Decision Dialogues
Decision Dialogues

Episode · 1 year ago

Integrity, Passion, and Trust - Ep 08

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

On Episode 8 of Decision Dialogues, Mark Willoughby speaks to Dr. Barry Kaplan of the Modera Atlanta office about his unlikely career path. Though a dentist by training, Barry always had a passion for business and as he describes it, was always “a much better businessman than dentist.” He talks about his commitment to making a difference for his clients through integrity and looking out for their best interests, and much more. Get the full show notes and more resources at ModeraWealth.com/DecisionDialogues

Are you paving the way for the life you want facing decisions that may affect you personally and financially? The decision dialogs podcast, brought to you by Modera Wealth Management, presents personal stories about navigating through life's pivotal moments, narratives that we hope will inspire you as you create your own story. You'll learn what influence their next steps and gain insights that could help you with your own critical choices. Welcome to decision dialogs. Thanks for joining us on decision dialogs with thrill to have you along. My name is Mark Willoughby and I'm a principal and wealth manager and the Chief Operating Officer of Madeira Wealth Management Llc. Today I'm joined by one of my partners at Madeira, Dr Barry Kaplan, who's based in our Atlantic office. I was fortunate enough to first met Barry at a professional conference in the fall of two thousand and three, so I've known our guests for almost two decades. Barry, thanks for your time today and welcome to the show. Well, thanks for having me so as I was getting ready for this, Barry, I was thinking how do I approach this, and because we could speak for six hours here, but I'm going to break one of the rules of storytelling here and sort of get to the punch line first so that we can set the table for our our listeners. And knowing you as I know you, I feel like you've got three big pivot points in your life that I'd like to kind of flesh out today. When was your decision to start off your own dental practice? The second one was switching your careers in the middle of your career to financial planning running a dental practice, and then the third was deciding to merge your small financial planning business into a larger financial planning business. So I kind of wanted to ask you, can you get a start at about your early career in dentistry and how you set up your practice and the sort of decisions that went into into the start of your career? I'm going to bring it back even more and stop me if I'm going down too deep over rabbit hole, but I'll try to make it relatively quick. This is all retrospective that I figured this out. I got into dentistry because I was craving financial security. I had a very insecure financial upbringing where as a kid we went from living in the nicest part of town having to catillacts to living on a dirt street and having a rambler and a corverat station wagon and I just didn't like the irregularity. And as a kid I mowed lawns. In my little town you got to mow lawns for guys who had money. So I was mowing lawns for accountants, dentists,...

...physicians and Lawyers. The lawyers would argue with you all the time. They Chisel you on the price. The CPA's were busy as hell for part of the year and had nothing to do the rest of the year. The physicians seemed to all have very attractive wives that some of them were cheating on, and the dentists seemed to have nice families and Nice lives, and I said, okay, that's what I want to do. Okay, so I got in it because I was craving financial security. got into it. I'm doing it for twenty years. And how did my I organize my dental practice? I was pretty entrepreneurial. I was involved in a group of guys that had multiple practices. We wound up selling fifty one percent to a publicly traded company. Watched us. They got bought by another publicly traded company. We bought ourselves back then. I bought my practice that I was working at out from my partners and I was running it on my own. And what I realized is most dentists at the time weren't businessmen and I was trying to be a businessman. What most dentist we do back then, and a lot of them do right now, is they manage their practice by what's left at the end of the month, what's in their check book. They don't know what the trends are, they don't know what's going on. All they know is they've got money left in their check book. And I really wanted not to do that and got into the numbers a little bit more and thankfully my wife is a CPA and she did most of this for me while I was out doing dentistry. So it work pretty well. I did that for almost twenty years and what happened to me is I blew out the discs in my neck. Well, let me slow you down there, Barry, okay, because listeners, you've gotten the story of myself and barriers relationship. I asked a question and I get a fifteen minute answer. So let me bring you right back to college because I want to just take a little bit of a deeper dive. You finished your dentistry at emory. I understand you came out as a newly graduated dentist. Well, obviously not fully qualified at that point, but tell me about the planning and the decisionmaking that went into. Did you set up your own dental practice first? No, I had no money. I had negative net worth. Okay, I was living with my inlaws because I was in the hole. As I mentioned before, my my parents at the time, I'm weren't doing that well financially. I had a lot of student debt. Wasn't making you know, you come at a dental school, you're not that fast. You're not making that much money. Okay, so...

