Most of today's top financial advisors-those who created the discipline-came to it by happenstance rather than design, émigrés from brokerages, insurance, investment banking, psychology, teaching, law, Haight-Ashbury, etc. This rich mix of backgrounds, disciplines, skills, talents and perspectives created what we've come to think of as "the real financial planner," the one who takes a holistic approach to planning. This kind of multilayered career may not appeal to many Wall Street salesmen. Even those who are now out of a job.

Obviously, not all dedicated planners have taken the eclectic path. Some knew what they wanted to do from the outset and only had to wait for the profession to catch up with them. For Stanley Breitbard, one of the 55 planners I discussed in my 1997 book Best Practices for Financial Advisors, financial planning was a logical progression from his B.A. in English literature and his MBA, both of which he received from the University of California at Berkeley. He was able to pursue his passion for learning about people and helping them to live a good life, as well as to get a financial education, all at a single firm where he spent 34 years.

Now, during his "retirement," he continues to pursue the passions he developed throughout his working life, especially financial education and financial literacy. In the early '80s, Breitbard created the personal financial planning specialty at Price Waterhouse, building a national practice with 15 offices and registering a Price Waterhouse affiliate with the Securities and Exchange Commission as an investment advisor.

The only other career he had considered was working in the family dry cleaning business in San Diego owned by his father and uncles. But one of the uncles talked him out of it, encouraging him to do something more creative. What has always interested me about Stan is the way he spent his working life exploring his two passions, financial planning and literature. He chose to become a certified public accountant, but he's also a James Joyce scholar who presented a paper on Ulysses at the International James Joyce Conference in 2007. I wondered how these two passions provided similar lessons and how he grew in each of them to become a full and fascinating person in ways he never expected.

I know that some CFPs do not believe that the CPAs have really been down in the trenches with them. But I've always found Breitbard to be an impeccable source for questions on taxes, on retirement-and certainly on the technical aspects of planning. I admire the way he was led by his curiosity and passions to fashion a life that has affected so many others. And the fact that while still at Berkeley he found his soul mate, his wife Ronda (the woman he still calls the most wonderful in the world). I also admire the way he allowed his life to unfurl, always looking for the next challenge.

In this way, he reminds me of another man, Roger Gibson, founder of Gibson Capital Management in Pittsburgh. Gibson once gave a speech at a Financial Planning Association retreat in which he talked about how his life had not really begun until he reached what he thought of as its lowest point: He had bought a large diamond as a 10-year anniversary gift for his wife and took her on vacation to Maine-where she told him she wanted a divorce. This divorce ate up his $300,000 nest egg and he was forced to sell his business partnership and set up office in his home (his assistant had quit).

Because he had nothing left, he could take lots of risks: starting over in business, becoming "Mr. Mom," to his two kids, earning a black belt in taekwondo, studying Buddhism and depth psychology, picking up his clarinet again.

Gibson took what seemed the tangled warp and woof of his life and wove them into a beautiful tapestry; he sorted through his strengths and his weaknesses, trusted his instincts, and faced tough decisions head on. He came out of it a better money manager, a better father, a better person and a better soul. Isn't this just the type of journey most of us wish to make of our lives?

Breitbard's life is different, yet the same. He explored similar territory but within a single marriage and working for a single employer. Stan grew up in San Diego, married his wife Ronda in 1962, got his MBA in 1963 and joined Price Waterhouse that same year. He spent the obligatory time in auditing and then was drawn to a specialty in taxes, particularly individual and family tax matters like estate planning, because he preferred to work with individuals rather than corporations.

The Big Eight accounting firms of the time were just beginning to develop specialties. International tax came first. "I didn't even see the words 'personal financial planning' at that time," Breitbard says. But brokers and agents and banks soon latched onto the idea. Bank of America had a division for personal financial planning in the late '70s, he says.

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