Some folks settle down in leafy Olive Branch. Mississippi, for peace and quiet. Not Scott Coleman Thai’s because in his roomy home office on picturesque Plantation Road, the stockbroker is busy grow my a hustling business.
The Memphis. Tennessee, suburb may be far from Wall Street But a laptop computer and quote machine put Coleman squarely where the Big Board action is. And electronic technology is indeed help mg him expand his nourishing financial services practice with close to $60 million in assets under management. At seventeen, a water skiing accident left Coleman paralyzed from the shoulders down. The Birmingham. Alabama, native, 36, has no movement in his fingers; but with the aid of a metal splint that positions his right thumb, he’s able to type, as well as dial and answer a headset equipped telephone. Memphis reared and a 1985 University of Memphis grad. Coleman. 6’3″, combines investing savvy with a quick wit. No wonder most of his clients arc referrals. A Paine Webber Memphis broker for six years, he shifted to regional firm Hilliard Lyons, w here he stayed for the next seven mainly because, he says, the smaller brokerage was “more user-friendly.”
Then came a major move: La-4 December Coleman quit his job to form his own business as an independent financial advisor affiliated with Sunpoint Securities. Inc., a nationwide broker-dealer. Linda, his wife of thirteen years, is office assistant.
The broker’s Olive Branch power center, a mile from Memphis, boasts a sweeping outdoor deck, where Coleman often works with his laptop after market hours The couple’s backyard is die 18th hole of a golf course “I’m a good caddy.” notes Coleman, who accompanies his golfer wife on the green, her clubs attached to his motorized wheelchair.
ABILITY talked with the investment executive not long before the planned arrival of a Sunpoint rookie, whoom fourteen-year veteran Coleman volunteered to show the brokerage ropes this summer, “He’s spending lime with me to see how I do what I do.” And what he docs has one overriding, heart-fell goal. Says Coleman: “I genuinely want to make a difference in people’s finances. ”
Jane Wollman Rusoff: Do you specialize in any type of investment?
Scott Coleman: My business is: sit down with someone, interview them, find out what they’re doing with their investments and sec if I can improve on it My business is about 40%-50% individual equities [stocks]; 50% mutual funds, annuities and retirement accounts.
JWR: Do you require a minimum investment?
SC: No Several years ago. I opened what turned out to be my biggest account, which started with just a $5,000 trade I thought I had all the money the man owned. But a few years later, lie came to me and said. I’ve got a problem: I need to do something with a couple of million in cash that I have.” Over the years he’s become my best client. I learned that, even though someone gives you a minimal amount to begin with. you have no idea how it’ll end up. Also.a lot of my smaller clients are my best sources of referrals.
JMR: What’s the most challenging part of your work?
SC : Recommending the right thing. You’ve got to look a lot of different ideas before you find one that’s really suitable because it’s different with every client.
JWR: Have you learned that through experience?
SC: Almost without exception the easiest thing you can convince a client to do is the worst thing they can do. In other words, the return on investment is inversely related to the hype of the investment So if someone says, “This is the greatest thing you’ve got to have it,” most of the time you should steer clear of it. When I first got into the business, the real easy thing to do was to sell government hood funds.
But I don’t think I had a single client that made money in them I now spend a lot of time talking clients out of things. They’ll call me, all excited, and say, “Scott, I’ve read this” or “I got a phone call about this particular [investment] product. Tell me about it. It sounds great.” But, typically, when you look into it, it’s not what they need.
JWR: Iet’s talk for a moment about your water-skiing accident
SC’: Every lime I think about it, it just boggles my mind that all this happened to me. I was the typical 17 year-old: “seven-feet-tall-and-bullet-proof” —never had a scratch on my body. I played all sports in school – football, baseball, basketball, ran track And then boom, out of the blue, here u comes!
JWR: It must have been terribly difficult to deal with.
SC: Yes. hut when you’ve got family and friends that are there non-stop and continually raise their expectations of you. you just can’t roll over. If I’d have been alone. I probably would have.
