Investment pros join fathers in their businesses.

    Trying to emulate your parents is nothing new, but taking after a father who made a career running his own investment advisory business can be daunting ... particularly when you're being entrusted with the family's reputation, fortune and the assets of hundreds of clients.
    Questions must be answered, issues tackled and financial decisions made to ensure that following in dad's footsteps works out for everyone involved. Following are snapshots of three companies and families that have weathered the struggles to make it work:
    Jerry Webb spent the past 40 years in the investment advisory business. As Webb Financial Group comes up on its 25th anniversary this year, Jerry has turned the reigns of his Minneapolis-area business over to his son, Gary Webb, and another business partner.
    In Southern California, Geordie Crossan left his job running a 401(K) administration company to work with his father John at John's investment advisory firm, NBS Financial. Geordie has purchased the firm from his father and other partners and is now the president of the firm his father launched.
    SYM Financial in Warsaw, Ind., is managed by two brothers, Jerry and Steve Yeager, who picked up where their father Chuck left off. The twist ... they also have three nonfamily partners.
    For the many advisors who will try to fill their parents' shoes, these families' relationship challenges and financial negotiations will be instructive.

Webb Financial Group LLC
    Jerry Webb, who will turn 77 this May, hung his hat at LPL and FSC before establishing his own fee-based advisory firm in 1981 with one partner and one secretary. The Bloomington, Minn., firm, Webb Financial Group (, meets its clients' financial planning and investment management goals today with mutual funds and individual stocks custodied at Charles Schwab, along with the life insurance products the firm still sells.
    An attractive place for son Gary, to work when he finished college in 1988? Not if he wanted to make his own mark first. Gary pursued a successful IT career with 3M for 12 years before taking seriously his dad's offer of employment. "I was nervous because it was family but, at the same time, it was a comfortable thought that this was something I could do for rest of my life. In the IT business, you're always looking for the next contract," says Gary. Dad Jerry adds, "Gary made me promise we wouldn't push him into selling or financial planning; he wanted to learn the business from an office management and technology standpoint."
    Today Gary, 43, joins Michael Bischoff, a 40-year-old CFP licensee, in running Webb Fin-ancial, while Jerry sticks around as long as he feels like it. They all work with clients. "One day Gary came to his senses and said, 'I can do this,'" says Jerry.
    As Gary and Michael bring their own clients into the firm, Jerry's appointments go to them, as well. "We tell the clients I'll keep working with them, but you never know what can happen," says Jerry. Adds Michael, a former Charles Schwab employee, "Most clients understand the transition and are in favor of it."
    Once Jerry made the decision to transition his firm to his son and business partner (Michael joined Jerry in 1997, three years before Gary arrived), he sat down with his attorney and accountant to hash out a written plan. What he came up with has worked well for all. "Gary and Michael are equal owners. They gave me a small downpayment initially and a second downpayment made over 24 months. Additionally, from the earnings of the company, they're paying me the agreed-upon purchase price over seven years on a 15-year amortization schedule, meaning there's a balloon payment at the end of the seven years." Gary and Michael also pay Gary's dad a salary and keep him on as a consultant.
    Is everyone happy? Apparently so.

NBS Financial Services Inc.
    Geordie Crossan, 46, has worked with his dad, John Crossan, 79, for 20 years now. When John started NBS Financial Services ( of Westlake Village, Calif., in 1981, he and his then-partner created the financial planning firm side-by-side with a pension administration business they have since sold. Geordie bought out his dad's original partner in 1994 and helped John evolve the firm toward a fee-based business model, custodying assets with Schwab (and obtaining clients through Schwab's referral network). "It didn't make sense to me that the firm shouldn't have any ongoing revenues ... that it should have to start over again every January first," says Geordie.
    Today, three other CFPs and a CFP/CPA join John and Geordie at NBS, a firm they now characterize as a wealth management company providing its clients personal financial and tax planning services. Geordie says, "It's still a small, personalized wealth management firm with assets of about $175 million [under management]. We feel we can grow ... or not."
    Father and son are 50-50 owners, with a fairly simple succession plan: If something happens to John, Geordie inherits the remaining 50 percent of the firm's stock. "That seemed to be the most tax-efficient succession plan concept our attorneys showed us," says Geordie.
How much longer does John want to work? He answers indirectly: "I'm not working that hard. We meet for lunch every day, and I'm comfortable with Geordie's plans for the firm and with being in business with my son."

SYM Financial Advisors
    Like Gary Webb and Geordie Crossan, Jerry and Steve Yeager made their mark on their father's business.
    Chuck Yeager, the 66-year-old founder of SYM Financial Advisors ( in Warsaw, Ind., is still prominent on the company's Web site. Interested parties will learn that Chuck has 40 years of experience in the financial services industry, he founded SYM Financial in 1968, and he even "pioneered" fee-for-service advice for affluent individual clients.
    Yet ... the story is a little different, according to 41-year-old Jerry Yeager. "Dad's still involved, but most of the management of SYM was transferred to others in the firm by 1997." Jerry Yeager goes on to describe his father as a "big-picture guy," overseeing some operations but not having a lot of involvement in the firm's strategic planning. "To his credit, he knew the strategic planning was important, and that's why we carried out the 2002 management succession."
    Chuck's "big-picture" perspective was undoubtedly critical to his firm's success. Says Jerry, "In the early '80s, dad did traditional, commission-oriented brokerage, but he saw the future of fee-for service advice. By the late '80s, the firm was doing investment management."
    Like Jerry Webb, patriarch Chuck took on nonrelated partners before his sons joined him at SYM.

    Neil Donahoe, CFP, SYM's senior vice president and chief investment officer, joined Chuck in 1987. Son Jerry came along in 1997. George Wolfson, senior vice president and chief fixed-income strategist, and Rod Coleman, CFP, M.B.A. and senior vice president, joined the firm in 2000, the same year as 38-year-old son Steve.
    Unlike Webb and NBS, the Yeager family didn't all join father Chuck in the business. "There are six of us siblings altogether," says Jerry. "At different times throughout the years, several others-a sister and younger brother-have worked in the business, but they eventually went off to do other things. Steve and I are the only ones with an ownership interest in the firm."
    Several themes emerge as we look at the Webbs, Crossans and Yeagers. Sons and daughters will strengthen advisory firms begun in the planning heydays of the early 80s with fresh perspectives and outside experience. Innovative succession plans will make room for non-related management members as well as the founders' offspring. And those same founders will ease out of their businesses, enjoying retirement security and a preferential lifestyle.

David J. Drucker is president of Drucker Knowledge Systems, a practice management consulting firm for advisors.