Where does one begin? You meet a person and think this is one of the greatest people I’ve ever met … then one day … that person is taken away from you. The sad part is that person is taken away years after the last conversation you had with him and you never got to tell him how you really feel about him.
Today I want to tell you a story about a truly great salesperson, Financial Advisor, and trusted friend to many. His name is Edward J Blasi simply known by many as ” Mr. Ed.”
Our First Meeting
I first met Ed Blasi in the Spring of 1991. I had been relieved of my Management duties with the company about 18 months earlier due to some issues we were having in the Fort Worth Office of our company that had to do with Sexual Harassment charges. I was relieved of those duties – not because of something I had done – but rather for something I did not do. As a senior manager on the scene, the company felt it was my responsibility to report the issue before it got out of hand and I personally had a conflict between two values … Integrity and Loyalty.
I knew the right thing to do was to bring it to the attention of the corporate leaders … yet the people involved were consenting adults and my loyalty to them would not allow me to do what was right. It was a tough battle … but after about 18 months of doing everything the company told me to do I was once again allowed to enter management (a position I loved); though not at the Fort Worth office. I had to relocate since the company felt there was not much of a chance I could lead the people in Fort Worth – that in their opinion – I had let down.
I will not go into detail as the story is long and this is a memorial to a friend and not about me. I will say that the 12 to 13 advisors in the Baton Rouge Office, where I was transferred to, had heard bits and pieces of the story and had drawn their own conclusions. Most of them were not the right conclusions – but I brought it on myself and could not blame anyone.
I made it a point to visit with each advisor in the Baton Rouge office the first day I arrived – even though I’d driven all night, the night before, to get there and did have any sleep. I did not even have a place to live yet. The idea was to start with the lowest producer and work my way to the top. The Field Vice President at the office was Lisa Babcock and I am not even sure she wanted me there at the time. I was given the opportunity to transfer to Corpus Christi, TX and work for a male Vice President that I knew pretty well; go to New Orleans and work for a male I did not know; or go to Baton Rouge and work for a female who was breaking a lot of the “glass ceilings” in this predominately male world of management at the time. I was told by many in the company and a few professionals outside the company (my psychologist for one) that I would do better working in an environment managed by males, based on my previous history with the so-called sexual harassment history. Being the “trendsetter” I thought I was … I chose the female to work with and for.
After each advisor meeting I would spend a few moments with Lisa Babcock giving her my opinion and feedback. Near the end of the day with only one more visit … she took me down the hall and introduced me to Mr. Ed – the market groups top producer – who also had the biggest office in the building at the time on Bluebonnet Drive. I remember it was a corner office with tinted windows on two sides. This allowed him to see the entire parking lot from his office.
Ed, offered me a seat at his conference table and had his secretary bring us both a cup of coffee. Ed was the only one in the office that could afford his own personal secretary and I immediately admired him for this.
I spent more time with Ed that day than I had spent with the other 11 or 12 advisors in the office. I must have been in his office for a good hour to hour and a half. It was dark before either of us left. He wanted to know all about me. Where I was from, when I joined the company, all about my family, and all those kind of things. My recent past never came up, and this was the first time that day that it hadn’t. I fully expected him to question me about it but he never raised the issue.
Ed was 16 years my senior. I learned he’d joined the company in 1971 – five years before me. He had a wife (Carol) and two daughters (Candace and Faith) and a son (Joseph). Ed had been the top producer in the entire state of Louisiana for several years in a row – which included the main offices of New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport. He consistently did between 2.5 million and 5 million dollars worth of business each year … and in 1991 that was a lot (though nothing compared to what advisors are doing today).
While most “top producers” I’d met to that point had a “Huge Ego” I found that Ed’s was somewhat different. While he had a big Ego … he did not let Ego rule his life. He was able to push it back and focus on the person or person(s) in front of him.
I did find out in our conversation that Ed had attempted management at one time and decided it was not for him. When I asked him why his response, with a grin, was, “You know there are those that do … then there are those that teach how to do. I happen to be a doer and not a teacher in this field – though I did teach school in my previous life.”
Ed let me know from the outset that he was a “born again Christian” and was proud to let everyone know about it. He began to ask me about my faith and spirituality and when I told him my father and mother raised me in a church but that I did not outwardly practice my faith he simply said, “Well there’s hope for you and I will keep you in my prayers.” Before our meeting ended he invited me to go to church with him and Carol on a Sunday Morning once I got settled.