I was living with my inlaws for about six months and I would do anything I could. I'd work just about anywhere as a dentist to make a couple bucks, because my wife and I figured out that I had to be making eighteen hundred dollars a month for us to move out of my inlaws. And Remember, I'm old and this was a while ago, and at one thousanevene hundred she couldn't handle living with with her folks anymore. I loved it. It was great. We wound up moving out and getting an apartment. I may have missed this, but at what point did you decide to set up your own dental practice? What happened was I was working for a bunch of guys and one of them said to me, Hey, I mean, I look to open, I look to open. I looked open, and then one of the guys said, listen, we're doing this big entrepreneurial thing. We're opening in malls and strip centers. Okay, and this is going to be, you know, the new wave. And you've worked for us and you've always been great. You've been low maintenance, you doing everything right. We'd love to have you as a partner and I said, but I got no money. They said that's okay, and that's how I opened. I was with three other guys. We're equal partners. Mine was sourt of sweat equity. I'll so you are lucky enough that you got an arrangement which didn't require capital. Yeah, pretty much. I was just a lucky I don't know if you're going to believe this out, but I was just a lucky bastard. Okay, going from there. How long then, were you in partnership before you had to wrap up your dental career? Well, what happened was we wound up. I made the connection to somebody at a publicly traded company. serendipitously, we had been talking among ourselves, my partners, how we felt that Pearl Optical, because of the way that they ran things, might be somebody that that would be sort of someone that could really get into this and change things, and I happen to mention that to someone I knew who was an optician to work for Pearl. Next thing I know, he's introducing me to a regional guy in charge of the entire east coast who introduces us to the guys doing their dental thing, which we didn't even know they were doing, and we wound up being a big part of their their dental thing. Then again, they were bought by a publicly traded British company and within eighteen months they sold back to us. So that was the first sort of capital event of your buddy car are effective. Yeah, they sold it back to us for next to nothing, frankly, and we wound up selling them all off all the six centers we had, which was a couple bucks for me to accumulate, and then I wound up buying out my partners from my office and I ran that for I don't know, I'm guessing eight ten...

...years until I was disabled and I was pretty entrepreneurial again. Big Dental office, high volume. I hired specialists come in, just all sorts of things, which is sort of the model that some of the big dental chains are doing now. Okay, so if you look back to that time, what were the decisions that you can look back and say those were the important decisions I made that allowed me to be successful? This wasn't a decision, but not only treating each patient really well, but treating the practice as a business. I think at the time most dentist didn't realize that that it was a business. A lot of dentists back then didn't understand fixed cost and variable costs. They had no idea that if you open slightly longer hours, you could drive more business and you could be more profitable. If you brought in specialists and had them subcontracting or working for you, you could be even more profitable. Today I see a lot of dentists as clients and you have to educate some of them because they just it's there's no real good business classes in dental school, so you had a natural interest in the numbers and business management aspect of the the business you happen to be in. Yeah, I happen to think I was a better businessman than dentist. That's where I was going bury. It almost feels like you were more of a businessman. I'm sure you are a great dentist, but it sounded like you're more of a businessman than a dentist. I was an adequate or average dentist, which is nothing wrong with I wasn't terrible, but I wasn't, you know, top five percent. But I think I was a well above average businessman as a dentist. You know, in college I did very well in the few in the three classes I took in the business school at emery. I was exempted from finals and stuff because my grade was high enough and I'd never been exempted from a final in my life. They don't do that on the science side. So it was I sort of always knew. I mean it's a kid. I had a business mowing lawns as a little kid, I had a business selling candy in third and fourth grade. You know, go to the supermarket with my mom by the little candies, put it in a metal band aid box, bring it in, sell it to your fellow students and, you know, give one to the teacher for free. You know, if you had a male teacher, he would think that was really neat. So business management seems to have been a passion. Yeah, so, Barry, you know, you may not teracterize what you just described as decisions, but for me...

