Dan Gaugler

by: Dan Gaugler

Here’s the background story leading up to our recent recapitalization.

In 1992 I wrote a business plan (as an MBA class assignment) for a fictional Fairway Financial Group. Explaining the A- grade, the professor wrote: “a comprehensive, if not completely believable plan. The market(ing) assumptions stretch credibility.

In 1997 at Deloitte, Mark Weiskind approached me asking to transfer from the audit staff into the Private Client Advisers department. He did, increasing our department’s size by 100%. Later that year, we hired C.J. Avarello. Around that same time, we got to know Terry Waye because he worked at a competing firm and served as investment adviser for a tax-only client of ours.

In 2001 Bob Kushman, a Tax Director at Deloitte, suggested meeting his friend Michael Benson. He thought Mike, a strong marketer and bona-fide entrepreneur, might be a good networking contact for us. Mike was well known nationally as an adviser to high-net-worth families on their philanthropic estate plans.

I met with Mike shortly after 9/11. He was courteous but uninterested in sending his clients to Deloitte. He called me the next day saying You should leave Deloitte and start a wealth management firm. I’ll be your silent partner and I’ll fill your dance card. Nice idea, but what about those nagging market(ing) assumptions that stretched credibility? Could Mike be the missing link? I walked down the hall and confided in Mark. He was in! We took the leap, partnered with Mike, and started Fairway in June 2002.

Now we needed clients. Most of the families we were serving were kind enough to follow us to Fairway. We couldn’t have done it without them. But otherwise, we were heavily relying on Mike. He invested his time, opened his Rolodex, and led us on many road trips to Florida, Maryland, Michigan, and Utah; not to mention all the meetings we had in Ohio. We had some memorable strike-outs; but we got hired more often than not.

But our succession plan was the potential problem. How would we ever buy-out Mike if he wanted to cash-in? Would we have to sell; merge; take on bank debt; or otherwise compromise our future? Mark and I became convinced that Fairway should be wholly-owned by the working principals, and that we needed to seed the future with a steady-stream of new partners rising through the ranks. We wanted to get this right.

In November 2013 we held a two-day strategic planning retreat in Naples for our entire firm. The theme was Fairway 20/20. We focused on our future, guided by how best to serve our three constituencies: 1) Clients, 2) Employees, 3) Owners. It was there that Mark and I first pressed Mike on the buy-out issue. We needed succession plan clarity and we needed it soon. Thirty months later…we have it!

On May 16, 2016 Mike’s interest in Fairway was completely redeemed. Mark and I added to our commitment and increased our investments in the firm. And, C.J. Avarello and Terry Waye bought-in and became new partners.

Fairway now serves 170 families, manages over $1.1 Billion in portfolio assets, and employs 13 professionals. We have 4 “young” Senior Wealth Managers (Dan 51; Terry 49; Mark 44; C.J. 43) all capable of delivering our entire suite of services and committed to growing the firm and training our successors. We have 3 Associate Wealth Managers (Dina, Kristen, and Chris) to provide continuity into the future. Our Family Office team (Korby and Laura) is second-to-none. Matt is becoming well-known in the research world. Maria and her operations team (Kim and Erica) exude courtesy and helpfulness while taking care of the all-important trades and account details. We are selectively seeking experienced advisers to bring onboard; and we are more likely to grow by doing acquisitions than by being acquired.

The future looks very bright indeed!