Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2005Kellogg School of Management
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  Charles Zhang

Charles Zhang '04

  Steve Weinstein
Steven Weinstein '78

Kellogg School graduates among national elite in competitive finance field
Weinstein and Zhang serve clients with passion, expertise and ethics

by Matt Golosinski

The division vice president at American Express would have kicked himself had he let Charles Zhang slip away after the young Shanghai native made a rocky start at the firm about a decade ago.

"He actually has told me many times, 'I'm glad I gave you one more month,' laughs Zhang, managing partner at Zhang and Associates, a Portage, Mich.-based financial advisory division of American Express. Today, the Kellogg School EMP-57 graduate is ranked No. 1 out of Amex's field of more than 11,000 financial advisers. And for the third time, in October Zhang was named to Worth magazine's prestigious "100 Top Financial Advisers."  

Joining Zhang on the Worth list — also for the third time — was Steven Weinstein '78 (JD-MBA), president and founder of Chicago-based Altair Advisers, an independent investment counsel launched in 2002 by Weinstein and several colleagues from Arthur Andersen.

The accountancy questions at Andersen seem to have galvanized Weinstein's already strong commitment to providing independent financial advice. When asked what makes his team so successful, Weinstein cites Altair's ethic of client service. "Our organization is a professional service firm, not a sales firm," he says. "Our process develops long-lasting, trusting client relationships."

Zhang and Weinstein have ascended the top rungs in a profession known for its competition, where talent alone isn't enough to ensure success.

"The keys are continued education, ethics and persistence," says Zhang, 38, who recalls the daunting challenges he faced as a 23-year-old Western Michigan University graduate looking for a job in Kalamazoo.  "You need to focus and work hard," he says. "Ours is a very tough profession, especially initially when you are building a client base. We see a lot of smart people, but it doesn't work out because they give up."

For Weinstein, 52, success has come over the years as he honed his insights — which have included observing how quickly a respected firm can evaporate.

"You can have the best reputation and it can be destroyed overnight," he says. "I learned that lesson in 1982 while working for Continental Bank." Then one of the nation's top banks, Continental "lent a lot of money to the oil patch," Weinstein says. When the economy tightened, oil prices crashed, and the bank's "sloppy paperwork" emerged.

"Those mistakes can haunt you," states Weinstein, a former F.C. Austen Scholar. "But I also learned that if you have a commitment to quality and ethics, then that's how you will be ultimately judged."

This attitude served him well when forming Altair Advisers, whose name derives from a principle navigation star. He sees the firm's mission as successfully shepherding people through the maze of choices in the wealth management environment.

"I'm in this business because I really like helping people," says Weinstein, who remembers growing up wanting to be a doctor, until he cut himself and learned "I couldn't stand the sight of my own blood."

Weinstein believes his profession will remain important, especially as the United States continues moving away from a "paternalistic society" where corporations ensure their employees' retirement savings.

The Kellogg School JD-MBA graduate says that the shift toward securing one's own retirement finances was "inevitable, based on the cost structure dynamics of the market." Many employers simply couldn't keep funding pensions while also competing in the global arena, so people have had to educate themselves about their investment choices.

"There's been a tremendous democratization of the investment marketplace over the last 25 years," says Weinstein.

Even the gurus have had to keep learning. Zhang notes that a comprehensive financial adviser must be conversant in six broad areas: investment, taxes, estate planning, cash flow, protection planning and retirement planning.

To keep his skills sharp, Zhang chose the Kellogg School's Executive MBA program because of its "first-class finance professors and general management curriculum."

"A lot of people may not know this, but Kellogg has awesome finance professors," says Zhang, himself an adjunct finance professor at Western Michigan. Zhang, who along with his wife Lynn Chen-Zhang, a CPA and an EMP-57 graduate, authored the book Make Yourself a Millionaire, has found the Kellogg management insights a potent addition.

"If you want to be a successful adviser, you need to manage not only your clients' money, but also motivate your staff," says Zhang. "I learned a lot about this at Kellogg."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University