...they absolutely were decisions. Whether you intended them or not, you were very intentional about how you're on your businesses. So I think that would be valuable to some of the folks who have a passion for their own profession. But you cannot ignore your business. You have to manage it as a business. And and one of the things I wanted to ask is, looking back at how you ran your business back then, what decisions would you would you have met differently? It took me a while to figure a couple things out. One was, while I was really good at the business, I was really not good at managing people. Because you'll have to forgive me, and I don't want this to send a sound arrogant, but I'm too nice a guy. By that I mean I hate reprimanding people. I get sick over firing people, and what would happen would be eventually somebody would get so bad I'd have to fire them, and then the rest of the staff would all come to me and say, what took you so long? Eventually I got to the point where I had two people in the office that were basically doing most of that stuff, while I could just concentrate on doing the physical dentistry and doing a little bit more management, a little bit more of operations. But I just found that that was the stuff I was awful at. So let me interject. then. You are selfaware enough to know that it wasn't one of your strengths, boy and and you, you took steps to have other people take care of it for you. Right, yeah, yeah, how would you guys come to decisions? You would obviously know who needed maybe to be let go, and you guys would, you folks, would discuss it and then the other people would actually take care of the unpleasant task. I would still take care of the unpleasant task, but they would come to me and I would listen because I trusted these people. I had to two women that were phenomenal. They would just say such and such is got to go. That's it. Gotcha. I know I'm asking you to go back a while. Can you remember what the best advice you ever received, either before you started business or in the middle of running the dental practice? It could have been something your dad told you, your mom told you are some associate. was there anything that stands out? Yeah, my dad always said never lie, always tell the truth. That way you never have to remember your story. You know and you stick to that, you ESTA. Yeah, and the other thing you always said was it doesn't cost any extra to be nice to people. Yep, anything else about your dental days that you'd want to share with any of the decisions around that period in your life? I just think I was part of a movement that was sort of way ahead of time and I tried the corporate thing with a public company and decided that that's...

...not where I want to go. I don't want anything to do with a publicly traded company. That's number one. Number two. After getting that yoke off of me, I was the only owner of a large practice for a number of years. Okay, so then life changed. You've been doing dentistry for twenty, twenty years or so, and you had an issue with your back and you had to go out on disability. It seems to me, knowing your story, that you had already begun the process of imagining the next step in your professional prayer. Almost yeah, I did a good enough job of planning that I had enough disability that I really didn't have to work, and once I was sure that the disability would pay me, at that point I could do whatever the heck I wanted. Now here I am on forty five years old. I've been excuse me. I hope nobody takes offense to this, but got a little tired of six months of doing Carpool, you know, at my kids school, and I already had my CFP because, for fun, I decided to take to see a peak class course while still practicing dentistry. Now, now, let me stop you there for a second, because you said it's for fun. Other people would say that that is drudgery and and punishment. Let's not gloss over that. You decided, out of your intellectual and curiosity, to study the CFP. Why in the world did you do that? Well, I call it enlightened self interest. I had my own money, I had my own stuff and I had been during the time I was practicing as a dentist, I started sort of managing some of my own stuff. And if you'll stop me, if you feel this is a rabbit hole, but I was a approached by stockbrokers that had the next stock that was going to make me a fortune. I was I was approached by life insurance guys that were going to cure everything with whole life or annuities. And every time I would hear one of these things, I would go to my wife, who is very bright, an emory business school Grad, Valedictorian never class and a CPA, and I'd say how do you what do you know about this? And she'd basically say variations of I don't know anything about that. I'm a CPA, I could I could audit the books of a company, I could do a profit and loss, I could do a tax return, all this stuff. But personal investments, personal financial planning, I had one course in it. I don't know anything. So I became self educated and I realized that this business had a lot of people in it that didn't have my best interest at heart said a diplomatic way of saying...

