In June 2010, the Glide Foundation held its annual charity auction to undergird its $17 million dollar budget.  Focusing on alleviating the suffering of the impoverished and homeless of San Francisco, the foundation heavily depends on this yearly fundraiser.  Over the last several years the most profitable draw on the eBay auction block has been lunch at the Smith and Wollensky Steakhouse in New York City with investment guru Warren Buffet.  The 2010 winner paid $2.6 million for the privilege.  Robert Chatwani, who directed the record-setting auction said:  “I tell you…some people really want to have lunch with Warren Buffett, huh?” It seems doubtful that much time will be spent discussing the weather, sports, or even the quality of the steaks.
One year the winning bid was $1.68 million and in 2008 the lunch cost $2.1 million.  Why have people been motivated to spend so much money to have a little time with Buffet? Undoubtedly bidders hope that Buffet’s genius for investing and his willingness to share some of that insight over lunch will pay rich dividends.

Olivia sought her own power lunch a few months ago – she called me from school during break explaining that she needed suggestions for 10 stocks to invest in for her personal finance class.  Her teacher Ken Crepeau had presented to the class his annual investing challenge and the person whose portfolio of stocks and bonds outperformed the remainder of the class for the semester….. well, no class final for that student.  Find me a kid who wouldn’t want to skip a final – this was serious stuff.

A few suggestions jumped to mind but who was I to be guiding someone on something with so much at stake?  Olivia, Chris and I had just come back from a couple rock climbing excursions with world renowned climber Henry Barber.  During the climbs we found ourselves clinging to cliff faces hundreds of feet off the ground and ever grateful for the world class guidance.  Henry has not only scaled the most dangerous climbs around the world – he is famous for having been the first person to ever climb some of the most technical and dangerous climbs known to man and he has completed many first solo ascents – death defying climbs … without ropes.

Though Henry has been a friend for years he rarely spoke of his exploits so his jaw dropping feats were best revealed online and through reading The Life and Climbs of Henry Barber by Cliff Lee. Getting out into his environment and entrusting him not only with my life but the lives of my kids was an eye opening experience. I soon started to understand and appreciate the value of first class advice and guidance. What I found so intriguing about Henry is that even though he has completed more climbs than he can count and these climbs were easy based on his standards, he treated every ascent that we tackled with as much diligence and care as if it were his first.  Every knot that he made, every adjustment of the rope, every move of hand and foot was explained, demonstrated, and completed with precision and care.  Everything was methodical, thought out and executed like you would expect from an unsurpassed guide and mentor.

As Dennis Waitley states in his book Safari to the Soul, “Life is like paradise for those who know how to work with it but is can be a savage place for those who do not.  The most important thing to understand is that life is a jungle and a jungle is neutral letting us make of it what we may.”

The complex investment world is part of our daily jungle – do you tame it with a guide or do you try to tackle it as a tourist blazing your own path?  With a guide you appreciate the beauty of the jungle; you appreciate the plants, the wildlife, the running water, the various colors and sounds.  You are confident in the routes to take, what is safe to eat including the papayas, the mangos, and know what is not safe to eat.  You know where to find clean water and where to find safe shelter.  If you are a tourist without a guide you fear deadly snakes, scorpions, African killer bees, poisonous plants, malaria, yellow fever, cholera, and all of the dangers more pervasive to the inexperienced.  If you are guided by someone with experience you see the potential and enjoy the route more thoroughly.  If you are on your own you see the danger, and it is on your mind – always, in ways that hinder your full enjoyment of the journey.

So when asked by my daughter for some investment advice I thought of the expertise needed to guide us on the dangerous climbs up the cliff faces in North Conway and I considered who I trust for guidance with my own investment decisions.  Sure I could throw out some ideas – but they wouldn’t be world class ideas – those ideas need to come from a professional who is in the game day after day.  But not just in the game – rather someone at the top of their game.  While we climbed we were surrounded by other climbers – some were future guides in training, others were amateur climbers who felt that they had enough experience to be on their own.  In all cases, it was apparent who the expert was.  The breeze blew in the direction to hear people’s comments, “Hey, isn’t that Henry Barber over there.”  Or from another newbie guide, “Hey, is that you Henry?  Can I repel on your rope?  I want to be able to tell my clients that I repelled on Henry Barber’s rope.”  Henry wasn’t impressed to say the least.

Who do you entrust with investment decisions for your hard earned money?  What do you know about the person who gives you ideas and direction – is he or she at the top of their game?  Is your investment guide a Henry Barber or is he or she someone who gets excited to say they repelled on the rope on someone more accomplished?”  We all have to be careful of who we accept advice from – as in climbing only the best of the best are hall of fame material and only the best of the best are deserving to be trusted with our financial assets.  And with financial planning as in climbing … success leaves clues.  Don’t look at the car that the advisor drives, the home he/she lives in. etc – these are often smoke screens – rather get recommendations, referrals, and ask for the advisors track record – these types of questions reveal whether they are worthy to provide you with financial direction.

I don’t have the luxury of having $2 million dollars to be the winning bidder of lunch with Mr. Buffett but I am blessed to know the importance of surrounding myself with people at the pinnacle of their profession.  I told Olivia that I would make a couple of calls for her and I would call her back in the afternoon.  While I trust Henry Barber with my life on the cliffs of North Conway, there are two people that I trust for solid investment advice.  Those two people are Nichole Raftopoulos of Nvest Financial Group (www.nvestfinancial.com) and Matt Cyr of S&B Financial Services (https://www.sbsavings.com/financial-advisors.aspx).

Nichole obtained her Master of Science Degree in financial planning, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER ™ Practitioner, CFP® with all significant designations, and18 years of experience.  Matt is the senior financial planner for S&B Financial Services with his pertinent designations and 20 years of experience.  Both are wonderful options for creating and managing a long term plan for your financial well-being.

With a quick phone call and a little research by Matt and Nichole, Olivia was forwarded around 20 companies to research and choose from.  She evaluated the companies’ various price/earnings ratios, the amount of debt they carried on their balance sheet, the seasonality of the businesses, etc. and made her choices.  Two weeks into the challenge she was in last place and second guessing her choices – but investing isn’t a two week ordeal is it? Four weeks in she was in last place and ready to start thinking she would soon be studying for the final.  But as is often the case with world class guidance provided with the heart of a teacher – the type given with thought and care, sound reasoning and respect for the clients and their assets – with patience the outcome very often is first class as well.

At the end of the semester my phone chimed with the notification of an incoming text message – “Dad, no final for me – I won!” Now that’s world class Buffet type advice without the million dollar price tag.

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