During our meeting Ed even listed a couple of places I might consider living in the city until I could get my family to join me. My family was still in Wichita Falls, TX and we had no idea how long they would be there before I could bring them to Baton Rouge. Ed knew the city well and pointed me in the direction of some of the safer – yet affordable – areas to live temporarily.
I left the meeting that evening and went to the hotel that was right in front of the office and began to gather my notes on all the meetings with the advisors I’d had. I needed to figure out how I could best help them as their manager and leader. For most of them it would be the simple matter of reinforcing the right mind-set and work ethic. Most of them thought of themselves as “professionals” first and not sales people. I would have to change that mind set to “Professional Sales People.”
When I got to Ed’s file I was stumped. I’d realized that because of his natural sales skills he already knew more about me than I did of him. Practically 80% of our meeting was about me and not him. It seemed to me – that to Ed – I was just one more customer.
After a few days, that first week in the office, I figured out just how I could help Ed.
Teaching an “old dog new tricks”
I learned very quickly that Ed was “Old School.” While every advisor in the office had their own computer – Ed didn’t. If he needed a proposal he would have to have someone else run it for him. His secretary did not even have a computer. Everything was done by her on a typewriter. Michelle Smith, Lisa Babcock’s personal assistant, usually got stuck with the task of running Ed’s insurance proposals and other things requiring a computer.
This took time from Michelle doing what she was really paid to do … work with Lisa and manage the office. I immediately took that task on, and became Ed’s personal proposal writer. It wasn’t long before I convinced Ed to get his secretary a computer … then get himself one. I spent many hours trying to teach Ed how to use his computer … but you know what they say about “old dogs and new tricks.” Unfortunately his computer ended up being a dust collector. However, his secretary was able to learn to use word processing so that each letter did not have to be typed anew and she could save them and fill in the blanks. This did accelerate some of the work for them. Not understanding insurance and investments, however, she never became proficient in doing his proposals and I still had to do that. I didn’t mind since my income was tied to each advisor’s production and this is one way, I could help Ed increase his without spending a lot of time teaching about the product as we worked together.
Back in the early 90’s the company had a team of advisors that they classified as “Gold Team Advisors” and it was everyone’s dream to someday become a part of that team. At the time the Baton Rouge office had the top producer (Ed), but that top producer was not a part of “Gold Team” and Lisa Babcock said he needed to be.
I met with Ed to discuss the potential of him joining Gold Team. He had the production required but his clients were not getting the Financial Planning – in writing – that was also a requirement. While Ed’s card did have the initials CLU and CFP (Chartered Life Underwriter and Certified Financial Planner) behind his name, two very fine credentials in the industry … he did not put his plans in writing. Ed’s comment was, “I am a CFP and all my clients have a Financial Plan.”
When I asked him where the plan was, he would answer, “In my head.”
To that I would state, “Ed when you retire that plan is going to retire with you unless you put it in writing.”
To make a long-story short I convinced Ed that he really needed to get on Gold Team because they were the ones the company would go to for help when they came out with new investment products or insurance policies before allowing the rest of the field to use them. This would in turn help him, help his clients, with better investments and insurance before the rest of the advisors could get them to their clients – and I knew Ed believed in putting his clients first.
In addition, Gold Team Advisors were able to make a little more money when it came to bonuses and the like. That’s all Ed needed to hear.
We came to the following agreement: Ed needed 25 financial plans per year (or $10,000 in financial planning fees) to go along with his usual production to get on Gold Team, and maintain that status in the coming years. I was to assist Ed on a number of appointments to get these initial plans sold on a recurring basis rather than a one-time ONLY fee basis (something very few advisors at the time were doing). We set a goal to sell 35 plans the first year for a fee of $500 followed by annual renewal fees of $300 per year. This would give us more than the number of plans per year to maintain his status and about $17,500 in fees the first year with ongoing fees of $10,500.
I think, if memory serves correctly, I went on a total of five or six appointments with Ed and sold two normal financial plans for $500 with recurring fees of $300 and three Estate Plans (he had some wealthy clients) for $2,500 to $5,000 with recurring fees of $500 per year. After that, Ed became a perennial Financial Plan Salesperson, without my assistance. However, I still wrote almost all of his financial plans until he partnered in later years with another advisor in the office to do some of the planning for him.
Becoming Ed Blasi for a night
Once Ed was appointed to Gold Team, he had to attend a Gold Team Meeting in the corporate office. They only had one of these per year and attending was mandatory – unless there were extenuating circumstances (like illness or death in the family) and you could not attend.
I remember Ed asked to meet with me. Without hesitation I headed to his office. He again motioned for me to sit at his conference table and his secretary brought me a cup of that Community Coffee that Ed Liked. He was on the phone and would be for a long time (Mr. Ed was a talker) … but I did not budge.
