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Adventures in Babysitting


  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 6:59 a.m. April 1, 2011
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
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Paul Gesko didn't think babysitting was part of the deal when he co-founded an unusual wealth management firm 40 years ago.


Turns out, however, supervising young adults with access to lots of money requires more than a background in finance and estate tax issues. It takes a firm disposition and a commitment to balancing long-term needs with short-term wants says Gesko, whose firm, Sarasota-based Miller Gesko, works primarily with families navigating money transfers among generations.


“A lot of this is putting out fires,” says Gesko. “You become a surrogate parent to these kids.”


For instance, there was the time when a client's young son, a man in his early 20s, tried to dip into a trust fund to buy a $50,000 car for his girlfriend. Gesko blocked the purchase. Another time a brother and sister, screaming at each other, called Gecko on Christmas Eve to settle an argument.


Gesko nonetheless hopes to expand the business through an ambitious expansion strategy he launched earlier this year.


“We want to be bigger, and we can be,” says Gesko. “There's a lot of competition around here in name, but I don't think there's anyone around here who does what we do.”


Most of the firms on the Gulf Coast that specialize in family wealth management and planning are clustered in the Naples area, although there are some in Sarasota and St. Petersburg. Miller Gesko has steadfastly refused to veer from families over the years.


Gesko co-founded the firm in 1969 with Robert Miller, his one-time boss at M & T Bank in Buffalo, N.Y. The firm handled all the financial matters for just one family back then. The scope has since grown to cover 60 families in 16 states, with $300 million in assets under management. There are 11 employees in Sarasota and an office in Buffalo.


The firm, which earns fees based on portfolio values, survived the recession, says Gesko, mostly because it didn't lose any clients. He says it kept the roster intact by devoting more time to explaining market-based decisions, so clients weren't left in limbo. Miller Gesko's income suffered initially when the economy fell, but has since recovered.


Gesko recently began the process to buyout Miller's share of the firm. He also unveiled a marketing campaign early this year, the first concentrated outside sales push since 2008. The campaign potentially includes radio and newspaper ads.


Gesko also wants the firm to grow in people and in office space. He'd like to hire support staff and another Sarasota-based account manager, preferably someone with an active book of business.


Despite the economic challenges and babysitting-like situations, the family wealth management business is still a gas for Gesko. “It's a fun business,” says Gesko, “but it's a lot easier when the market is good.”

 

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