanitarian missions grew. A couple of years ago he built a simple hanger on the property and began constructing his plane, the Seawind. He says he does not have misgivings about flying in a homemade plane. On the contrary, he will trust it because he will know it was built correctly. The plane is being built out of carbon and fiberglass, which makes it lighter and faster and able to take on more fuel.
"I will know this plane is built better than any other, and if I hear any noise or rattle, I will know what it is," he says. "At this point, I have years of experience flying and maintaining airplanes. My plane will have a GPS system so that I will always know where I am, and the map will be so accurate I will be able to land even if I can't see out the window."
Once it is built, grueling test flights will be performed to try to make the airplane fail or a system to malfunction. "This will be a 21st Century airplane that will run circles around any other plane," Wightman brags, "and there is water everywhere, so I can land anywhere."
He would like to enter air races just to see how he and the Seawind perform. My dream is an around-the-world trip to break the world's record for speed and altitude. Just for the fun of it, I would like to go from California to Hawaii-no one has ever done that in a single-engine plane. Financial planning and flying airplanes have to be two of the most regulated activities in the world. People tell me I am crazy to be involved in both."
That brings the financial planner back to the subject of his dreams, which play a prominent role in his work as well as his recreational pursuits. In addition to being a certified financial planner, Wightman is a certified college planner specialist, but he describes himself as a "life advisor specializing in money."
"But money is not the goal. You have to live your life according to your dreams, no matter how ridiculous they may sound to others. Without dreams, you cannot be passionate about life. Dreams are first, and money is second. I always tell people their best investment is the person in the mirror," Wightman says.
With his soft-spoken and low-key demeanor, Wightman may seem like an unusual candidate to be talking about passion, but it infuses everything he does, which is why financial planners such as Eve Kaplan, of Kaplan Financial Advisors LLC, in Berkeley Heights, N.J., are drawn to him.
"When you first meet Steve, you do not get the impression that he is doing all of these amazing things on the side. He does not strike you as being aggressive, but it just shows you a person can surprise you," says Kaplan, who is doing financial planning work with Wightman. "I met Steve at a NAPFA conference. We had not talked very long before he was already soaring away on what we could do together. He is targeting a high-net-worth client base, and I look to him as a model for where I want to go in the business."
Kaplan noted that Wightman has listened to her concerns and helped her get her business off the ground. "He is teaching me to be disciplined with clients," she adds. "But he wants to spend more time on his plane, which is why we are working together."
Although he is willing to assist other financial planners, Wightman does not consider himself a typical advisor. He will work only with people who are willing to trust his judgment and turn the decisions over to him. "People have to be willing to trust others. Some people feel more comfortable with a big firm, but they shouldn't. People who come to me are usually people who are older and more confident in their decisions," Wightman says.
Wightman charges by the hour to create a financial plan and then he charges 1% of net worth to do taxes, debt management, risk planning, estate planning and comprehensive financial planning.
"I do not measure myself by the amount of assets under management. That is ludicrous. Someone can have millions of dollars under management, but that does not mean he or she is ethical, or has high standards, or has received good peer review, or is continuing his or her education," he says.
Less than 1% of adults have taken steps to create a professionally written financial plan, which was one of the most important moves Wightman says he has ever made. Because of it, many people suffer from what he calls "money mania," which is "the inability to have a functional relationship with money so that it supports one's values and (gives you) the freedom to do, and simply be true to oneself."
Wightman remained in the Army Reserves after his active duty ended, and during the first Persian Gulf War his unit received notice that they were being called to active duty and that he had three days to try to put his financial life in order. Although he never was deployed overseas, the memory has carried over. He and other members of the Massachusetts Financial Planning Association now work with active duty reservists serving in Iraq and Afghanistan to minimize the financial consequences to themselves and their families.
He also is active in the movement to restore the Maine North Woods and to create a Maine Woods national park. He works with the organization Restore, which is working to preserve the North Woods from loggers and developers, by helping to educate others on ways to make financial donations to the project and ways to establish charitable gifts. He and his wife of 14 years, Margaret, also have contributed to the organization. In the meantime, he vows to spend more time helping others.
"Today in America, the bottom 5% of our income spectrum descend deeper and deeper into poverty with each sunset. (Former) President Jimmy Carter says we need to be more compassionate, and do more individually and as a society, for the less fortunate. I plan to spend more time doing this," Wightman says. "Lastly, I think we should make dreams bigger than our lives, and then try to live them. I don't know if I'll ever get the Seawind off the ground, but I'm sure going to have fun trying."