Randy Carver has cheated death twice, surviving childhood cancer and a plane crash. For most people, that would be enough. Carver also has built a thriving financial business, owns or co-owns three other businesses, and together with his wife and daughter, designed and built his dream home.
And he's only 37.
The owner and president of Carver Financial Services in Mentor, Ohio, Carver wins praise from clients and business associates, and of course, his mother.
"Randy doesn't panic. Randy doesn't get anxious about things," says Dr. Patricia Carver, a clinical psychologist and Carver's mom. "He has just succeeded in life."
That success includes his association with Raymond James Financial Services, for which Carver is a registered representative. He placed sixth last year among the company's more than 2,500 registered representatives, producing $2.5 million in gross commissions from his own clients. Business at his independent northeastern Ohio office has grown 30% a year since opening in 1990.
Carver's successes started early, with a number of business ventures launched in childhood.
"I do remember the businesses he started as a little kid," says Patricia Carver. "One of them was gathering up dandelions, bunching them into bouquets and selling them around the neighborhood."
At 10 years old, he was making and selling jam. At 12, he was putting on magic shows for neighborhood children. At 15, he started a catering business. "It was my kitchen," recalls Patricia Carver. "My flour, my butter, my butcher. The butcher loved him." At another point, he made and sold cheesecakes.
Carver was born in New York City and moved to Baltimore at age 2. By the time he was 12, his family had moved to Canada, where his father had become physician in chief at Toronto's Sick Children's Hospital.
Not long after the move, doctors discovered a mass in Carver's chest. Surgeons removed the boy's spleen, parts of his right lung and an entire lobe on the left, took out his jugular vein and re-routed it through his right arm.
His recovery was long and painful. "Plus, I missed a lot of school being ill ... so it was tough meeting other kids. I ended up having a lot of adults as friends and became interested in investing (by) reading the Wall Street Journal," Carver says.
Fighting cancer and enduring treatment left Carver exhausted during much of his seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade years. Instead of a locker, he had a hospital bed in the infirmary of his prep school. Friends would bring his lunch, and he kept up with his studies, turning every paper in on time. Cancer left him with diminished lung capacity, a paralyzed vocal cord and a raspy voice, but no lack of ambition.
At age 18, Carver started a painting and renovating company with $500. He employed 15 contractors and sold the company to pay for his tuition at Oberlin College in Ohio, where he sold ads for the campus newspaper and hawked pizza in the school library. A year later, he started RSC (Randy's Second Company), another painting firm, with $1,000. RSC eventually had 10 employees, one of whom bought the company. Both companies were grossing more than $1,000 per week prior to being sold.
Carver majored in economics at Oberlin, and in October 1987, opened a branch office for Edward D. Jones, a regional brokerage firm. He later received master's and doctoral degrees via distance learning from Hamilton University in Wyoming.
Carver was doing quite well with Jones. He had married his childhood sweetheart, Mindy, and the couple's daughter was only 3 months old when the unimaginable happened. Carver was piloting a rented plane with Mindy and daughter Cidney from Ohio to New Jersey to visit his parents. They had been flying a couple of hours, and the plane was about 7,000 feet in the air when trouble began. "The engine got kind of flaky up by Allentown, (Pa.)," Carver says.
Carver radioed for help as the plane began to glide toward the ground in a hilly border of Pennsylvania and central New Jersey.
"The last thing we heard was, 'You're on your own,'" he says. "It was afternoon, pouring rain. It was real gray. You really couldn't see a whole lot."
For six minutes, the plane glided down through the clouds. When they popped out of them, Carver spotted a field in which a farmer had cut a landing strip for his own plane. He had only a few seconds to turn toward it. Unfortunately, the plane was too low and hit a tree, which sheared off the right wing. He stalled the plane to slow it as they went into the trees, and that's the last thing he remembers of the accident. "It happened pretty fast. One minute, we're on track to land, and the next minute, we hit the tree."
Carver was seriously injured, his kneecap shoved high up into his thigh, severing tendons along the way. The impact also shattered some ribs, collapsed his lungs, crushed his nose and cracked his larynx.
Mindy, who sat next to Cidney in the back seat, suffered a broken collarbone and some bruises. Tiny Cidney, strapped into her infant car seat and facing backward as she would in a car, was unhurt.
Mindy climbed out of her seat and determined she could do nothing for her husband, who was unconscious. "I took (Cidney) out, and I looked for the highest point of land," she says. "I found a farmhouse. I go to this house, and no one was there. There was a big dog. I broke the window, broke into the house. I called 911, and they didn't have the computer yet. They said, 'Where are you?' and I said, 'I don't know.'
"I had to find something with their address on it. I found a bill and got through, and then they knew this farmer had his own (landing) strip and his own plane. They sent every vehicle."
Carver had an emergency tracheotomy in the hospital and drifted in and out of consciousness for about a week. When he regained consciousness, he felt compelled to work, but he couldn't talk. So Mindy would call the office, where office manager Renee Singer would relay Carver's messages to clients and clients' messages to him.
"He drove the nurses crazy," his mother says.
"He was pitching stocks to the doctors in the hospital," Mindy says.
