There's a Warner Brothers cartoon in which a wolf named Ralph and a sheepdog named Sam greet each other warmly every morning as they punch into work and then go to their respective jobs: Sam sits atop a hill guarding the sheep, and Ralph attempts to steal them. All day long, the two are in pitched battle, blowing each other up with sticks of dynamite, punching each other over the head with fists and shovels, pushing each other off the top of the hill. At the end of the day, the quitting time whistle blows, the two punch out, and they fondly bid each other adieu, until the following morning, when it all begins again.
That's basically what Frank Moriano, a financial advisor from Atlanta, envisioned when he gathered a bunch of competitors from the financial services sector and had them work together on building houses for charity.
"I thought, wouldn't it be interesting to get someone from Merrill, whether it was a secretary or senior executive, literally standing next to someone from Charles Schwab, who is sitting next to a registered investment advisor, who is standing next to a registered rep," Moriano says.
On the Habitat for Humanity job site he created, there were advisors from about a dozen financial services firms, people who at any other time are in a cutthroat competition for the assets of Atlanta's wealthiest individuals, and yet for one week each year, they stand next to each other hammering nails and installing drywall as they construct houses for the homeless.
"One guy would be holding a board and another guy would be hammering nails into it. And yet before they got there, they were competing head-to-head on a $100 million deal," Moriano says.
Moriano is just one of many financial advisors who feel they have been given so much good fortune that they now want to give something back, beyond just writing a check. He was having breakfast with his financial advisor one morning three years ago when the two got to talking about what they could do that would be more meaningful. That's when they came up with the idea of building houses for Habitat for Humanity. Moriano heard it costs $80,000 and takes seven to eight weeks to build one in Atlanta, so he began calling some of his friends in the industry and asked if they would contribute.
One gave only money, but the rest offered funds and labor, sending out volunteers to the job site on weekends. Regular Habitat employees did the hard stuff-like pouring concrete and running electrical wires-but Moriano and his crew laid Sheetrock, painted walls, installed soffits and helped with the roof. This fall, they will be building their fourth house.
It wasn't all easy. These are people who work in the financial services sector. They were intimidated by small things. There were mishaps, like someone falling off of a ladder and getting all banged up. And there was a Nuveen executive who came to the job site in a pressed shirt and $300 shoes, refusing to get his hands dirty. By the end of the day, he had a paintbrush in his hand, and paint on his shoes, Moriano says.
Moriano retired a year after building his first house, leaving at age 46, when Nuveen was acquired in late 2007 by Madison Dearborn Partners and Nuveen executives were offered early retirement packages. Because he was so young, he decided to go back to work after taking some time off. He's now with Foundation Source, a company that administers the giving function for foundations across the country.
"A company like that would not even have been on my radar three years ago," Moriano says.