January 2021 - Dan's Monthly Musings

Merchant to the Rich? - or -Servant to the Wealthy?

Years ago, there was a unique and colorful individual named Reese Palley.

According to Wikipedia, Reese Palley, "Merchant to the Rich" was a flamboyant entrepreneur, gallerist, inventor, art dealer, businessman, author, adventurer, blogger, record-setting world circumnavigator, polymath, environmentalist, art impresario, airline creator, economist and public scold on matters as diverse as nuclear energy, global warming and how to revive Atlantic City. An early advocate of global warming awareness, Palley published a blog, 2DegreesCentigrade, in which he elucidated the need to hold global warming to 2°C) as an "imperative" to prevent the ruin of our world.

Palley was born and grew up in Atlantic City, near the inlet on Massachusetts and Drexel Avenue, graduating from Atlantic City High School. His father rode horseback from Harbin Russia across China then took a steamer to San Francisco where he set up a watchmaker/jewelry shop on the docks, crossing the country and settling in Atlantic City at an unknown date. Little is known about his mother except she was from Baltimore. He had two brothers, Julian and Norman Palley. After high school Palley studied optometry at the University of Alabama for three years, then was drafted and sent as an optometrist to an Army base in the Aleutian Islands. Later he worked in his father's jewelry store in
Atlantic City.

At any rate, Reese tried to class up Atlantic City retailing at the advent of legalized gambling, selling artwork and objets d’art to high rollers, using the tag line “Merchant to the Rich”. Not sure why this crossed my cerebrum, but it got me thinking...

In the Financial Services business, everything seems to pivot around Money Holders, whether they are “retail”- Mass Affluent, High Net Worth, Ultra High Net Worth; or Institutional Money Holders of various stripes and forms– Endowments, Foundations, Insurance General Accounts, Pension Funds, Sovereign Wealth Funds, Taft-Hartley etc.

The question is, are you a Merchant to the Rich or a Servant to the Wealthy, or a combination thereof?

The Financial Services industry spins around the axis of Wealth: the Generals and Admirals who own or run Asset Management and Wealth Management businesses; supported by Portfolio Managers, Analysts, Traders, who are furthered supported by Marketers, Legal-Compliance, Technologists, Service/Operations/Admin, and Financial folks.

Everyone in Asset and Wealth Management is talking about, consumed with, masters of:

Risk-“Greek Letters” (Alpha/Beta)-Asset Allocation-Liquidity-Hedge Strategies Alternatives-Style Drift-Total Return-Passive vs Active- Growth vs Value and on and on.

A Merchant trades in some sort of commodity, that he or she actually didn’t really produce themselves, in order to earn a profit. Some Merchant synonyms:

A Servant labors on behalf of a Master, employing the following characteristics:

This isn’t a treatise on Servant Leadership, that’s been discussed ad infinitum, certainly has validity. The fact is no matter how wealthy you are, you still report to or have accountability to someone or something; it could be a Board; Clients; a Regulatory body; Shareholders; Partners; your spouse/significant other; maybe even a Higher Authority. Bottom-line, here at the Gladstone Group we go into every business relationship seeking a Strategic Partnership, a meaningful and long-lasting relationship; but face it, sometimes you are simply a Vendor, the client wants one specific thing from you and wants it now and may never want it again, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Why not think of it as, acting as a Merchant to the Rich but with the best attributes of a Servant to the Wealthy? Everyone claims to be relationship-oriented but most people often act in a transactional way (“how can I earn your business today, sir?”). It’s so much more refreshing and honest to be a polished and appealing Merchant; someone who is open for business, has a profit motive, but a Merchant who listens, creates equitable and fairly priced solutions to real problems, and works in a transparent and accountable fashion. Masquerading as a Servant when you really want profits is tiresome. Keep it

My Partners and I work with the Wealthy: Wealthy owners of RIAs and Family Offices that serve their Wealthy clients; Wealthy Asset Management firms serving their Wealthy Money Holders. Fact is, we’re doing it for profit-motive “Merchant” reasons! If we wanted to simply “Serve” we’d be in a whole different line of work. We want to enjoy what we do and make working with us enjoyable to our clients; whether they see us as Strategic Partners, Vendors, Merchants or Servants, it really doesn’t matter as
long as they perceive fair value for their money, get the desired results, and would recommend us if asked.

As we put a very strange year in our rear-view mirrors, we all look forward to a healthy and prosperous 2021, but who knows if it will be saner than this past year? We can only hope, move forward and remain optimistic.

Hoping you are healthy and safe, and find some peace and prosperity in the New Year.

Your Merchant to the Wealthy,

Dan Kreuter

PS- Atlantic City has some good restaurants but still needs some work. RIP Reese

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