The foundation Jennifer Murtie worked at had been using Federal Street Advisors as its investment consultant for quite some time, and she was impressed with the independent Boston shop. So when she decided to move to Boston for B-school, it was only natural that she mentioned it to her contacts at the advisory firm, named for its financial-district address.

A conversation about her background and Federal Street's needs ensued, and faster than you can say W-4, Murtie was brought on board. "Not the normal way to get a job, right?" she says. "I wanted to be someplace where I trusted the people and believed in what they were doing. Having worked with them for four years at the foundation, I did."

Randy Hustvedt first learned of the firm circa 2000. She was in the wealth strategies group at a large Boston bank, pitching to a bank client who had just sold his business for $65 million. The prospect brought up Federal Street, boasting that the firm was going to work for him the way a lawyer would: without any conflicts. Later, Hustvedt and her colleague Charlie Walsh became two of Federal Street's five principals, in a firm that now staffs 28.

When an organization draws outsiders who have worked with it, that's a pretty good indication there's something special going on inside.

Federal Street is the brainchild of John LaPann, who founded the firm in 1991 after spotting a hole in the wealth advisory marketplace.

"At the time, there were financial planners who were focused on life insurance and funding your individual retirement account, and there were money managers," LaPann recalls. "It became clear to me that missing from the table was an overall financial advisor to wealthy families and private foundations."

LaPann had already developed an astute view of the challenges facing wealthy people, shaped by his ten-plus years at big Boston investment houses. He thought he could bring his experience to bear in a new role-that of financial architect.

"I would see people sell their business," he says. "They've got cash in the bank, and they don't know what to do next. Or the family matriarch dies and funds a $100 million family foundation. Same issue: What do you do? If you think about it, all of a sudden these people are running an investment company. Who is there to help write, implement and manage the business plan for that investment company? At the time, there wasn't really anybody."

The beginnings were humble. "I started with a couple clients, not many. I got a logo and nice-looking letterhead and wrote all the letters saying, 'We think you should do this or that.' The 'we' was me, myself and I."

But it worked. Today, fourscore wealthy families and foundations, with assets approaching $4 billion, call Federal Street their private wealth advisor.

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