Calculated risk taker

Andy

Barron’s ranks marketing grad as one of nation’s top financial advisers

Andrew Burish is one of the nation’s top financial advisers and one of the most tenacious. He has made his fortune on the premise that with risk comes reward. This man happens to know a little bit about personal risk taking.

In 2008 Burish shot a black bear that was charging him. The animal had been within 50 yards of him all day. Burish held back before he finally called the bear’s bluff. The two were about two feet apart when he pulled the trigger.

Burish also had belonged to a boxing club for sport and fitness, and he raced on the UW-Eau Claire downhill ski team. But the biggest risk he probably ever took in life was going to college. And it has been richly rewarding.

“I didn’t have the background or familiarity with college, so I was not prepared,” said Burish, a 1981 marketing graduate of UW-Eau Claire. “I was the first person in my family to attend college.”

In fact, Burish’s father never even graduated from high school. His parents came from large families with small incomes. College had never entered his mind. As a high school senior he was headed to a job in construction or an area factory. The turning point was purely happenstance.

“I saw kids filling out college applications in the high school commons and wondered what they were doing,” Burish said.

His business teacher told him he would do well in college and encouraged him to apply. He was accepted but had some catching up to do. In order to graduate in four years he had to attend classes all year long.

In addition to his studies, Burish worked up to 25 hours a week at The Boston, a men’s clothing store in Eau Claire, to pay his way through college. He repeatedly won sales competitions, besting full-time employees. He attributed this to a great work ethic. It would become a lifelong routine to compete against others in his field but a lifetime passion to challenge only himself.

“I didn’t party, go on spring break or attend any games because I was too busy working and studying,” Burish said. “I probably should have, but I just didn’t have time.”

In the beginning, math was a challenging subject for him, but he was not deterred. To brush up on his skills, he audited his first math classes before taking them for credit and constantly sought the help of tutors.

As a freshman Burish began subscribing to The Wall Street Journal, and in his junior year he took a course in which he was required to read BusinessWeek magazine. From this he developed a keen interest in the capital markets, accounting and finance.

“I was always motivated by the desire to make money,” Burish admitted. “I grew up in a working-class neighborhood with modest family incomes, but I always wanted more for myself and my family. In order to get ahead I realized I had to get that college degree. I had a strong Catholic upbringing, so it was impressed upon me that how you made your money was as important as how much you made.”

Financial services was an obvious fit. During the 1981-82 recession, when the unemployment rate hovered above 12 percent, he went on to earn a master’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in finance and marketing from UW-Whitewater. In 1982 he accepted a job offer from UBS, a private wealth management company formerly known as Union Bank of Switzerland. He headed to Madison ready to take on the world.

“I came with nothing, so I figured why not give it everything I have?” Burish said. “I had nothing to lose.”

Within 12 years at UBS he had reached a pinnacle: the Chairman’s Council, which recognizes the top advisers in the firm. But Burish had much higher expectations of himself. He wanted to be a top adviser in the industry, a level of excellence commonly attainable only by advisers from much larger markets, and he intended to do this from Madison.

In 1990 his vision included a large investment in people, technology and promotion. In a business where people rarely put their own money on the line, Burish invested everything he owned — which involved mortgaging his house several times — to build and grow his team, The Burish Group.

“Early in my career a lot of my peers made negative comments in front of me and behind my back,” Burish recalled. “I was well aware that they thought I would fail.”

This was before computers, the Internet and cell phones were widely used. It turns out he was on the cutting edge. As technology took off, Burish had the right people in place. It may have looked like luck to those naysayers but only because he made it look easy.

“I told my wife my business was either going to take off like a rocket or blow up on the launch pad because I had that much fuel behind my vision,” Burish said.

Today, he controls approximately $1.5 billion in individual investors’ assets and brings in upwards of $10 million a year for UBS and his team. He has one of the biggest teams for individual investors in the country, with 25 full-time employees and clients all over the world. For four years in a row Burish ranked among the top 50 out of 250,000 financial advisers in the U.S., according to Barron’s, the oldest and most prestigious finance journal for investors worldwide. The publication once profiled Burish, stating that “his willingness to use new strategies has kept him ahead of the pack.”

When your name is on the door and you could lose everything you’ve worked for, you work a lot harder than the next guy.  — Andrew Burish

Burish also is perennially entrenched at the top for the state of Wisconsin, consistently ranking No. 1. His specialty is managing the wealth of individuals. Within UBS, one of the world’s largest wealth management firms, he was outranked in 2009 by only one other — an adviser from the New York market area.

While he has always been willing to take his own risks, Burish is not one to take chances with his clients. His investment strategies for others are conservative and profitable.

