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The safe stuff
A heavyweight financial advisor on investing, charity, and the downturn.
A Silicon Valley-based wealth advisor for Merrill Lynch, Jim Hulburd ’82 has been named to Barron’s list of the top 100 U.S. financial advisors for four years running. His client list contains just 30 names; most are high-profile executives from the high-tech sector. Hulburd says he has succeeded on behalf of his who’s-who clientele by “focusing on the safe stuff, and leaving the go-go stocks to others.”
Hulburd studied mathematics at SCU and cites Professor Gerry Alexanderson as a key inspiration— for his command of the subject, his breadth of knowledge (“He could talk about mathematics or opera, you name it,” Hulburd says), and the element of care he brought to the classroom.
How did you wind up in your line of work?
One of my first introductions to the world of money management came when I was working as a bartender at Lord John’s, a pub that used to be across the street from campus. One patron worked in the industry and would always talk shop to me. He said it was the worst business in the world and I shouldn’t get involved. But I was intrigued.
How did you come to adopt your conservative investment philosophy?
When I started, people were more risk averse, with 80 percent of their portfolio in safe investments and 20 percent in speculative ones. Still, 90 percent of all advisors were calling potential clients talking about riskier stocks, hoping to be a hero. I thought it’d be smarter for me to be part of the 10 percent calling on 80 percent of the assets. Plus, I’d have sanity in my life.
What has the economy of the past 18 months taught you?
It’s been a validation that a portfolio needs a large amount of safe-capital preservation. There’s a price to pay for abiding by this philosophy, which is underperformance during good times. My clients are already wealthy, so managing risk is the first priority. But then there is extraordinary out-performance during bad times. When talking about investments with clients, I always discuss the worst thing that could happen first. If they can live with that, we discuss what could go right.
When the decline accelerated, it was too late to sidestep the disaster. The last bear market was from 2000 to 2002, and that took about 14 to 18 months to recover from. This one will probably take three to five years.
You oversee the charitable trusts of several clients. Has there been a sharp decline in their giving?
I have extremely charitable clients, and I’m a big proponent of their philanthropic interests. Once money for their needs and wants is set aside, I ask, “What are you going to do for charity?” Overall, I’ve seen the amount donated hold fast or even increase a little. But the number of organizations receiving money has decreased.
Has your Santa Clara education influenced your being an advocate for giving?
Absolutely. My Jesuit education left me with the sense that you should always be giving back. I’m not from a family that could give a lot, so Santa Clara created that sensibility in me. The school also taught me to set a good example, and I try to do that with my own giving.
Would you be interested in having a client who is not interested in charity?
If a client has no charitable intent, I still work with him or her. But I drop hints from time to time. Ten years ago, people were picking on Bill Gates for not donating significant sums to charity, and he said, “Giving money away is a full-time job. In case you haven’t noticed, I have a full-time job.” Now he’s changing the world with his giving.
I had a client whose company was going public. I asked him what he was going to do for charity. He said, “Screw charity. It’s all mine!” Two or three years later, I saw a significant flow of seven-figure donations start from this man, and they were all anonymous. I have yet to meet a person who didn’t have charity in them. Sometimes it’s just a matter of time and focus, and a little prodding.
Why isn’t your methodology more commonly followed?
Greed. My whole career has been about not trying to be the hero. I just don’t want to be the goat.Interview by Scott Brown '93
What we did this summer
8,030 miles across 15 countries and two continents in 37 days . . . and four Broncos in one pint-size Suzuki.
Brian Witter ’06 wanted an unconventional vacation. At 2 a.m. one Friday in August, playing Pictionary in the office of a Russian lawyer a few miles from the border with Kazakhstan, he was sure he’d found it. At the time, he and buddies Eric Bingham ’06, Javier Gutierrez ’06, and Jason Cohn ’06 were driving from London to Ulaanbaatar as participants in the Mongol Rally. And they were trying to shake a gang of toughlooking guys who had shown a suspicious interest in all the stuff they were carrying in their (uninsured) little red Suzuki wagon.
The four Santa Clara grads set out on their epic road trip on July 18. The finish line for the rally is in the capital of Mongolia, but there’s no single route; the trek can take four to six weeks and traverse 8,000 to 10,000 miles. There’s also no winner. The journey is the goal, with adventure guaranteed. Eligible cars are meant to be unfit; engines have to be smaller than 1.2 liters. Though they make exceptions for especially wacky vehicles—e.g., a tricked out ice cream truck or a fire truck covered in fur. As for accommodation and repairs—you’re on your own. The League of Adventurists International Ltd., which organizes the rally to raise funds for charity, provides a clear disclaimer: “The Mongol Rally is very dangerous and taking part massively increases your chances of dying compared with staying at home.”
Witter and buddies called their team Quarter Life Crisis. They drove to raise money for a foundation to help children in Ulaanbaatar. When they folded themselves into the Suzuki, Witter was newly unemployed, Bingham and Gutierrez had both quit jobs in sales, and Cohn was working for a film company in Hollywood. He filmed the adventure, with plans of making a documentary. Then the cameras were stolen in Budapest. But the team pressed on; they managed to lose the gang at the Russian-Kazakh border, and after weeks of bone-jarring travel, they reached Ulaanbaatar.
They have no plans to hit the rally circuit again soon.
So was it worth it? “You could die,” Witter concedes. “But it makes you feel alive, the most alive you’ve ever been.”MG
For some SCU alumni, the Bronco family includes a few generations of their own family members as well. Here are a few of the Bronco Three Generation families who were on campus earlier this year see their ’09 grads.