Financial adviser prefers boring, middle-class millionaires for clients

Reporter October 13, 2013

Just talking about the case of the spendthrift oncologist gives Rockville financial adviser Clark Kendall the yips.

It was three years ago when the potential client, who happened to be a physician earning $1 million a year, asked Kendall to manage his money.

Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade. View Archive

The guy was 50, had two homes, was divorced, leased some land yachts and had children with fat private tuition bills. The problem? The poor guy saving lives wasn’t saving for retirement. He had only $18,000 put away.

“I didn’t take him on,” Kendall deadpans.

Kendall prefers the boring, middle-class millionaire who plods along, disciplined, saving like mad, living beneath his or her means and looking 10, 20 years down the road. I can attest that his manner is just like his ideal client. It took me half a dozen telephone conversations before there was a lilt in his monotone.

Clark A. Kendall of Kendall Capital Management. (Clark Day for Kendall Capital Management)

“When it comes to investing, boring is good,” said Kendall, 52, who founded the boutique Kendall Capital Management in Rockville. “We don’t want flash and dash. I can’t have a schmuck who parties every night, spends $20 million on a boat and goes skiing every weekend in Colorado. I’m not going to instantly make him a millionaire. I’m a Steady Eddy.”

His 115 clients don’t include celebrities, actors, athletes or lottery winners. Believe me, I asked. But they do include government employees, small-business owners, well-educated professionals, including a former brain surgeon, and working stiffs like me. (I am not one of his clients. I have been with my own financial advisory firm for nearly 20 years, and I selected the firm with great care.)

Kendall searches for the middle-class saver. Then he puts their money in unglamorous investments, gets out of the way and lets compounding do the rest.

There’s a retired policeman and his teacher wife who have several hundred thousand with Kendall.

The brain surgeon who retired from the Army with nearly $2 million in his investments.

There’s also the 80-year-old former business owner worth $4 million, most of that in a Roth IRA.

Kendall Capital’s target market is Washington area clients sitting on $1 million to $5 million.

“It is the moms and pops, the next-door neighbors,” Kendall said. “It’s the hardworking policeman, fireman, doctor, lawyers and people who have income that has little to do with long-term financial success.”

Kendall Capital is small. He manages $110 million and has four employees, including himself. The average client is 58 years old and has $950,000 invested with him. Clients must have at least $500,000 to invest before Kendall will take them on.

Kendall charges a minimum annual fee of $5,000 to manage a client’s money, but the charges can vary depending on what the client’s investments are worth. He charges 1 percent on the first $2 million he manages for a client, but the rate drops for additional investments.

Like many investors, Kendall began the game early.

He grew up in Montgomery County, where his father, Clifford, was a businessman and eventually chaired the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland. Early on, Clifford Kendall taught his son the value of making money, then putting that money to work by investing.

His first job was cutting neighbors’ grass for $5 a week. He used the cash to buy a fancy bicycle.

His father advised him that buying stock would be a better strategy. So Clark put $1,000 or so in savings into Computer Data Systems at the age of 12. He liked the results and started buying more stocks: Washington Real Estate Trust, Mattel toys, Bob Evans restaurants.

He studied finance and economics at James Madison University, where he graduated in 1983.

“My dad paid for my college education and said create your own success,” he said.

After graduation, he worked as a stock broker for seven years at Folger, Nolan, Fleming & Douglas in Washington. Then he made stops over the next two decades at Legg Mason, Sandy Spring Bank, Royal Bank of Canada and Pell Rudman in Baltimore.

One of his home runs from those years was investing $10,000 in discount trader Ameritrade at the company’s initial public offering in 1997. He bought another $10,000 the next year. Then he sold it all in 1999 for $500,000, which investment legend Peter Lynch would call a 25 bagger. He used the profits to build a dream house in Montgomery County.

Although the firm takes in about $1 million a year, he doesn’t have to work, thanks to an investment that started a few years ago with a $1.5 million purchase of a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. That $1.5 million investment, which was financed by a mortgage on the dream house, ended with a payday of about $3.5 million, after taxes, when the NYSE went public. That investment allows him to sleep well at night, send his children to college and drive a nice car.

But he admits to some screwups.

“In the mid-’80s, someone told me their daughter just started working for this coffee company in Seattle, Washington, that they were growing great guns, have big plans for growth and I should buy the stock at the IPO,” he said. “I read the prospectus and thought, ‘Who would ever pay $2 for a cup of coffee?’ Wish I thought I would have because I never bought the stock. The stock was Starbucks.”

He also lost $30,000 in the 1987 crash trading Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index options.

He was at Potomac Asset Management when he decided to strike out on his own, founding Kendall Capital in 2005. Kendall put together a pitch book and took friends and family to lunches, explaining his approach.

His first client was the brain surgeon who he found because their wives were friends. He still gets most clients through word of mouth.

He has studied Montgomery County’s demographics and believes “there is a huge market to service the middle-class millionaire, and I am striving to get from $100 million to $1 billion. It will happen quicker than I think.”

But he quickly adds that a happy life does not mean dying with the most amount of money.

“I don’t want people to be eating ramen noodles all of their life,” he says, “and die at 80 with a pot full of cash.”

For previous Value Added columns, go to washingtonpost.com/business.

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