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VOL. 129 | NO. 26 | Friday, February 7, 2014

Kelman-Lazarov Celebrates 35 Years

By Andy Meek

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A business doesn’t get to be 35 years old by accident, and especially in the volatile world of financial planning, longevity is a thing that comes hard, if at all.

Marty Kelman and Ron Lazarov hit that milestone this year, jointly steering their wealth management and financial planning firm Kelman-Lazarov Inc. into a secure perch both in their field as well as on the 28th floor of Clark Tower in East Memphis.

Ron Lazarov and Marty Kelman

From the beginning, their skills beyond financial acumen have tended to complement each other and strengthen the whole. Kelman, for example, brings a master’s degree in counseling to the table, and Lazarov has always been particularly adept with technology. Both men in conversation also repeatedly stress the theme of client service, and it’s not surprising why.

In a field where one firm might present clients with the same offerings as another firm down the street, service can be the thing that tips the scale.

“We’ve got a simple value system,” Kelman said. “Understand the client as well as you can and do the very best thing you can for them, as if you were in their seat.”

Before getting to this point – with a staff of 13 and more than $300 million in assets under management – both men first met during a game while on a Memphis Park Commission softball field. Lazarov occupied the pitcher’s mound, and Kelman played shortstop for a team called the Hairy Wombats.

Between turns at bat, the two men struck up a conversation and started trading ideas and experiences.

“I’d just finished up my MBA program at the University of Memphis,” Kelman said.

Lazarov asked him at the time what he thought he might do next, and Kelman rattled off ideas like financial analyst or company chief financial officer. Lazarov, meanwhile, pointed out that he needed a partner for his own venture at the time, and, as Kelman ends the story, “That’s how we got together.”

Naturally, the early years for the firm weren’t easy. The firm did business with family members, some close friends and then referrals – and, in Kelman’s words, “it was up and down for many years. It took many years of really almost trial and error without having any real mentors.”

The firm started off on the 28th floor, was there nearly 20 years, then shifted to the 31st floor before running to 28.

They kept at it. Lazarov remembers an Apple computer they used early on to churn out long-term projections for clients.

Once, they were in the office working late at night – until 2 or 3 a.m. – trying to finish some financial plans. It was only Kelman, Lazarov and Kelman’s dog – and the fire alarm went off.

They had to hike down the stairs all the way to the bottom of the tower, only to find out it was a false alarm. Needless to say, they were sore the next day.

“Oh, and we still had to walk back up to the office,” Kelman recalls, both men able to laugh about it now.

Lazarov has described the firm’s job as making sure their clients are able to sleep at night. As in, not to put their clients into a financial product that’s too far afield from their risk appetite.

“And then the service is what’s also so important,” Kelman said. “It means even things like taking calls when we can, calling people right back. It’s the Golden Rule. It sounds pretty simple, but it works.”

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