At a recent appearance in Nashville before an audience of 100 clients, friends and employees at the Country Music Hall of Fame, David Waddell of Waddell & Associates Inc. gave his company’s annual state of the union address.
He did the same Thursday, Feb. 28, in Memphis for a crowd of 300 at the FedEx Institute of Technology.
By his own admission, the financial planning firm of Waddell & Associates is “stronger than it’s ever been, and we’ve always been strong.”
The company, begun by his father in 1986 and taken over by Waddell in 2002, builds its business around three components: customized financial planning, providing investment management services on a discretionary basis and a process of dynamic communication to keep clients informed and involved.
And throughout it all, Waddell promotes a consistency in clients’ relationships and in the way assets are managed. To that end, the personal assets of Waddell, his employees and the business – a total of $30 million – are managed right alongside and in the same investment models as the $700 million total assets the firm manages.
Waddell attributes much of the company’s success, as he trumpeted in Nashville, to his team, saying “we have CPAs, CFPs and lawyers on staff, so we bring a lot of artillery to the table to do personal financial planning work.”
He makes a point to mention recent additions to personnel, including new chief operating officer Dawn Rapoport and the Nashville office managing director Corey Napier.
“We’ve made significant investments in talent in the company and we really have all-stars at every position, so I’ve never felt better about the condition of the firm,” Waddell said.
An initial investment with Waddell & Associates is $500,000, and 85 percent of the business is with individuals, those who tend to be semi-affluent to affluent. Waddell’s objective is to get to know these clients and learn what their ultimate goals are, whether it’s to send their children to college or leave a healthy estate behind.
For Waddell and his team, it’s about being honest and clear and letting that potential client know up front if goals are attainable and, if not, how to restructure and augment the goals and investments to make that client happy and comfortable.
“We provide the clarity around these objectives that people just can’t come to on their own because often they’re working on a sense of feel instead of a sense of math,” he said. “I want to be known as the most authentic and honest purveyor of the trade, and sometimes that means telling people what they don’t want to hear.”
The good news from Waddell is that he is optimistic about the way the economy is heading, noting three factors in particular: housing recovery, increased domestic energy production and that the nation’s manufacturing is on the rebound.
“I think 2012 will be seen as kind of a mid-cycle slowdown for the economy and we should accelerate out of it,” he said. “People are starting to come out of their shells a little bit in the economy and that’s a sign that we’ve entered the second half of the recovery.”
Waddell was born in Atlanta and moved with his family from Georgia to Connecticut to Pennsylvania and Florida before coming back to his parents’ home of Memphis during high school where he attended Memphis University School.
After college at University of the South where he received a Bachelor of Arts in economics, Waddell had stints in New Jersey working for NFL Films and Charles Schwab & Co. where he took a position in Phoenix for $14,500 a year and lived in an apartment with no air conditioning to learn the business of financial trading.
After a promotion and move later to San Francisco, he eventually received an MBA in finance and investments from F.W. Olin School at Babson College in Boston and moved back to Memphis where he’s made a home with wife, Stacie, who works in the marketing end of the firm, and two children – Easton, 10, and Saylor, 6.
Waddell is proud of the community and works closely with Leadership Academy (now New Memphis Institute), the Economic Club of Memphis, the board of the Memphis Botanic Garden and the Greater Memphis Chamber chairman’s council.
Memphis, he said, is “gathering momentum” and what he’d like to see for Memphis is “a thriving entrepreneurial class.”
Waddell has a saying he and his team adhere to: Performance is not an outcome, it is a discipline.
“Really what I want to accomplish over time is to be extremely consistent in my level of effort and be super focused on the things where I feel like I can make a contribution,” he said. “Every once in a while we’ll have a monster year of returns, but that’s not a moment to pat yourself on the back and take a victory lap because you’ve got to wake up the next day and do the exact same thing again.”