Finally, he got off the phone and walked over to the conference table and threw the invitation to the Gold Team Meeting in front of me. He said, “You got me into this mess now I have to ask you to do me a favor.”
“Sure,” I said, “What is it?”
He continued, “My Daughter, Faith, is having a Father-Daughter banquet at her high school and I will be at this meeting. Since you got me into this, I think it is only fair that you stand in for me at her banquet and be her father for a night.”
“But I don’t even know your daughter,” I said in a complaining voice.
“Well,” he said, “I’m not asking you to marry her … just attend this banquet with her. You owe me that much and you owe her too since it is your fault, I’m having to attend this meeting.”
Without any more complaints from me I headed straight to the tuxedo rental shop, to rent a tux, for this formal dinner I was to attend with a kid I didn’t even know.
Though I could never fill her father’s shoes I will say that Faith and I had a great evening on our first and only date. This is actually how I learned more about her and her sister Candace. Faith talked a lot that evening about Candace and how she was a business owner over on the East Coast. She thought the world of her big sister and was looking forward to visiting her when school let out for the summer.
Minneapolis, “We have a problem!”
Right after “Gold Team” was started someone in our corporate office thought it would be a good idea if there were a “Profile Book” made up for each office with all the Gold Team Advisors listed nationwide in the book.
In this book the advisors were to list the normal stuff like name, address, phone number, age, time in the business, etc. so that anyone searching for a new advisor, that may be moving into or out of the office area, could search for an advisor that the client may have some common traits with. In order to know if there were any common traits, of course the advisors were also requested to list Hobbies, Passions and other lifestyle habits.
When it was Ed’s turn to write up his profile for the book I showed him a copy of the previous year’s book that I was able to obtain. He thumbed through each page and studied each advisor across the nation. He knew many of them from previous conferences and such that he had attended. He noted that some of the advisors were even listing their sexual orientation if they were homosexual, in hopes – I guess – to let potential homosexual clients know that they could choose someone to work with that understood their personal issues more intimately as well as financial issues.
Ed wrote up his Bio and we sent it to the company for processing. Under the personal passion heading he wrote something like this: I’m a born again Christian and I love Jesus Christ. I love playing golf. I like music, art and am devoted to my family. Everything he wrote – accept the “I’m a born again Christian and I love Jesus Christ,” was accepted and published.
Ed got pretty upset and I’d never seen him this way. He could not understand why a person could list that they were Homosexual but could not list that they were a born again Christian. Now I don’t think Ed stood in judgement of those who were homosexual. He had too kind of a heart for that. However, he was upset that sexual preference could be published while religious preference was being silenced.
Mr. Ed, a loyal advisor to the company for about 22 years at the time, took the company to task on this one. It was not long before it was announced that the Profile Book would no longer be published. Whether Mr. Ed had anything to do with this or not, I don’t know. I only know we did not have to worry about it going forward.
Ed’s Largest Insurance Sale
In 1994 I was asked to assist Ed on a large insurance sale that he thought I knew something about. It was a medical clinic in Denham Springs, LA that had three doctors as equal partners. The clinic was worth about $3 million dollars and they were looking for a way to fund a buyout if one of the partners were to die prematurely. The idea was that they would use life insurance as the funding vehicle, which means that if the partners were buying insurance on each other to fund a buy-sell agreement, each partner would have to purchase two $1 million dollar policies on the other two partners – a total of 6 policies for $1 million each.
In addition, they were thinking of bringing in a fourth partner to increase available cash and raise the value to $4 million. However, this would require 12 policies (4 partners purchasing 3 insurance policies on other partners). This was known as a “cross-purchase” plan. Ed wanted to do this at lowest cost possible for the doctors. Again, he always put the client first before his commission.
I explained that an “entity-purchase” rather than a “cross-purchase” would be the lowest cost plan. Thus, the clinic would simply purchase a $1,000,000 policy on each partner with the clinic being the owner and beneficiary which would provide the clinic funds to buy the deceased partners share when he/she died. Three or four policies for $1,000,000 each would be a lot less expensive than 6 to 12 policies.
We went to the clinic together to make our proposal. I remember I had to listen to Rush Limbaugh on Ed’s car radio for the entire trip and at the time I was not as conservative as I am today … so this was actually not a turn on for me … But Mr. Ed sure thought a lot of Rush Limbaugh. We made the proposal and explained how the Entity purchase would be a lot less expensive by literally thousands of dollars per year. The doctors at the clinic agreed to the plan and Ed was elated.
