How to Find a Mentor for Financial Advice (or Not)

male-213729_1280-PDI have always been enamored by people that are successful.  I have been to seminars, meet successful people, and sought out ways to ask questions directly to people that from my vantage were successful.  Finding a mentor is key to success at any endeavor in life.  Of course, as I found out, you need the correct mentor-ship to follow.  With the wrong mentor, things can be a disaster…

Quite a while ago, when I was beginning my side hustle for extra money, I was called by a client referred to me by ServiceMagic.  ServiceMagic is a company that I joined to get additional exposure for my business, and for a minimal cost, I actually generated quite a bit of business.  Generating business is key, especially when you are starting out.  At some point, your business will take off and you have a lot of customers, and word of mouth becomes a large part of generating business.

The client called, looking for someone to cleanup a overgrown wooded area.  It was going to be back breaking work, but often those jobs are the best money makers.  I had the tools, I needed a mower, axe, chain saw, manual hedge trimmer, a good pair of gloves, and of course my trusty 1988 Ford ranger truck to haul everything in.

In jobs like these, you get a free workout, something that other people pay a membership for.  And, you actually get paid to do it.  You are money ahead two ways.

I first met the husband on a week day after work.  He was well dressed, as he had a professional job as an executive at Fair Isaac, the credit reporting agency.  He wore a long sleeve white cotton shirt, and looked like he just removed a tie before he met with me.  He was a 31 year old professional, living in a small and modest home that he was renting.  There was nothing out of the ordinary.  He invited me into his home and we discussed the details of what was needed and a price.

When I showed up to do the work, he met me again.  I did most of my side work on evenings and weekends, as I had, and still do, a fulltime job.  This time, the guy was a bit more casual.  He has on a t-shirt and jeans.  He definitely looked different, as he had sleeve tattoos on both arms, and you could not fit a dime on either arm and not touch a tattoo.  I mentioned something like “nice ink” (in a good way) to him, and he said his back was the same way.  He led a different lifestyle in his younger days, he owned a motorcycle shop.  It all made sense at the time.

After that job, I had several other jobs that he hired me to do.  He always paid promptly, and never tried to haggle on price.  The jobs were pretty standard, nothing too hard or complicated.  Just manual labor tasks that required some tools and some back muscle.

After couple of years, he and his wife moved to a different neighborhood, and bought a spectacular model home.  It was ~$749K, which is very expensive in this area. The tax records show it has 4,144 finished square feet.  In my mind, this was a house that successful people would live in.  Since I continued to mow and do small tasks for him, I saw him 2-3 times per summer.  I would always ask a few questions on what kind of work he did, etc.

He had moved on from Fair Isaac, and was working as the COO of a startup firm.  The firm was a darling of Wall Street, and everyone was looking for the company to go public.  If that happened, this guy would be filthy rich.

This guy was living extremely well.  After buying the home, he put in a 40K+ landscaping job.  The place was immaculate already, but a large stone area with a fire pit was added, along with other enhancements.  He bought a fancy new motorcycle, and had it modified.  New engine, a paint job on the gas tank that looked 6” deep, by some famous guy that was on TV (I can’t remember r the name…).  He joked with me one day, as we looked at the neighbors paying in the pool a house away.  He said something like “I could buy four of those pools for the cost of my bike”.  It was a spectacular bike, and he won some beauty contests with it at various motor cycle shows.

And the cars came like money was water.  He had a Ferrari, a Land Rover, a Bentley, Aston Martin, Rolls Royce and others.  He owned several properties.  He spent quite a bit of time at his second home in Malibu.  He owned a horse farm, and he was on various horse show circuits.  Life was grand, and it even spilled over to me.  He paid me once $200 for about 45 minutes of work.  I felt guilty, but he set the price and I took the money.

Then, one day, the wife called me to discuss cutting back on services.  She needed the work done, but wanted to cut costs.  She and her husband were good to me, so I reduced my prices by a bit.  I knew something was happening, but I was not sure.  I assumed a divorce, and wanted to find out.  Another friend that referred my name to, and had hired me, said the husband had gotten in over his head in business dealings.  He said it was not pretty and did not want to elaborate.

Through my tenant screening ventures, I knew a bit on how to look up ‘dirt’ on people.  I have looked up tenants in the past in the Minnesota Court Site, and often find things like judgments, typically in the $3K to $5K range.  When I looked up the husband, I saw a $93M judgment.  Holy crap, how do you get a $93,125,924.46 judgment against you?

I then Googled his name.  There were 1,000’s of articles that showed up.  Virtually every medical journal or financial journal had an article on him.  He had ‘misappropriated’ the firm’s venture capital and put it in his personal account. He falsified bank statements and KPMG audit reports and presented them as real to Wall Street Venture capitalists as a way to raise money.  He stole the company’s customer’s money, from the firms trust accounts.  These monies were deposited by people believing that they were depositing money into their own Health Care Savings (HS) account.  The Judge said “noted that this case was the most aggravated financial fraud he had seen in his 18 years on the federal bench”.  Jeremy Blackburn of Canopy Financial was a thief.

