As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing David Bahnsen.
David L. Bahnsen is the founder, Managing Partner, and Chief Investment Officer of The Bahnsen Group, a national private wealth management firm with offices in Newport Beach, New York City, Nashville, and Minneapolis managing over $3.2 billion in client assets.
David is consistently named as one of the top financial advisors in America by Barron’s, Forbes, and the Financial Times.
He brought The Bahnsen Group independent in 2015 after eight years as a Managing Director at Morgan Stanley and seven years at UBS Financial Services. He is a frequent guest on CNBC, Bloomberg, and Fox Business, and is a regular contributor to National Review.
David serves on the Board of Directors for National Review and King’s College. He is a founding Trustee at Pacifica Christian High School of Orange County. He is a frequent lecturer on the cause of free enterprise and considers the free and virtuous society his life’s aim.
He is the author of several best-selling books including Crisis of Responsibility: Our Cultural Addiction to Blame and How You Can Cure It (2018), and The Case for Dividend Growth: Investing in a Post-Crisis World (2019). His latest, There’s No Free Lunch: 250 Economic Truths, was published in November 2021.
David’s true passions include anything related to USC football, the financial markets, politics, and reading. His ultimate passions are his wife of 20+ years, Joleen, their children, Mitchell, Sadie, and Graham, and the life they’ve created together on both coasts.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I entered the financial advice industry at Paine Webber over twenty years ago. After building a $100 million “solo practice” in five years, I got recruited away to Morgan Stanley, where I grew my business a great deal through and after the financial crisis. In late 2014, having turned forty years of age, I decided the 20–30 years I had in front of me doing this would be better served as a business owner than a Managing Director of a Wall Street firm, so I took my eight employees and 200 clients and left and started my own firm. We have grown 500% since doing that and now have 37 employees, four offices, and $3.2 billion under management.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I once chartered a luxury yacht around Newport Harbor for many thousands of dollars I did not have to talk to prospects about 529 college savings accounts. One person showed up. What I learned was that this business is about tenacity, and rather than cry over a big pitch that missed. I needed to dust off and go right back to the next effort. I never looked back.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Nick Murray’s books have helped me since day one — The New Financial Advisor is a masterpiece in my profession. But economically and financially I have way too many to list!
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
It is the same today — to be the highest quality provider of wealth services to all in my circle of influence. That circle has expanded and that quality has expanded, but the task is never fully satisfied. Being a solutions provider does not have an expiration date.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Tenacity is our number one principle, but it fits within a whole worldview of principles. The reason tenacity reaches number one status is because it must carry all the others. I believe most businesses rise or fall on the perseverance of those driving it. Businesses inevitably run into distress, unexpected turbulence, trouble, and all the rest. Innovation and creativity come out of a tenacious spirit that first and foremost refuses to fail. Execution is the by-product of tenacity. I believe that is not just a principle but a mentality.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Early on we left our New York City location to go back to our California location, believing it would be two weeks. I had just opened a brand new New York office and hired a brand new high level executive assistant. The disarray in NYC was upsetting for our family and work plans, but much more upsetting for what happened early on to the city. I had kids doing remote school in California for an eastern time zone school, getting up before 5:00am. The entire experience was very stressful, of course, but within two weeks I knew there were people whose lives were devastated, and mine was not one of them. I have been guided by gratitude and empathy ever since.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We re-opened our California office in May of 2020 and made return to work required. We do not believe the collaboration of our process works in an optimal way, just a merely functional way, remotely. Our New York office also re-opened much earlier than most. Forcing a return to work was the smartest thing we could have done for our clients.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
For clients I made a series of short videos discussing optimism, a realistic outlook on life, the long view, and did everything I could to portray wise perspective and positivity throughout. Anxiety my loved ones were experiencing was largely addressed in the same way — through a heartfelt demonstration of optimism, energy, and proper attitude.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I simply believe there were a lot of people who used COVID to practice bad habits, and some who used it to practice good habits. The good habits post-COVID will last, but so will the bad ones. The opportunity post-COVID lies in demonstrating differentiation from your competitors in work ethic, communication, diligence, and of course, tenacity.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
One of the themes I write about extensively in my new book, There’s No Free Lunch: 250 Economic Truths, is how economics is really nothing more than the study of human actions. Humans have, for millennia, possessed a rationality, dignity, and character with certain differentiating characteristics. Embedded in the nature of mankind is the need to work, the need to be creative, productive, and innovative. COVID served as an interruption to that for many, but I do not believe it alters human nature. My prayer is for those tempted to leave the labor force entirely that they would re-think their decision, not merely for the sake of productivity in the economy, but for their sake, existentially. Humans act, and work is the tool that creates human flourishing and purpose.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
As I hear talk of some considering permanent “work from home” or “optional return to office,” I have opened two new brick and mortar offices (one in Minneapolis, one in downtown Nashville). I have plans to pursue more opportunity. Zoom is not going to replace a client relationship, ever.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
If one is not a competitor of mine I would encourage them to go back to work, but in all seriousness, I encourage everyone to watch less cable news, to read more good books (hardback), to go to church more, and to rally the human things. Life is too short.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I was a huge fan of the movie, The Untouchables, when I was younger. Sean Connery’s, “What are you prepared to do?” line has never left me. I believe our success in various endeavors comes down to our commitment level around them.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I write each and every week at www.dividendcafe.com. I am on each social media channel posting original content almost every day. And all of the information and content around my new book can be found at www.nofreeluncheconomics.com