...that's a very diplomatic way. That's as a kinetic as we're going to hear from you. Very yes, that's it. That's it. It's downhill after here. So I decided to become self educated and start doing my own stuff. So you did not start the CFP with the thought of the Financial Planning Career Next? Well, it was a small part of it. What I figured, is the way I had it projected, I was going to need to work to all about sixty and it's sixty. Maybe I could go out and become a CFP, you know, maybe go out and practice wealth management, financial planning, whatever, but in the meantime I'm doing this for myself. That was the thought. You know, it was a couple thousand dollars to take the the you know, for the exam materials and all that. The rest of it was just sitting down and I just gave up watching baseball and football and basketball for eighteen months and use that time to study. Are Listener should understand that my partner is insatiably intellectually curious, so this doesn't entirely shocked me that he decided to pick up books in the middle of these parties. So okay, so you pass the CFP focus to the decisions that that so you enter the financial planning area and getting back into gain full employment. I've been giving advice for free to friends of my wife, my wife was a CPA, or friends were CPA's, family, friends, relatives whatever that were mainly, you know, physicians, dentists, business owners, for free for a number of years and it's done me that some of the CPA's that my wife worked with thought I was pretty good at this and I decided that the one thing I should do is I had experience with business owners, why don't I go out and learn something different? If anybody's listening, plays basketball when your kid. You want to learn to dribble with both hands. So some people actually tie their dominant hand down to their stomach or behind their back so they could learn to dribble with the other hand. Well, what I did was I went to work for an advisory firm, which eventually was bought by a much larger institution that specialized in serving corporate executives, which is the one and the reason I went there is that was the one thing I felt I didn't know well so this is very intentional on your yeah, yeah, just like you know, if you want to learn to play basketball and you want to be really good at it, you got to develop your offhand. Or if you're a soccer player, I'm sure you do the same thing with your off foot. I deliberately went to work for a place that that I knew was strong at what I was weak at. That's what I did for a few years. It was an experience, but it was while there I figured out that they didn't have their their clients best interest at heart. They were making money multiple different ways that their clients really didn't understand, and I...

...wanted to leave. Would it be fair to say that? I can't remember what you said about your disability covers, but did you need to work at this point? No, so this was more like a passion for you than anything else. I was doing it for fun. Listen, if I'm a forty five year old and I'm the only guy sitting at home all day and all my friends are working, but I wanted to do something, and this is sort of what I wanted to do. Now, I could have gone to work for a large dental chain and managed without practicing dentistry, just just a business management aspect. I could have worked at a dental hygiene school teaching dental hygiene. I could have gone to work for a dental insurance company, reviewing claims, telling the dentist that no, you can't do a crown on that, dude, it's not damaged enough. I could have done anything like that and I didn't want to. I mean that wouldn't have been fun. said the fun the financial side of it was the fun part for you. Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay. Talk to us about your relationship with Rob Hockett and your time at Cambridge Wealth Counsel. While I was practicing dentistry at the time, Wakovia Bank handa program they called professional banking. It was sort of like private banking light and they would see degree professionals, CPA's, dentists, physicians, and they would give you a little bit more than the normal stuff, but maybe not full fledged private banking. Well, ROB was my guy. Well, I started out with with one guy and then a second guy, then rob was probably my third guy. Rob Was the first guy who wasn't trying to push the bank's mutual funds and finally, you know, I pull them aside and you know, one day at lunch, how come you're not pushing the bank mutual funds all the other guys did? You said because the bank mutual funds stink. I said, well, I know that, you know that. They probably knew that, but they would still had to push him. He said, well, they gave me some leeway because I'm doing enough business otherwise and if they start giving me a hard time I'm out of here anyway. So that's sort of how I met ROB. Rob Comes to me a year or two later says, listen, I'm taking the seefpeak course and and I think you'd really like it, and I start laughing. I said I got the application for it sitting at my desk at home, half filled out. I'm ready to do it. So you know, I was like one cycle behind him in taking this. So I took it and I learned that I didn't know a lot of things I thought I knew. So it was a it was a great thing for me. I left to go work for rock. So I took a massive pay cut and I got cut again by another fifty percent going to work for rob. So obviously I'm either stupid or I'm not in this for the money? So or...

