Baseball Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez was often heard to say, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” Advisors who hit pay dirt through a fortuitous introduction or a random round of golf can probably relate to that sentiment. It’s tempting to think that if one stroke of fortune can bring in more assets than months of business development, you might as well just sit back and wait for the next stroke. But although you can’t make luck happen, you can — and should — make the most of it when it does.

For Kevin Fitzwilson, a managing partner of Coldstream Capital Management in Bellevue, Wash., the goose that laid the golden eggs was a Microsoft vice president whom he met 17 years ago through a banker friend. Back in the 1990s, even secretaries at the software company could become millionaires by buying its shares. Fitzwilson’s new connection was in charge of several business units — bringing the advisor access to dozens of Microsoft executives and employees. “I knew at the time it was a good piece of business,” says Fitzwilson of his initial relationship with the vice president, “but I didn’t know until later what a good piece of business it was.”

Kevin Fitzwilson
To enhance his value to the stream of prospects coming his way, Fitzwilson, whose firm has $1.3 billion in assets under management, pored over Microsoft’s employee stock-option plans and other benefit programs until he became an expert. “I knew more than the company’s human resources people did,” he says.

Helpful Handicap

When Michael Leonetti founded Leonetti & Associates in 1982, in Buffalo Grove, Ill., he hoped his brother, a brain surgeon, would help him build a client base by introducing him to some nice doctors. Sure enough, his brother invited him along to a medical conference where the CEO of a surgical-tool company needed another person for a golf outing. With a handicap of six and a calm demeanor on the course, Leonetti made a good impression. Soon he was playing golf regularly with brain surgeons anxious about protecting their assets, given the high risk of liability in their profession. The CEO became a client, and so did many doctors.

Leonetti’s firm now has about $570 million under management, and he’s listed in Medical Economics as one of the country’s top 150 financial advisors for physicians. Indeed, he serves clients who live hundreds of miles away. “For most of them it doesn’t matter where you are in the country,” he says. “My clients come from all over. They are really smart guys, and they want someone they can trust.”

Elissa Buie’s rainmaker — also initially encountered at a conference — was the first link in a chain of contacts feeding clients to her firm, Yeske Buie, which has $475 million under management and offices in San Francisco and Vienna, Va. The CFO of a high-tech business hired Buie not only to manage his wealth but also to give seminars at his company, where employees were becoming high-net-worth individuals thanks to stock options. “I wasn’t even selling my services,” says Buie. “I didn’t have to.”

Elissa Buie
After hearing what she calls her “genuine advice,” many seminar participants became clients.

Buie befriended a secretary at the company who eventually got a new job in another business where she “sat right outside the boss’s office,” Buie says, and referred dozens of clients. But the bounty didn’t end there. Another contact of the CFO’s wound up marrying a defense industry executive — and another stream of clients came Buie’s way. “I’ve always threatened to draw a picture of how the connections go back to the one client,” Buie says, “but I don’t know if I could capture all of them.”