Ron Kelemen and his wife and Kathy retired on November 2, after 35+ years in the financial advisory business. Before they got too far down the retirement path, we interviewed Ron about his years in this industry.
How did you get started in this business?
It was basically a serendipitous fluke. We had returned from nearly three years overseas in the Peace Corps and realized that there were so many new things in the US we knew nothing about, so we were curious about everything. I responded to an ad in the newspaper about an opportunity selling financial services. I had no interest in the job, especially if it involved sales; I simply wanted to know the definition of “financial services.” After the manager explained what they were, I thought, “Gee, if I can sell latrines in Malay, selling a mutual fund in English should be a piece of cake.” The rest was history.
What are the biggest changes you have seen over your 35-year career?
Where do I start? I haven’t had one career, but rather several strung together and overlapped by changes in business models, company affiliations, the tax code, new investment and insurance products, and the public’s knowledge about finances.
However, the two most important changes were the relentless pace of technological change and just how much the financial markets have grown at home and abroad. The Dow was at 800 when I started; now it’s now over 23,500, a 28-fold increase.
Anybody in this business knows how tough it really is, especially in the early years. Why did you succeed?
Several things, really. A lot of it was just being lucky and in the right place at the right time. I was blessed with ignorance, energy, and a hidden talent for marketing. I didn’t know how hard it would be and I knew little about the competition. I just cheerfully plugged away, and managed to stay just one step ahead of trends.
However, I think the most important thing I did was to build a team and use strategic partners to leverage myself and the practice.It started in 1983 when Kathy closed her tailoring shop to assist me. This freed me up to spend more time in the community, meeting with clients, writing, and conducting seminars. Mary Way joined me in 1995, and that’s when the practice really took off. It just kept getting better as the team grew.
The meltdown of 2008-09 was a huge event. What are your thoughts and memories about it?
It was downright scary. The hardest part for me was keeping a positive attitude with the clients, the public, and especially my own team. I look back on that period as one of the worst and best times of my career. I was totally engaged in so many ways and no longer complacent. I got to see some people at their worst, but I got to see many of them at their best as they did what they could to cope.
This will come as a shock to some people, but I didn’t like working with numbers, computers, and minutiae. I’m a BIG picture person, so I surrounded myself with people who are better at details and love those things. What I loved to do was get new clients in the door and help them solve their problems. I also loved public speaking, writing, and creating better ways for us to do things. The business paid the bills (most of the time) and it gave Kathy and me a platform to get involved with local and international community projects, getting to know many interesting people and learn many things beyond my own profession.
Looking back, what are some of the highlights of your career?
The team and the processes we put in place will always be right at the top of the list, as do surviving and thriving in this industry during three and a half decades of rapid change. Beyond that, I’d say the success of my book, The Confident Retirement Journey, having our firm honored by the Chamber of Commerce as the 2011 Small Business of the Year, and Kathy and I receiving the Distinguished Service Award at the 2012 First Citizen’s banquet.
But those are the public things. Behind the scenes we helped so many people day in and day out, and I didn’t often realize it at the time. Ever since I announced our retirement, clients and allied professionals have been going out of their way to explain just how my team and I helped them in ways that I had never known. So, of late, I’ve been discovering a lot of “new” highlights.
If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Not much. So much of it was luck being in the right place at the right time with the right people and the right attitude (and a lot of ignorance and hard work). However, there are some investment recommendations I wish I had made and had not made. Also, I wouldn’t have tried to be all things to all people.
What will you miss?
Our clients, some of whom are so fun and delightful, that I just couldn’t believe I got paid to work with them. I hope I can remain in touch with them. I’ll certainly miss the team and former colleagues and the excitement and belly laughs we have every day. However, with the office just three blocks from our condo, I’ll stop by often. They’re good friends and like family to Kathy and me.
What are you and Kathy going to do in retirement?
Where do we start? Our motto has been: “Always make your future greater than your past.” We intend to keep living up to it in this next life adventure. We are committed to keeping Salem as our home base. We have big travel plans on the calendar and we’re going to continue our community involvement. We’re looking forward to mid-week activities, longer workouts, and more time with friends. Above all, we’re looking forward to a slower pace with spontaneity in our travels and daily routines.
Editor’s note: If you want to follow Ron & Kathy’s travels, check out the “Ron & Kathy’s Mid-Life Adventures Blog” at www.rwk777.blogspot.com.