...more than one of the above? Okay, so your South and rob completely different tracks. He came out of the banking or you came out of the dentistry world. You sort of meet at the at the same time thinking about the same things. He's already begun to manage some of these families finances. He's probably been doing this for three, four five years by the time I joined him. I don't know the exact you know, I'd have to go and look back, and he wasn't making enough to be able to afford to pay me. I was glad to do this. This was fun. So let me let me drill in on that. So securely. You're not doing it for the money. Joining rob because he's cut you fifty percent from your previous job. What meant the decision for you? Well, integrity. I knew that he was an honest guy. I knew that he wasn't looking to screw clients. I knew that he was a nap for member National Association Personal Financial Advisors. I knew all this stuff. I mean, I think I had the opportunity to go work for a larger firm in town where, at the time, the minimum client was two million dollars. Now, remember this is over twenty years ago. I don't think that I knew that many people with that kind of money at that time and I just didn't think I could bring in business and I didn't like the way that they operated. I felt like with rob I could make a difference and I felt that I did sort of from day one. I think I helped him improve some of the things that he did not not that anything was wrong, I just helped think I helped them improve some things. That mean just for the benefit of our listeners and that the reference you made was the professional feel only financial planners association. What was it about that particular model of advice that attracted you? Well, I'd seen the other side. I'd seen I'd seen the brokerage side. I've seen life insurance guys who weren't always looking out for their best interest to their client. They may have thought that they were. I just wanted feel only because I knew the only was what I was looking for back when I first started practicing dentistry and it essentially didn't exist. I started practicing dentistry in one thousand nine hundred and eighty one. You'd have to go back to the origins of the only planning. It was probably around the same time. So the only thing I saw back then was brokers and insurance guys and I just didn't like that world. So it's essentially the fact that in the thee only where you had to put the client's best interest first. That was right and thankful. Right, okay, and I was working at a place beforehand who was feedbased, but they were making money multiple ways from their clients and they were legally disclosing at but the clients were reading or not reading and didn't know where to look to see where it was disclosed that they were making money multiple other...

...ways. Understood, understood. So let's now talk about the time that you and rob spent building Cambridge wealth counsel together. Talk to me about some of the best decisions you folks met and what led to your success in building a roster of client families that you served to this day. I was bad at it at first. I was. I was I built a practice by US mosis. I felt no sense of urgency because I had income, you know, I had income that was basically replacing what I used to make. Is a den this. There was there was again no sense of urgency and I found that it took about five years of me being in this business for people to start sending me hey, you know, here's my my brother, here's my uncle, here, you know, will you take a look at what I've got? Would you consider this? So that was part of it. Part of it was back then, you know, the NAPA referral system actually helped some too. You know, took five years to start going and then it ten years. It became I think with the nuclear physicists call a self sustaining reaction, where if you have enough, there's just enough that keeps coming in without working at it. It was it was sort of weird. I sort of looked around after about fifteen years of this and realize, you know, rob and I had had an agreement that if something happened to him I would take over his business and pay his airs, his wife, and if something happened to me he would do the same for me. And Rob and I sort of got to a point where we looked at each other and said, holy you know what. Now that's what I would say, not him, if you know Robin, but anyway, we're both so busy that if something happened to the other. We couldn't handle the other guy's business. So we need to go out and start doing something else. We either need to build a big organization where we've got lots of other people or we need to find some like minded people to put our lot in life with. So it's a perfect segue. So you see, see you both came to a moment of enlightenment that you'd build something really successfully, but you sort of hit at last ceiling in terms of not having the platform to sustain it necessarily. That be fair to say. Yeah, we thought that we could do it, but it would take just a lot of work. And why recreate the wheel when someone already has it? Did you both come to that conclusion at about...

