A lucky, smart move into finance

Larry M. Elkin left journalism for the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, then left Andersen to create his own financial planning business. He says he was lucky. Others would say he was lucky and smart.

In 1992, Larry M. Elkin walked away from his position as senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning at the now-defunct Arthur Andersen LLP to create his own company out of Hastings-on-Hudson. This was not the first time that Elkin made a dramatic career switch:  From 1978 to 1986, he was an Associated Press reporter before leaving the media business to work at Andersen, which at the time was the nation’s largest accounting firm. (It folded in 2002 after being convicted of obstruction of justice as the auditor in what would become the Enron scandal.)

Meanwhile, Elkin’s one-man company, which he named after himself, evolved into the Palisades Hudson Financial Group, with its headquarters moving to Scarsdale in 2002 and then Stamford in 2017. The firm also set up offices in Florida, Georgia, Oregon and Texas to handle its nationwide client base.

WAG recently spoke with Elkin about his three-decade journey as the head of his own successful financial planning company:

Congratulations on your 30th anniversary in business. Why did you decide to start your own business in 1992?

“Well, I was pursuing personal and family financial planning at Arthur Andersen. They were a major international accounting firm, and I used to describe the audit practice at Andersen as the dog and the tax practice — which my career was — as the tail of the dog and the personal finance practice as the flea on the tail of the dog. To do what I wanted to do and to do it in the manner that I thought it should be done, it made more sense for me to leave Andersen than to stay.”

Was it easy starting your own business back in 1992?

“I’m not sure I would say that starting one’s own business is ever easy. But it was a good moment in time to be doing it. Technology had advanced to the point that the information resources that one would need to practice at the same level as a larger firm, and the barriers to entry on the regulatory side were considerably lower than they are today. 

“I can say that I was born at the right time and matured professionally at the right moments. Sometimes it’s just better to be lucky than smart.”

Looking back on the 30 years the company’s been in business, what do you see as your greatest triumphs and your greatest challenges?

“They’re really the same thing. I set out to create something that could exist independently of me. Most professionals, if they hang out their proverbial shingle, are looking to get enough work to keep themselves busy until one day they land face down in the corn flakes — and that wasn’t what I wanted to do.

“I wanted to build something that could attract the kinds of clients I wanted to serve and then continue to serve them even at some point in the future when I wouldn’t be there. The great success was in accumulating the team that we have here — almost all of whom started their careers with us and many of whom are now past 20 years — and watching them grow professionally while helping them grow to the point that they are now the people on whom our clients lean. In some cases, we’re in the fourth generation of client families that we’re working with. One person can’t do that in one working lifetime.

“A lot of credit has to go to my wife (Linda Field Elkin). She had an M.B.A. before I did and we had very young children when I started the business. Her support and letting me leave the corporate world and start the business was critical, or else none of this would’ve happened. But also, she has been our director of HR and marketing for almost all of these 30 years. These people of whom I am so proud were, in most cases, identified and initially recruited by her and by associates working with her.”

What type of people do you look for as employees in your company?

“We’ve been hiring and I did an interview with a candidate this morning. There are a few things that we look for — one is just the prerequisite of a strong aptitude for complicated financial topics and legal topics. 

“The other piece that we’re looking for is the interest to emphasize the personal rather than the financial in personal financial planning. Business is much more straightforward — you have metrics when you’re looking at the bottom line for profits or return on investments — but very, very few people have as their primary goal to die with the biggest possible net worth. They’ve got a whole lot of other more important goals and often conflicting goals, and helping people identify those objectives, prioritize them, resolve conflicts and then plan successfully to meet them really challenges us.”

In view of the disruptions created over the past two years by Covid and the ongoing disruptions from our inflationary economy, what are you hearing from your clients regarding the current state of the economy and how it affects their finances?

“Of course, our clients are concerned about government finances, and they’re concerned about the direction of policy and the inconsistency of policy we’ve had. Since the federal income tax was enacted in 1913, we’ve had over 30 permanent tax laws. So a permanent tax law has a life expectancy of around three and a half years and planning in those environments is challenging. 

“On the other hand, one set of our clients is my generation or older, and we’ve been here before. We’ve seen a lot of cycles, including inflationary cycles, and we know they can be addressed. Younger clients come to us to get our perspective and let us educate them. When we work with them, it’s with the idea of developing plans that they will stick with when hard times come, regardless of the nature of those hard times.” 

What does the future hold for the company in the next 30 years?

“A cake with a whole lot of candles for me. I get inquiries on almost a daily basis from entities that would like to buy this company. I don’t respond to any of them. I don’t take those calls. I have no interest. 

“I’ve organized the firm so that it should stay in family control beyond me. Both of my daughters have their own careers, but they are on a management board along with my wife and along with our managing vice president Shomari Hearn. And it is Shomari who will be in charge if tomorrow I get run over by a beer truck, as one of our Alabama clients likes to put it. 

“The people that have grown up in the business will manage it and run it. They’ve been trained to do so with a very light hand of guidance from me. And the family will essentially try to maintain the culture and the values and the priorities that have made us what we are. So with luck, the next 30 years produces more of the same.”

For more, visit palisadeshudson.com.

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