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CFA, CFP, Team USA: Investing Tips From Olympians

Some financial advisers tout their stock-picking success. Others point to the many designations – certified financial planner, chartered financial analyst, certified retirement financial adviser – they have attached to their name.

Investment adviser Taraje Williams-Murray, who competed in judo at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

But a select few can boast of an altogether different credential – one that has seemingly little to do with investing, but that’s sure to catch many an investor’s attention: former Olympian.

Sure enough, the occasional Olympic hero finds his or her way from the games to the financial firm down the street. The advisory ranks include such greats as aquatic legend Mark Spitz and speed skater (and two-time medalist) Eric Flaim. But several lesser-known Olympians have also gone on to brokerage houses, insurance agencies and the like. And they say the experience of competing at the highest international level not only defined who they are, but also how they approach managing other people’s money.

We caught up with three such athletes-turned-advisers to hear about their moments of Olympic glory, and to learn a little about their investing philosophy as well.

Paul Kingsman
Associate, Taddei, Ludwig & Associates, San Rafael, Calif.

Paul Kingsman after a backstroke race at the Olympics in the ’80s.

His sport: Swimming (backstroke)

His Olympic career: A New Zealand native, Kingsman competed for his country at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and 1988 Seoul Olympics, winning a bronze at the latter games in the 200-meter race.

His big Olympic moment: The medal win, of course. “After all you’ve done to compete against the fastest swimmers in the world, you realize it’s worth it. I still remember being on the medal stand, watching the flag go up and thinking, ‘That’s for me!’”

His financial career: Though he studied political science at UC Berkeley (he came to the school on a swimming scholarship), Kingsman opted for the world of business. He managed Speedo New Zealand, but decided to return to America in 2001, when he began his investment career at Morgan Stanley. He now works for Taddei, Ludwig, an independent firm focused on comprehensive planning that manages $130 million. He also coaches financial advisers on how to build their practices.

How the Olympics and investing intersect: For Kingsman, it’s all about focus. Just as great swimmers need to concentrate on their stroke and pace and never lose sight of the finish line, great investors need to concentrate on their portfolio and plan and never lost sight of their goals. “I trained for 13 years for a two-minute event and won my medal by 4/100ths of a second,” says Kingsman. “The guy who came in fourth looked at me in the last few seconds” and lost because of that momentary glance.

Taraje Williams-Murray
Adviser, MorganStanley SmithBarney, Paramus, N.J.

Taraje Williams-Murray competing at the Olympics in judo.

His sport: Judo

His Olympic career: New York native Williams-Murray came to his sport at an early age and was competing on the national and international level by his teens. He participated in two Olympiads – 2004 in Athens and 2008 in Beijing – but failed to win a medal.

His big Olympic moment: Although he didn’t make it to the awards stand, Williams-Murray was thrilled to have beaten a Japanese medal favorite in 2008. “It was my first match” of the games, he recalls. “Everyone expected me to lose and I pulled out a win”

His financial career: Even before he ended his Olympic career, Williams-Murray was inspired to learn about investing and started taking post-graduate courses at Boston University on the subject (he earned his college degree in computer science at Long Island University). “My father and mother didn’t have the financial education that others had. I didn’t want to allow that to continue for my family,” he says. He’s been with Morgan Stanley since 2010.

How the Olympics and investing intersect: For Williams-Murray, the common thread is not letting your emotions get the best of you. Unfortunately, he did just that in his second match of the 2008 games and learned a valuable lesson as a result. He had a solid victory in sight, so he decided to finish off his opponent in a more expedited fashion – a bad move, it turned out, since the opponent was able to offset Williams-Murray’s sudden aggressiveness with a few moves of his own and defeat the New York judo ace.  “It’s like greed,” says Williams-Murray. “I saw an opportunity rather than sticking to a plan.”

Ted Murphy
Wealth Manager, Merrill Lynch, Mill Valley, Calif.

Ted Murphy(left) after winning a silver medal in 2000.

His sport: Rowing

His Olympic career: After a storied rowing career in college (Dartmouth), Murphy sets his sights on the Olympics. Although he came up short at the 1996 games in Atlanta, he took home silver in a pairs event at the 2000 games in Australia.

His big Olympic moment: Grabbing the silver, especially given the injuries that Murphy and his rowing partner, Sebastian Bea, sustained in the months and weeks leading up to the games. (Murphy alone broke a rib earlier in the year.) Murphy describes the victory scene as one of “pure joy and elation.” He also remembers what he told his partner after the race: “Put that on your resume!”

His financial career: There was little doubt in Murphy’s mind that he wanted to be in money management, sooner or later. “I was the guy who opened an IRA as soon as I had my first job,” he says. A Certified Financial Planner, Murphy now works with about 50 clients at Merrill, managing $60 million.

How the Olympics and investing intersect: Murphy says both are about honing a “growth mindset every single day.” But he doesn’t mean growing your assets. He means growing your knowledge base (which, in turn, helps an investor grow a portfolio). At the Olympics, the growth often came from learning on the fly – for example, when Murphy broke a rib, he had to figure out how to adjust his stroke so that he wasn’t in pain but was still moving the boat along at the requisite pace. Similarly, Murphy says, an investor has to be prepared to learn from a sudden shift in the market. “Hey, 2008 happened,” Murphy concludes.

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