So, I learned it is easy to be successful when you steal other people’s money, at least for a while.  I learned that when you get caught, prison is the end game; and prison is probably not fun.  This guy was sentenced to 15 years in Federal prison.  I learned that death, may even be preferable to prison, as he killed himself the night before he was to report to prison.

It may not be flashy, but slow and steady wins the race.  When you have the world by the tail, just hang on, do not get greedy.

So I know a murderer, and a (former) embezzler.  So I got that going for me, which is nice. (paraphrasing Bill Murray in Caddy Shack)

23 Replies to “How to Find a Mentor for Financial Advice (or Not)”

    1. It was interesting to see unfold. I never saw it coming, but the wife did mention one time that “I bet all the neighbors think we are drug dealers”. Two young adults, ~35 years old, spending millions. They lived quite the lifestyle.

      And the wife went from that lifestyle, to a normal one, like most people. The car she was driving even had rust spots on it at the end. the house went into foreclosure, and sold for half of what it originally sold for.

  1. Hi there, I like your website and your insight into real estate, I am from raleigh and looking to buy my first real estate deal. I am thinking on the lines of student housing, what are your thoughts on it? How does one find house which generate a good cash flow?

    I would be grateful for any information you provide.

    1. Thanks for the good words and comment!

      Student housing can have great profitability, but also has it’s challenges. You need to decide if you will be renting rooms individualy, or the entire place. Watch out for partiers. Make sure you get solid co-signers, a decent deposit, and good tenants to begin with.

      Keep looking, joing a RE club. I have a post on how to find investment property.

      Do not buy if the cash flow is not there, or if the return is not high enough.

  2. Yikes, that’s insane! Sometimes there are a lot of things going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about…

    Slow and steady is not very glamorous, but probably the safest and easiest way to build long term wealth…

  3. Wow! My financial mentor has no idea he plays that role (one of the partner’s at my firm). He is a guy who built his financial life with no help from the outside world, and lived relatively frugally during years where he made 7 digits. At this point he is in his early 50’s and despite being swindled by Madoff to the tune of more money then I could ever imagine making nevertheless investing he is still financially independent.

    To boot? Just a hell of a nice guy

    1. The best mentors are not really mentors, they are friends and partners who have the same interests but more experience. There is not an official mentor-ship, but a true desire to help and teach you. You both know that it is a good situation for both.

  4. Thanks ,that’s a great article. I just enrolled for a meetup group on your advice.

    When you say pre foreclosure have you found these deal online(zillow, trulia) or mostly through word of mouth.

    Thanks once again!

  5. Holy crap, that’s quite the story. I really try hard not to judge when I see people that seem to make tons of money and you have no idea how they are doing it legally. Stories like this certainly seem to reinforce the stereotype. It makes you wonder if he would have been that crooked anyway or if the need to keep up the elevated lifestyle is what caused his crossover into the criminal side.

  6. Well, in my 2 minutes of Googling I couldn’t find the name of the guy. At first I searched Tom Petters, but it didn’t fit his story. Incredible story, though. He must have gotten his bike from Orange County Choppers. I know they make ridiculously expensive custom bikes.

    1. Thank you for the comment.

      I don’t physically ask for specific advice, just show genuine interest. Most people are proud of themselves, so they are not afraid to tell you about how they got to where they are. They appreciate someone showing interest.

      If you ask specifically “will you be my mentor”, that implies you are looking fro a free ride, at their expense. It implies a lot of time that they will have to give, even if there is not. Great mentorships happen because something ‘clicks’, not because of anyone committing to anything.

  7. Wow, that is quite a story. So sad with how it turned out in the end. But, that said, it just goes to show you that if it’s built on a house of cards then it’s all show and won’t stick around for long. While being flashy might be “fun” and look good, I’d much rather go the slow and steady route.

  8. One of the things I learned many years ago was never to be impressed with people who said they had money. In fact, never be impressed with someone who said they didn’t either. And especially be weary of people who talk about money like it’s an obsession – as they probably don’t have any in the first place.

    The people I’ve always listened to are the people who actually have done or are doing what I’m interested in. Those people are invaluable. The rest are time wasters.

    As a completely unrelated story, I knew a guy (friend of my business partner at the time), who sold his London (UK) recruitment company. Really nice down to earth guy, given £6m in cash one day. As you do. You would never give the guy a second look.

    His ex-wife, who had discovered she was a lesbian a few years earlier, was back in touch really quickly. The fact she ‘straightened’ up when he was worth £6m hadn’t gone un-noticed by everyone. (I believe a year later they did actually get back together).

    But the weekend the cash was transferred to his account, he (with the ex), decided to go into London and splurge some cash. Maybe a Knightsbridge apartment, maybe a Porsche, maybe some expensive furniture from Harrods.

    He recounted his day at the bar that evening. They failed miserably to spend money. After 6 hours of shopping (that counts as all day for a guy), he bought a toaster from Harrods for £29.99.

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