For this month’s “Meet the Team” blog, we spoke with founder and Senior Advisor at Fullen Financial Group, Milt Fullen.
To start, where are you from and where do you live now?
I was born in Columbus, Ohio, and after some time on the east coast, currently live in Columbus, (specifically, Clintonville).
What did you do after graduating from college? How did you start your career?
I started as a general accountant for a small employee benefits consulting firm (R.E. Harrington) and after about a year I was hired by a much larger employee benefits consulting firm (Mercer Human Resources) where I spent about 20 years. I have spent my entire career in the financial field, specifically retirement and investments.
You had an established and long career in the corporate finance world before starting your own business giving financial advice to individuals and small businesses. What made you want to make this switch? Did you have concerns about leaving the corporate structure that you were used to and venturing out on your own? Presumably this was daunting and meant taking some big risks including losing some sense of security.
For a person growing up in the Midwest, and then graduating from a small liberal arts college in Westerville, Ohio, I consider myself as having had a storybook corporate career. I had the opportunity to work internationally for much of my career with firms that were aggressively growing their business through acquisitions (for many of those acquisitions I was the senior finance person doing the acquisition reviews). While I was employed by Mercer, it became the largest actuarial and employee benefits consulting firm in the world. I think my efforts helped that happen. It was incredibly exciting - and exhausting. I finished by corporate career with a short stint as CFO of Nationwide Insurance’s international division. After that, I was ready for a change.
Significantly, my corporate experience provided me with a clear vision of how Fullen Financial would operate, e.g., fiduciary, fee only, and independent of any investment and retirement product providers. Some people find this ironic because I spent portions of my career actually developing such products for my employers. That gave me an inside view of how selling commission products worked, and it became clear this was not what I wanted to do. I also had very good knowledge of how those products were developed and I could replicate much of that functionality without the commissions.
Certainly, I was concerned about going off on my own. I think anyone who is not, doesn’t appreciate what they are about to put themselves through. I also discovered that I had many former colleagues who believed in me. Without them, Fullen Financial would likely not have gotten off the ground. It also confirmed beyond the shadow of a doubt how important it is to act with integrity in whatever you do. I was overwhelmed, and am to this day, by the people who trusted me and knew that I would always do the right thing, even when no one was looking.
If you could go back to 2004 and speak to your younger self before starting this firm, is there any advice or information you would give to yourself, knowing what you know now? This would not be new information, but it is the reinforcement of a principle that I have followed all my life that was verified as the business grew. Always do the right thing. Even if sometimes it is more work or loses money. A good reputation is not built by only doing the efficient or profitable things. This is a people business, we are not manufacturing widgets here. Sometimes the right thing to do is not compensated nor is it even immediately appreciated.
Do you have any success stories or “a-ha” moments that have stood out when working on a certain project or with a particular client? Being a fiduciary is sometimes very hard. Clients have many beliefs and feelings regarding how they handle and invest their money that I know, if acted upon (or continue to be acted upon), would be detrimental to their financial well-being. This is what separates real advisers from salespeople. In such a situation, a sale’s person will parrot what the client wants to hear, often with the “perfect” product. The real adviser has to explain why it might be a bad idea, not in the client’s best interests, and advise something that makes the client uncomfortable.
Is there anything in particular that you do to stay focused and motivated while working remotely? What do you like to do to “unwind” after a long day at work? I never looked at working remotely as particularly negative. I also have a view of life that you do whatever it takes to get the job done right. Remote work was just another one of life’s adjustments that we had to make. From an information, monitoring and implementation perspective, we can do everything remotely that we do in person; albeit, not always the same way.
However, it is also important to meet people in person because I do believe much non-verbal communication takes place and that is important. After all, we are human beings and humans have a need to interact directly with each other. I also worry about our younger colleagues in that they might not get some of the interaction that builds team spirit and enhances learning. I do feel fortunate that we work in a field that allows us to work remotely. From a communication perspective, we are able to keep our client’s plans and investment strategies the same as when we were seeing them regularly face-to-face. Many sectors of the economy were not able to do that and suffered a great deal as a result.
As for relaxing, I enjoy woodworking and the garage at our office is actually my workshop. Probably one of the more unusual things that I enjoy is solving algebra and calculus problems. With the internet there is no shortage of practice problems. Before anyone thinks that is crazy, I will point out that it is very much like crossword puzzles or sudokus. And the better you get there is no shortage of more difficult problems. I would love to spend more time with my daughters and their spouses but Lyndsey is in Nashville and Shelby is in DC pursuing their own careers so that is tricky.
You have a dog, who sometimes visits the FFG office. What compelled you to get a dog? Her name is Tilly and my wife, Paula, has wanted a dog for years. I had never had a dog and was lukewarm about getting one, but when Paula retired from her corporate career, I agreed to the addition. Since we adopted her (she is a rescue) I must admit, she has become a member of the family. We really enjoy having her.
If you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be? Astronomy.
What are you most looking forward to in 2022? Returning to some sense of normalcy; unfortunately, I’m not sure there is such a thing. This might be it.