Martin’s father is Gene Bicknell, a serial entrepreneur who worked in everything from life insurance to plastics for trash bags to movies (he also ran for Kansas governor twice) but who found real gold in pizzas—specifically the single-unit Pizza Hut franchise he bought in the mid-1960s that he later turned into an empire of almost 800 stores in 26 states. That company, NPC International, was the largest Pizza Hut franchisee at the time it was sold to Merrill Lynch Global Private Equity in 2006 for $615 million. The huge payday didn’t seed Mariner, Bicknell says, but he admits that it helped later, likely in both giving the firm assets to manage and deep pockets for its coming acquisition spree.

Bicknell says of his father, he “was the kind of individual that worked from the moment it opened to the moment it closed. He would bus, would serve tables, would mix the dough, would do all of that. And he kept plowing everything back into the business and opened a second store and a third store and a fourth store.” Hard to think now that pizza, which Bicknell grew up eating every Sunday, was a risky investment back in the day. “I can remember his stories of bankers or business partners telling him that pizza was a fad.”

The pizza business wasn’t in the cards for Martin, though. In his second semester of college, while he was considering law, he interned for an Edward Jones rep in his hometown of Pittsburg, Kan., in the southeast corner of the state, and fell in love with the work. He later moved on to AG Edwards and started work right out of college in 1991. Eventually he ran a company office in Overland Park with 45 advisors.

A legendary St. Louis brokerage, founded in 1897 by an Abraham Lincoln acquaintance and assistant secretary for the Treasury, AG Edwards lost its family leadership in 2001. Seven years ago, in 2008, its candle finally went out for good after it was absorbed by Wachovia (then again later by Wells Fargo; Bicknell stayed until 2006).

Like some lost city of Troy, AG Edwards’ culture lives on the hearts of many veteran reps. Mindy Diamond, a recruiter with Diamond Consultants in Chester, N.J., says that former AG Edwards reps still ask her if companies like that one exist—hoping to find someplace that recreates the brokerage’s legendary environment of fun, bureaucracy-busting and emotional proximity to clients. The famous intense drive of brokerages to make minimum production quotas and boost the P&L statements was unknown at Edwards, say its hagiographers. So were non-compete clauses, says Bicknell. It regularly made Fortune magazine’s lists of best places to work.

When you’re “18 or 19 years old, what do you really know?” Bicknell asks. “Just thinking about what career do I want? I don’t know if I could have told you what a financial advisor was. I was really given the opportunity to get my foot in the door and get a taste for financial services. … I’ve had every job you can possibly have in this industry. I was a receptionist, a cashier, a wire operator, a service assistant, then a junior advisor, an advisor, ultimately in management at AG Edwards.”

The late Benjamin F. Edwards III, the last family scion to lead the company (the great-grandson of the company founder), gave the ambitious upstart Bicknell the chance to try a team approach at the firm. “If you think about a typical large firm, called a wirehouse firm, in my opinion the best producer is usually not the best advice-giver, and in that compensation model, the best advice-giver could starve to death, because if you can’t drive new client relationships, you’re obviously not going to drive revenue to the firm. So my thought process was to get that business development person, to get that rainmaker, and surround them with different areas of service expertise, whether it be financial planning, whether it be investment planning—each of the components that’s needed—and build a better advice and service model to support that producer.

“It was extremely successful, and at a certain three- or four-year time frame after starting the team concept, they were flying me all over the country having me teach other advisors how to do it.”

Bicknell might have stayed at AG Edwards forever, he says, had the guard not changed, bringing the Edwards family’s 115 years of leadership to an end. Bicknell has no ill words for the company, but the cultural change has been cited by many, often in harsher terms, especially after it was sold, which some of its brokers saw as a betrayal.