Financial Advisor Michael Gonzalez on how to promote a positive work environment, the importance of building trust with clients, and where Boy Scouts come into play.
As Scoutmaster for a Boy Scout Troop in the East Bay community of Castro Valley, California, Michael Gonzalez lives by the scouting oath to do his best, to do his duty and to always help others.
That commitment doesn’t stop when he changes into a business suit and heads into downtown San Francisco as a Financial Advisor with the Golden Gate Group at Morgan Stanley. But it comes with a twist, as Michael explains, “I am just trying to do my best for clients. If I’m having fun, I’m probably moving in the right direction.”
Promoting a positive work environment has helped Michael and business partner Jay Johnston build a $650 million book at the Golden Gate Group. Just like a Boy Scout is taught basic survival skills and to make the most of his natural surroundings, Michael leveraged every tool available to him to build his practice from the ground up. Starting as a Financial Advisor with Shearson Lehman Hutton in 1990, he made cold calls, knocked on doors and tried to get in front of as many prospective investors as possible.
“It wasn’t fun, but I did it,’’ Michael explains. “If I was going to make this a career, I had to find a way to make it fun.”
His idea of fun has always involved interacting with colleagues, friends, family and the scouts he has been working with for the last 15 years. Michael initially channeled this desire to connect with others by speaking in front of groups. Through seminars covering traditional topics including financial and retirement planning, he was able to build a thriving book of business.
“Public speaking does not faze me. It’s all about being prepared and knowing something about my audience. And when I present, it’s not really a speech but a talk or discussion.”
Michael stresses that a good fit with clients is essential to forming trusting relationships. He asks a lot of questions up front to ensure that he completely understands what prospects are looking for and they understand how he can help them. Potential clients must be receptive to receiving help – something that can be easily overlooked early in a Financial Advisor's career when the focus is on adding accounts.
“If I am going to enmesh myself in their lives, I need to know where they are coming from and where they want to go. And we have to like each other,’’ says Michael, who is a Certified Financial PlannerTM. “The market and life are unpredictable. I want to be the kind of Financial Advisor where my clients think, ‘If something goes wrong I’m going to call Michael and he’ll know how to help me.’”
Michael ran his practice for 22 years as a solo practitioner before joining with Jay Johnston and Al Latour, to form the Golden Gate Group in 2011 (Al retired from the firm in 2017). Michael knew right off the bat that combining practices was the right thing to do. “We knew it was going to work when we sat down to talk philosophy and the one word we all used was ‘fun’.”
The Golden Gate Group has integrated the executive, professional, institutional and multi-generational clients across the books of Michael, Jay and Al into a cohesive practice. Michael says serving an expanded client base has caused him to take his approach to a new level. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is his insistence on fun, collaborative relationships. “It’s always been my goal that if I bring all of our clients together, they would all get along.”
Helping the boys in his scout troop get along and build a foundation for success is Michael’s primary goal as a Scoutmaster. He first became involved in scouting as a volunteer with his oldest son’s Tiger Cub den and has remained active in the program as his two sons advanced through the ranks. His oldest son is an Eagle Scout and his younger son is on that path.
“Scouts is a great youth program, a great way for parents to get involved in their kids’ lives,” Michael says. Scouting offers practical skills to survive and be efficient in the wilderness while teaching respect for the environment, the local community and the country. Perhaps most importantly, it teaches boys at a young age the importance of making and keeping promises.
Michael heads a boy-led troop, serving more as a resource and guide, while letting the scouts themselves run the troop. And he’s quick to point that he receives lots of help from other hardworking parents as well as his wife, Marisa. While scouting has been in decline nationally, Michael’s troop has seen a 60% increase in participation over the last two years. With so many distractions and entertainment choices that keep today’s youth in front of screens, Michael believes an activity like scouting is more important than ever.
“Good things happen when young men get out on the trail, do a beach sweep, volunteer, and take ownership for where they live,” he says.
When he’s not leading the scout troop or discussing financial plans with clients, Michael finds time to spread fun and dispense his own brand of wisdom in other ways. He has been involved in the Junior Achievement program for many years, visiting a local elementary school to teach students about what he does for Morgan Stanley. He gets a charge out of the positive reaction and curiosity shown by the kids he talks to, “Kids are hungry for info but more so for attention,” Michael says.
Michael sees many similarities between what he does for Morgan Stanley, for the Boy Scouts. He is proud of the firm’s focus on always doing what’s right for the client and he applies a similar mentality as Scoutmaster, living his life as an example for the boys in his troop.
At the end of the day, Michael views it as a privilege to be involved in influencing so many others. “We try and do what we can because someone did that for us. It’s a great feeling to know you’ve done your best.”
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