On the way back to the office he said, “This is the first time I have ever done this and I want to thank God that you had the experience that helped.”
I said, “Ed, you should thank God because this was my first time to do this also. I had no previous experience in doing anything like this.”
“You mean you lied to me,” Ed questioned? “You taught us this in class the other day … I thought you knew what you were taking about.”
“Ed,” I said, “You know there are those that do … then there are those that teach how to do.”
These were the exact same words Ed said to me in our first meeting, three years earlier, when I asked him why he tried management briefly and got out of it after only one year. We each got a laugh out of that one. He may have made larger sales since this one … but this was his largest at that time.
Ed’s tax problem
It was about late 1994 or early 1995 – just before I left the Baton Rouge Office – that Ed came to me with a tax problem. The problem was he was making so much money he was paying more and more into taxes and wanted to know if there was anything he could do.
I knew Ed had a Keogh Self Retirement Plan for his Sole Proprietorship. Back then we were all “Independent Contractors” so we operated our financial planning practices as sole proprietorships. Ed always contributed the maximum of $7,500 (back then) to his retirement plan and wondered if there was anything else, he could do.
I counseled Ed on the benefits of a “Defined Benefit Pension Plan” for his business. This retirement plan would allow Ed to Define the benefit he wanted in retirement – then the IRS would allow him to put away as much as needed (even if it was more than he made currently) to fund that benefit. I immediately saw the pupils in his eyes turn in to dollar signs.
“How do I get started,” he asked.
“First,” I stated, “Since we no longer offer that plan at this company (many companies were shutting them down since many were starting to use the Profit-Sharing arrangement and the 401-K plans) you will have to find a good pension attorney and actuary to draft the plan for you. Once you draft the plan and make the first contribution … you are committed to the contribution each and every year for you and your employees until you retire and dissolve the business or the plan, whichever comes first.”
Then I gave him this example:
- Let’s say you want $100,000 per year when you retire and
- It is estimated that you will live 20 years in retirement based on mortality tables.
- It is estimated a good risk-free investment return is 3% after retirement and
- You plan to retire say in five years.
- The amount needed at retirement to fund your defined benefit is $1,487,747.
- To reach this amount in five years would require that you set aside $269,245 in a Defined Benefit Pension plan earning 5% per year.
- 100% of your contribution would be required annually and tax deductible annually.
- Your tax savings at a 40% federal tax rate would be $107,698 per year.
After seeing these numbers Ed began to look for a good Pension Lawyer who would lead him to a good actuary.
Whether Ed actually set up this plan and maintained it I cannot say. Shortly after having this conversation I know that he met with a lawyer but I was transferred from the Baton Rouge Division to Jackson, Mississippi to work as a District Manager for Veteran Advisor Development, and would later become the Field Vice President of the Jackson Office.
We did talk from time to time on the phone and once Ed even came to Jackson, MS to play a round of golf with me. I never played in Baton Rouge and only took up the game to get closer to some advisors in Mississippi after getting here. I actually spoke to Candace, his daughter, who joined his practice after I moved to Mississippi on the phone and in person at various conferences – more than I spoke to Ed. Ed, was semi-retired and no longer attended these conferences.
It was only yesterday that I learned my friend, a guy who I had utmost respect for and who I think had respect for me, has been called to his heavenly home. I know when he was led through those Pearly Gates his Heavenly Father said, “Well done my loyal and faithful servant” after reading his name in the Book of Life.
I will miss my friend and my only regret is that I did not call him more often to let him know how much he was loved and admired by me and my family. Someday, though, I will see him again and let him know how I feel.
For now, I leave you with this …
His Memory is Immortal
He was a man of integrity
not of despair.
When he entered a room
he freshened the air.
He walked tall,
and held his head high.
He was a man who laughed often,
but a man who wasn’t afraid to cry.
He thought of others
before he thought of self.
He would carry and read the Bible
that never saw a dusty shelf.
He did what was right
and stayed away from the world’s wrongs.
“How Great thou Art”
was one of his favorite songs.
He’s been called away
and left us here alone.
He’s kneeling before God,
sitting on the heavenly throne.
I know we will all miss him
but we should not be sad.
He was a great husband
and even a greater dad.
One of my greatest regrets
I’m sure is just like you;
I wished I’d known him better
for men of his caliber are few.
There are many out there
who will talk the talk,
but only a few like Mr. Ed
who will always walk the walk.
If there is one more thing
I could share with those he knew;
It is that Mr. Ed is really here
he’s right there next to you.
His memory will be immortal
to those he did love.
He’ll be watching over you
from heaven up above.