JWR: Were you an experienced water-skier?
SC: I’d been skiing from age five and never had a scratch.
JWR: What happened that day nineteen years ago?
SC: Everyone was trying to put the boat up and, typical of me. I said. “Lets go one more time around the lake!” So I did. When your skis begin to hit the beach, you’ve got to stop on a dime. The way to do that without going face first is to anticipate it, then run out of your skis, letting your momentum carry you up on the beach. But I stopped short of w here I was aiming. My skis got hung up on the bottom… and I took a very deep dive in very shallow water. It was like a 190-lb. Battering ram shoved the rest of my body into my neck. I was face-down in the water, paralyzed and praying like I’ve never prayed before.
JWK: Did you think you were paralyzed?
SC: I knew I couldn’t wiggle a thing and I couldn’t feel a thing. I was heavily praying that my neck was just jammed and not broken. I had heard of people jamming their necks on the football field, even losing movement or sensation for (only) awhile. They pulled me out of the water, put me on an air mattress and took me to an emergency room 20 minutes away. After the first X- rays. I asked. “Is it broken or just jammed?” The doctor said. “I don’t see anything. I’m going to take one more X-ray.” He came out looking startled and said. “It looks like somebody took a stick of dynamite to your 4th and 5th vertebrae.” They were crushed.
JWR: How did you cope?
SC: A lot of prayer. All my life I’d had faith in God. This was the biggest test of faith I’d ever had. You get depressed and you cry and you attempt to take your frustrations out on every (one). But you have family and friends that show up, and they’re smiling at you, saying, “This has happened to you. We wish it wouldn’t have. But let’s get on with things.” That was very much the attitude my parents look. Almost immediately, they got a tutor so I wouldn’t fall behind in school. I wasn’t too thrilled about that! But they were determined I was going to graduate from high school on time. When people expect things of you, even if you’re down in the dumps, you just get through the next hour, and that turns into a day and a week, and then a year goes by.
JWR: How long were you hospitalized?
SC: I was in and out of hospitals for a couple of years. I entered the first one in June of 1980, checked out in December and finished the fall semester of my senior year while I was in [another] hospital. Then I went back to my high school and graduated the following spring.
After that, I went into another rehab hospital in Denver, a real good spinal-cord boot camp.
JWR: What was college like?
SC: The University of Memphis has a great Department of Handicapped Student Services. They help you schedule your classes. Every essay test I took. I wrote with a pen in my mouth. My arms weren’t strong enough to write. They are now because I’ve gained strength. But back then, as opposed to narrating to someone, which didn’t work for me. I wanted to write myself. My neck was the strongest muscle in my body, so 1 piled up some pillows and a legal pad on my lap, put a pen in my mouth and bent over. There was an advantage to that: no one ever asked to borrow my pen!
JWR: How did you gel interested in wanting to be a stockbroker?
SC: My granddad was a finance manager and always had Forbes Magazine around, which I started reading when I was very young. And my father is in sales. He was a pharmaceutical sales manager for over 20 years and is now a manufacturer’s rep. The combination of a little finance and a little sales was, I thought, perfect.
JWR: Did you work in financial services at all before you graduated from college?
SC: Yes. At that time, the way you were successful as a broker was by cold calling (prospects by phone). I knew that my numbers had to be significant. So I wanted to get a job cold calling for a broker while I was still in school. That would allow me to tell managers when I applied for a permanent job as a broker that I was successful at generating leads on the phone. I thought if I could prove I could (create) business, that would be 90% of the battle. As it turned out. it was.
JWR: How was the experience of looking for that part-time job?
SC: Mast people looked at me and were just overwhelmed. I could see it in their faces: What in the world! It wasn’t that they were rude, but they knew how tough it is to survive in the business. I called every brokerage firm in Memphis. I don’t think any branch manager wanted to be the one to tell me. “Hey, you’re not going to make it.” So they weren’t going to give me a chance to begin with.