Doctors predicted he would be unable to bend his knee more than 10% and recommended physical therapy. Carver feared he would never walk again and devised his own therapy: building a deck on the family's home. He regained 90% of the flexibility in the knee and continues to exercise daily, including practicing karate.
A more difficult struggle has been with his voice. The cracked larynx left Carver with nothing but a whisper.
"He was out for about three weeks, and then he was back in the office. That's just the way Randy is," Singer recalls. "When he came back, he could not do phone calls, he couldn't do all that (verbal) stuff. We did a lot of note writing ... I'd call (clients). He'd tell me what to say, and I'd call and talk to them."
Having little voice made Carver a much better listener. He learned to choose words carefully and has had to work hard to build up his endurance and vocal capacity.
"It has been painful, and I am still working at it 11 years later," he explained. "It is a matter of using my voice. I could only whisper for the first year or so, and then only speak for five to 10 minutes at a time. It is only in the last few years that it is getting stronger."
Adds Singer with a laugh: "We're forever saying, 'What?' It's a big word around here."
Until two years ago, Carver used a telephone amplifier so clients could hear him. He has gained enough strength to abandon it.
"His attitude is, you know what, for those years when his voice was so unusual, they always knew who was calling, and he used that to his advantage," says Mindy, a preschool teacher.
Carver has amazed executives at Raymond James Financial with his ability to overcome adversity, as well as with his business acumen.
"Randy is one of the most productive branch managers in our system," says Dick Averitt, executive vice president of Raymond James and national sales manager of the investment-management division. "Remarkably, he is almost a man for all seasons.
"Randy made top-producer group in 1992 and every year since. That's not common," Averitt says. "He is a phenomenal individual. And there is not a bit about him that speaks of pride or pomp. You'll not hear him talk about himself."
Averitt was in charge of recruiting when Carver joined the company in 1990. Chet Helck, another Raymond James executive vice president, recruited Carver.
"He was quite young, but he was already quite accomplished for somebody of any age," Helck says. "The more I got to know him, the more I got to realize that I was dealing with a very unique individual. I would say one of the most intelligent and probably one of the most driven people I've ever known in my life."
Yet, according to Averitt, Carver is more than willing to share his knowledge with his fellow advisors. While some complain about having to make a 15-minute presentation, Carver asks for more time. "He's eager to teach, eager to share," Averitt says.
Indeed, Carver has given numerous seminars both locally and nationally. On Internet Radio DAER, which he co-owns and serves as chief financial officer, Carver presents twice-weekly stock minutes.
The ability to explain retirement planning clearly was what drew Steve Maznik to Carver for advice. Maznik was in his mid-forties when his employer, a power company, offered him early retirement. Maznik and his wife, Pat, quizzed a number of advisors before settling on Carver. "The average person doesn't understand the financial business, and I was part of that group," Maznik says. "But if I didn't understand it, he explained it to you and told you where to go out and get the information."
Maznik has flown with Carver, who resumed flying about six months after the plane crash, and he often visits Carver's office with his 2-year-old grandson in tow. He gives Carver a lot of credit for his comfortable retirement. "I've taken my wife on some tremendous vacations because of what Randy's done," Maznik says, including two trips to Alaska. "I can't say enough good things about the guy."
Carver explained his investment philosophy: "First and foremost, I believe in diversifying someone's portfolio and taking a long-term approach, no market timing, and perhaps a slight overweighting in areas we think are particularly attractive. Right now, that would be tech. The mix between stocks and bonds is unique for each client."
Lately, he's been putting slightly more of clients' money into individual securities, rather than packaged products, with about 42% in annuities and insurance, 20% in individual stocks and the balance in bonds and mutual funds.
Carver says the current downturn has helped business. "This is awesome," he crowed. "We are picking up clients and new assets at a tremendous rate. Many brokers are taking the bunker mentality, and their clients are looking for answers. We have been taking appointments seven days a week."
Carver's office manages about $500 million, and although affiliated with Raymond James, he operates as an independent. About 70% of those assets go into fee-based products. He includes C-share mutual funds in this percentage.
Although the business keeps him plenty busy, Carver makes time for other ventures. He now owns his own plane, a twin-engine Cessna, which he flies for business and pleasure, as well as leases to others. When his county was still without Internet service in 1995, Carver and a partner founded Lakenet, an Internet service provider. Four years ago, he, Mindy and Cidney began work on their 10,000-square-foot house, nestled in the woods just a few minutes from Lake Erie.
"The house was the toughest thing we ever did," Carver says. Working nights and weekends, the family was involved in every aspect of the design and construction, from framing to laying tile to wiring for computers. They had help with the wood flooring, trim and painting because Carver's lungs cannot withstand strong fumes. Cidney even learned to drive a backhoe, digging the trenches for all the pipes. "It's a fun project," Carver says. "I don't spend enough time with my daughter as it is."
Now, he's on to another construction project, building a two-story addition to his office building. All this while overseeing 10 employees, and a client base of 2,700 families and businesses. "I just love what I do," Carver says. "I like all aspects of it, I guess, dealing with people and solving their problems. Now we are seeing the results, seeing people able to retire."