The Pursuit of Wealth

A look at three interesting people who make a living by understanding how money works

Stories by Cary Estes and Lee Hurley and photos by Brit Huckabay and Jenny Adams

“It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.”  Warren Buffett

“I have never bought a lottery ticket…and my chance of winning hasn’t changed much.”
-Zach Ivey

Zach Ivey is a partner and 15-year veteran of Bridgeworth LLC, a financial planning firm started by six certified financial planners who had practiced together since 1988. Zach’s role is the Chief Investment Strategist. Bridgeworth LLC was listed by Financial Times as one of the Top 300 Registered Investment Advisers in the country in both 2017 and 2018.

What is an investment strategist?
Someone who sets the direction of a firm’s investment philosophy and process.

When did you find out what you wanted to do for a living? 
In graduate school I became very interested in personal finance (for my own benefit) and made a decision to pursue the financial advisory field because I felt like everyone could benefit from assistance in managing their finances.  I liked the mix of finance/math and building personal relationships.

Is making money hard? 
Making money isn’t nearly as hard as keeping it.  I think most people, with few exceptions, are natural spenders.  I have seen some elaborate justifications in my days (some of my own!)

What do you tell people about saving money?
 Saving is not an act, it’s a habit or mindset.  Developing that habit early in life is one of the best things you can do.  Try to instill it in your kids and even as a young adult when you don’t have much money.  The idea that you will save when you have more isn’t necessarily true, because it’s a habit, not an act.

What are your hobbies?
I love doing most anything outdoors:  riding dirt-bikes, shooting sporting clays, being on the lake, and most recently have started rock climbing.  There is something about being outside that is revitalizing to my soul.

How did you decide to make a living around helping others invest money?
In my undergraduate studies, I was struck by the fact that most people are never taught basic financial concepts, but rather had to learn on their own through the school of hard knocks.  I saw this as a great business opportunity and something I could really enjoy doing. 

What is a bit of advice you would offer someone about creating wealth? Most people think it takes a big business venture or fancy investment to create wealth…which sometimes is the case.  However, the boring discipline of saving/investing over a long time frame really works.  So many of our successful clients are normal people who practiced some level of frugality and invested it throughout their life and have become wealthy.

How do you view the economy in the next year? 
The crystal ball is always foggy and some current economic readings are a bit mixed, but overall, we feel if trade issues get resolved soon that the U.S. economy should keep growing; and that bodes well for the global economy.

Do people have unreasonable expectations about how fast they grow their money? 
I agree with the saying “people overestimate what they can do in the short-run and underestimate what they can do in the long-run.” Compound interest is so much more powerful than people understand, because it doesn’t feel impressive early on.

What are you proudest of? 
Professionally, I am most proud of the firm we have built, Bridgeworth.   It takes a lot of talented people working together to be able to serve clients well.  Having been a part of creating an entity that does that and will impact more people than I can individually and last beyond my career is special.   Personally, I don’t know that proud is the right word, but am I amazed at how God has blessed me with such a wonderful wife, family, and friends. 

What is the best professional advice you’ve been given? 
Never stop learning.  Make it a part of your DNA to be a lifelong learner.  Too many people don’t have the hunger to learn or lose it too quickly once they have had some level of success.   

What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger? 
I wish I had really known early on in my career that I was going to make it.  There was a tremendous failure rate for people in financial services when I started and I scratched and clawed to not be included in that statistic.  The fear of failure can really motivate you, but it also can really rob your joy along the way.  I know I missed out on some joy and opportunities to “enjoy the ride” in my early years in my work and family life.  Some foreknowledge would have been great.

What is a good piece of personal advice you would offer?Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”  I think the reason we all have different talents and passions is we are meant to seek the counsel and help of others in life.  Seek mentors, advisors, and friends who can sharpen and help you in all areas of your life. 

 Jon Mulkin

For generations, the bright lights of New York have lured the adventurous among us to leave the comforts of their hometown and relocate to the Big Apple. They are enticed by the multitude of possibilities available in the bustling metropolis, and the whole “If you can make it there” challenge.

Jon Mulkin is one of those who was intrigued by life in the big city. However, unlike many who have gone before him, Mulkin was no wide-eyed youngster audaciously striking out for fame and fortune and excitement. Instead, he was in his 50s with three grown children, a well-established career in the financial industry, and plenty of close friends in Mountain Brook and Birmingham.