...the same time or did one come to it sooner? I think I was pressing him a little bit more. You could speak to him and he might say differently. I got to a point where I said, Rob, I'm approaching sixty and I know from dentistry I've seen too many guys wait too long to sell their business or to bring in a successor or to do stuff like this. And Rob was always thinking in the back of his mind that his church was going to call him for a mission as an adult, and if that happens he'd be in trouble too if he didn't have other people to help sustain the business. So eventually I think we were both on the same boat. I may have been. I may have been eighteen months ahead of him. I don't know. He would he might argue. So share with us you know what happened from there, because it sounds like you both came to the conclusion that you needed to get serious about the succession plan, which a lot of business owners have to come to that at some point. That built this great business, but you know who takes it over from me at a high level? Talk to us. Share what sort of firms that you speak with. I think we spoke to about twenty firms. Some of them were phone calls. You would just speak to them on the phone and you'd know it was wrong. We spoke to one Atlanta based firm. You know, they started using terms book of business, which in are and end of the business we don't use that much as more brokerage term, and it was like they just wanted to know what our revenue was and offered a multiple like on a cocktail Napkin just about that. You took a look at and it was a telephone number, but we knew it wasn't going to work. Funny thing is we ran it to somebody who had a business like airs that they bought and we found out that it didn't work. But these guys were just had money and we're offering it. There was a lot of stuff like that that we knew we had to find somebody that was feel only, that was non traditional, non active investing, and was very planning centric more than investment centric. Now, don't get me wrong, I was headed the investment committee at our old firm, but that's not what you do this for. You do this for the planning and we spoke to we narrowed it down, I don't know too maybe four or five firms, and then cut it quickly the two firms, of which Modero was one of them, and we just felt the most comfortable with them, even though financially it might have been better for us to go with the other of the finalists. So in the end it's almost like a decision that you made, similar to when you joined rob as. You had to cut your pay to get the right cultural fisth with some of...

...them, like rob it's kind of similar. You had more attractive financial opportunities with other firms, but culturally Maderio was that was the more comfortable fit for the team at Cambridge. Yeah, I mean that was that was it. We were in it for the long term and we knew that it would work better if we had a good cultural fit. We just thought it was a great cultural fit. You know, most of the stuff that we had to change was, you know, piece of software, so you can it used to a different piece of software, a different method of doing things to get the same result. At the end of the day. Stuff like that doesn't matter. If you there was very little daylight between the two firms. I mean, in other words, it was almost the same thing. So I think the three words that are coming coming to mind for me as we wrap up this interview, Barry, when I think about you, is integrity, passion and trust. Those three are key for you. I'm flattered, but I'm not going to argue. Yeah, you know that everything runs off integrity. Everything runs off if I think you're doing a good enough job, I'm ready willing and able to trust you. Also, if I can add the whole philosophy behind this firm seems to be same as mine. It doesn't cost any extra to be nice to people. So to ask quick questions. What still gets you out of bed every morning? My Dog. If I don't, it's going to poop. It's going to Poop in the house. Yeah, okay, yeah, and that's the first answer. What's the what's the other answer? I love doing what I'm doing. I mean this, this is neat. You get to help people, you get to add something, you get to contribute both to the people I'm working with and to the clients were serving. I love helping to teach some of the younger guys stuff that they may not have seen before. I love being able to speak in clear English to clients so they understand what's going on. No, no Mumbo jumbo. And and just to terify for our listeners, when barries from New Jersey, so when he says guys, he means guys and Gals. So just just to be clear. Last question. What was the last non financial related decision you had to make today? What to eat for lunch? Excellent. Well, thank you, Barry. No, thank you. I've I've enjoyed this. Can we go for another hour or two and and thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We hope you'll join US next time on decision dialogs for more stories from successful business owners. So long for now. Thank you for listening to decision dialogs. We hope you found today's stories helpful for your...

...own decisionmaking. If you like to listen to more episodes, you can subscribe on your preferred podcasting APP or visit our website, where you'll also find show notes and important disclosures, www dot wellcom. Forwards last decision dialogs. This has been a production of twin flames studios.

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