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Is Building Your Business Wrecking Your Health?

By Murray Coleman August 28, 2014

Advisor Doug Vandyke got into the advice business with his eyes wide open.

His bosses at the wirehouses where he started his career warned him up front that 15-hour days wouldn’t be uncommon, and they were bang-on. So he didn’t balk at staying late and working weekends.

But over the course of nearly a decade, an otherwise happy and healthy man saw his weight balloon by 50 pounds. Long hours manipulating a computer mouse drove him to a physical therapist when his wrist started to ache.

But that wasn’t enough to make him take better care of his body.

The penny finally dropped in 2001, when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “I knew that all of the long hours and workplace stress probably contributed to the cancer, but I never blamed it on those factors — I blamed it on myself for not making health a bigger priority,” says the 49-year-old Vandyke, who now works in Elk Grove, Calif., for Boston-based Cantella & Co., which manages $4.6 billion.

Experts say more advisors need such epiphanies. Quantifying how unhealthy advisors across the industry may be is hard, but industry watchers say FAs are getting sick from their jobs — with everything from heart disease and stroke to high blood pressure and chronic back pain.

The situation is getting “downright scary,” according to Tracy White, a practice-management consultant at Denver-based asset-manager Janus Capital. Worst hit are mid-career advisors still trying to build their books. But many at the top of their game also find it hard to take time for rest and exercise. “It’s something we keep seeing over and over: advisors who want to push their own personal health issues to the side,” she says. “Too many times when we’re called in to help, it’s only because something bad has already happened.”

Robert DeHollander, cofounder of DeHollander & Janse Financial Group in Greenville, S.C., is determined not to be such a statistic. As markets collapsed in 2008, the former Ameriprise advisor was helping to build a new firm. Financial turbulence required him to spend more time easing investors’ fears besides tending to make-or-break operational issues and reaching out to new clients.

Robert DeHollander

Still, with a young family to help raise, he knew something had to give — and he didn’t want it to be his health. So he hired a practice-management coach. She told him maintaining a healthy lifestyle was just as important as meeting with a $1 million client. “A light went off in my head,” says DeHollander, now 50. “I really got it for the first time.”

The consultant he hired inspired him to erect a “Chinese wall” between family time and workplace duties, and to exercise more. “Being my own boss certainly hasn’t cut down the amount of hours I’ve got to work, but it gives me a lot more flexibility to juggle my own personal schedule,” DeHollander says.

Healthy Mind

Vandyke, who has beaten his cancer, has also changed how he works. Every afternoon, he goes for an hour-long run. “It’s good for my physical conditioning — my weight is back to where it was in college,” he says. “But it’s also a good way to get out of the office and refresh my mind.”

In addition, he credits transitioning from being a commission- to a fee-based advisor for his healthier outlook. “My practice has a more stable and reliable revenue stream since it’s not tied to a series of transactions,” he says. “And it has helped me to become more of a problem-solver for clients, which makes me feel much more valuable and satisfied at the end of the day.”