JWR: What did they say?
SC: At that time, the rule was that they didn’t hire people straight out of college. They all said, “You need to get sales experience.” Well, what kind of sales experience is someone who can’t even drive going to get? It was next to impossible. Finally, I convinced the PaineWebber manager to give me a chance. He said, “Okay, we’ve got some brokers you can cold call for” — not having a clue as to how I was going to do it. I was hired at the beginning of my senior year. When I graduated, that same manager hired me as a broker.
JWR: How did you work the phone?
SC: I dialed it with my tongue. So no one ever asked to borrow my phone either! I found a little mouthpiece with a touch-tone pad that you could attach to the phone. Once I became a broker, I got to where I could dial faster with my tongue than anybody could with their hand. But I’m glad I don’t to do that anymore! Paine Webber recommended only one way to build your business: “Smile and Dial,” as they called it. Get on the phone and make as many calls as you can. So I’d dial 100-150 phone members a day. Out of 100, you’d speak to maybe 30 people and out of those, one may end up being a good prospect in the next two months.
JWR: How did you handle meeting clients face to face?
SC: My first couple of years. I completely avoided it. Typically, they’d show up out of the blue and when they walked in my office, say. “Gee, I had no idea that you-uh, you-uh.” They just couldn’t get it out of their mouths. So I’d help them and say: ‘That I was so good looking!” Actually, people have responded in every possible way you can imagine. Some, when they first meet me, blurt it right out: “What in the world happened to you!” Because, obviously, something happened to me. Some avoid it – they don’t even want to look me in the eye or bring it up.
JWR: But no one has ever said. “You can’t handle my account”?
SC: No. That’s never happened. In fact. I don’t know if it’s the underdog thing or what — but people have responded so generously throughout my career. And going independent has completely overwhelmed me in the way they’ve so favorably responded.
JWR: Why did you decide to set up your own practice and become an entrepreneur?
SC: [Higher] payout [percentage of commissions earned] as an independent was a huge consideration. But it really started with a lifestyle issue. I went to Hilliard Lyons on a couple of occasions saying, “With technology the way it is. I’d love to be able to work out of my home at least a couple of times a week.” But I didn’t get anywhere because no one had ever done it before. All they saw were expenses.
So it began with lifestyle: being a quadriplegic lakes a minimum of 40 extra hours a week, which is precious to Linda and me. It took about 30 minutes every day for her to drive me to the office in Memphis. She’d go home, pick me up, then come back home. But that’s not counting the days when I got to work and had a muscle spasm, was situated in my chair in such a way that I needed her to come back an hour later. So at a minimum. Linda was in the car two hours a day.
JWR: How did you two meet?
SC: We’ve known each other since first grade. We met in church as children.
JWR: You were friendly at the time of your accident?
SC: Yes. definitely. We had dated a couple of times in high school and then lost track of each other for a few’ years. We went to different colleges. And then one night, when I was at PaineWebber, I saw a fellow that happened to have her maiden name, Parrott, and I thought of her. I called her that night, we went out n couple of weeks later, and we’ve been together ever since. I like to kid her and say that I cold called her.
JWR: Any plans for a family?
SC: We’re still hoping and praying. We haven’t ruled that out at all.
SC: Either that, or it’s not out of the norm for quadriplegics to have children.
JWR: About work, what’s the biggest benefit to having a home- based business?
SC: It’s completely changed our lives. My daily schedule is so much more relaxed. I’m able to work longer hours. Even when I work shorter hours, they’re more productive. As a result, my business has really exploded.
JWR: What’s your exercise regimen?
SC: Linda runs me through a routine every morning, mainly lower-body, leg-stretching exercises for muscle spasms. My spasms arc so bad that, if I didn’t wear a seat belt. I’d literally throw myself out of the chair. Just recently, at her insistence. I started back at a gym, too. It’s increased my stamina. The combination of a different lifestyle and the gym exercises has not only changed our life but it’s changed me physically.