Burish is quick to point out that he didn’t make this juggernaut alone. There were other factors influencing his journey and premeditating his success. At The Boston, he was constantly in contact with businessmen, doctors and other professionals, helping them select fine apparel. He honed his social graces on the job and learned how to properly present himself: well-tailored and polished despite his blue-collar roots. Burish may have been young, but because of this he commanded respect from people twice his age when he entered the business world.

Although he didn’t realize it at the time, his father — a traveling garment salesman — was his first teacher. Burish would accompany him as a youth on his breaks from school. From this he learned to sell, but, more importantly, Burish said, he picked up the skill of “reading” people to better understand their needs.

Andy

Andrew Burish spends some rare downtime with his American bulldog, Spike.

“People will say, ‘Andy doesn’t have another life,’” Burish said. “I didn’t have a lot of hobbies when I was 20, and I don’t have a lot of them now. But that’s because I love what I do.”

Burish said he is not thinking about retiring any time soon. As successful as he is, he says he still has work to do, and he wants to spend some time giving back.

“It’s important to be charitable,” he said.

Burish and his wife, Anna, have given away more than a half-million dollars in recent years.

“My wife and I are just getting started on our philanthropy,” he said. “We believe in helping others.”

They give generously to the United Way and to Burish’s alma maters. He is on the Donor Base and Investment committees for UW-Eau Claire and serves in a similar capacity at UW-Whitewater, where he is chairman of the investment committee for its foundation.

“My wife and I concentrate on helping first-generation students like us,” Burish said. “We know the value of the education they might not otherwise attain.”

His advice to students is to be willing to take risks that other people won’t take, to challenge themselves and to invest in themselves, advice he also gives his own child. The Burishes have one daughter, Raquel, age 17, who is currently applying to colleges. She wants to be an actress.

Burish’s hope for her is that she is happy in the field she chooses. But he has advised her to always have a backup plan. She’ll be pursuing degrees in both theater and finance.

“I had other interests to pursue if I wasn’t successful doing this,” he said. “You don’t have to get rich, but you want to be able to make a living at what you like to do. I want her to do the best she can.”

Burish has indeed reaped the rewards available to those who take risks, but he always understood the risks he was taking, calling them “calculated risks,” and, just like in boxing, he got up each time he was knocked down.

“When your name is on the door and you could lose everything you’ve worked for, you work a lot harder than the next guy.”

Photos by Bill Hoepner

Peter EckerlineNo. 1 in Minnesota

Peter Eckerline has had a few doors slammed in his face. Shortly after receiving his master of business administration degree from UW-Eau Claire in 1983, he took a job selling peepholes door to door.

It may not have been a glamorous start for the future financier, but the job gave him the sales experience he needed. It also provided flexibility so he could help his mother and spend time with her before she succumbed to cancer. The time was short but well-spent.

Within six months, Eckerline became a certified financial manager for Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management in Wayzata, Minn. The same commitment and resilience he practiced as a salesman quickly earned him the respect and trust of his clients.

Today, he leads the Eckerline, Bencini and Boyd Group as managing director of investments. He’s been ranked the No. 1 financial adviser in Minnesota multiple times by Barron’s magazine, a prestigious weekly business publication for investors, and has been included in its ranking of the top 100 financial advisers in the country. He’s also been ranked the No. 1 wealth adviser since 2005 by the Twin Cities Business Journal.

“I have always enjoyed helping people achieve their goals,” Eckerline said. “As a financial adviser, I get to know my clients on a very personal level, and my strong, trusting client relationships are what I am most proud of. Many of my clients truly are good friends of mine, and I’m lucky to have such a great group of people in my life.”

Eckerline received his undergraduate degree in business administration from UW-Eau Claire in 1982 and was a member of the track and field team, competing in race walking.

“I made a lot of great friends during my time in Eau Claire and am still in touch with many of them today,” Eckerline said, noting that he has particularly fond memories of his coaches, Bill Meiser and Keith Daniels, and the chancellor at the time, Leonard Haas.

In 2004 Eckerline was honored with the UW-Eau Claire Alumni Association’s President’s Award, which recognizes outstanding professional and personal achievements and service to UW-Eau Claire.

Eckerline is involved in many business and community organizations, including Opportunity Partners, an organization that provides education services, employment and housing to people with disabilities and other special needs. He serves on the steering committee for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and is president of the Wayzata Country Club.

He and his wife, Martha, are particularly devoted to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in Minneapolis. They recently received the group’s Imagine Award for their ongoing generosity and will be recognized at the JDRF’s annual fundraising event, the Imagination Ball, on Oct. 2. They have been ardent supporters since their niece’s Type 1 diabetes diagnosis. Eckerline reports that she is doing well but that his family looks forward to the day she is no longer dependent on insulin.

The Eckerlines live in Wayzata with their three children, McKenna, Taylor and Daniel. Eckerline would love to hear from old UW-Eau Claire friends and can be reached at p_eckerline@ml.com.