Yet at a time in life when most people are looking to settle down, Mulkin decided to stir things up. So in 2014 he accepted a job in New York with Morgan Stanley. He and his wife Joanie sold their Mountain Brook home, both their cars and their lake house, and moved to the upper West Side of Manhattan.

“I was ready for an adventure, and Joanie was up for the challenge,” Mulkin explains. “I decided if I was ever going to make the move, now was the time. It felt right.”

Of course, Mulkin never has been one to sit around quietly. This is a man who climbed on top of a table at a restaurant in front of strangers and imitated a cat coughing up a fur ball. A man who spends Fat Tuesday riding on a float in New Orleans as a member of the Krewe of Rex.

Still, those are all short-term moments. Moving from Birmingham to New York City is a commitment to an entirely new way of living. It is the type of dramatic change usually reserved for the young and fearless.

“It’s a pretty gutsy decision to move to New York at that time in your life, but that’s the type of person he is,” says John Marbury, one of Mulkin’s longtime Birmingham friends. “He has a big personality. He’s fun to be around, but when it’s time to focus in on a task at hand, he’s very good at getting it done.”

Even though the Birmingham area has been Mulkin’s base for most of his life, he never has been hesitant about venturing out. He played tennis as a student at Baylor prep school in Chattanooga, and went to college at Tulane in New Orleans, where he met his wife. But for his career in the mortgage business Mulkin remained primarily in Birmingham, working over the years for AmSouth, Molton, Allen & Williams and BBVA Compass.

Mulkin was approached at one point by Morgan Stanley executives about relocating to New York to head up their residential mortgage loans operation. He turned them down while his children were still in high school. But when the opportunity arose once again, Mulkin decided it was time to leave their newly empty nest.

“I had always wanted to live in New York,” Mulkin says. “I have an older brother who has lived here for several decades as well as a niece, so I’ve traveled here throughout my life. I’ve always liked the energy of New York.”

Mulkin was also eager for the challenge of working in the financial capital of the United States and arguably the world. If you’re an actor, you eventually go to Hollywood. If you play country music, all roads lead to Nashville. And if you work in finance, then New York is the place to be.

“New York is known to have the best of the best in the financial field, and that was an appealing aspect of the opportunity,” Mulkin says. “You have a lot of really sharp people here. It’s fast-paced and hard-charging and very dynamic.

“I wanted to see if I could make it in that environment. I wanted to challenge myself and I definitely am here. I’m surrounded by really smart people, which makes it high-energy every day and fun to come to work.”

Mulkin also was attracted by his role as Managing Director at Morgan Stanley and head of home loans. The company was looking to form an in-house home loans platform within its banking operation, and Mulkin was put in charge of creating that platform. So he spent three years developing the organization, establishing teams in both New York and Dallas.

“We had to implement new technology and vendors, invest in people to manage the business, and build out all the different processes,” Mulkin says. “We’re now responsible for facilitating residential mortgage loans in all 50 states.”

Outside of work, Mulkin often takes a literal bite out of the Big Apple, roaming the various neighborhoods in search of the global dishes that can be found in numerous restaurants throughout the city.

“That’s a real fun part of being in New York,” Mulkin says. “I’m a pretty big foodie, and I love to explore the different neighborhoods and find restaurants that seem interesting. Every neighborhood has places with a little different feel and flavor to it. We go out and do that a lot.”

Mulkin says he quickly became accustomed to the rapid pulse of life in New York and actually embraces many of the city’s aspects that would frustrate your average Southerner.

“It was not as difficult of a transition as people might expect,” Mulkin says. “I’m pretty high energy. I operate at a pretty high pace. So I like that part of New York. And I love the fact that I no longer have a car. It took a little while to get accustomed to the subway lines and which ones you need to take. But once you figure that out, it’s actually a very easy city to get around.”

While Mulkin expects to remain in New York indefinitely, his eventual plan is to return to the South one day. His children Mathilde, Pearce, and Isabelle are below the Mason-Dixon line, both his parents are still in Bessemer and his brother and sister-in-law are still in Birmingham among other family and friends. He also misses an easy round of golf with his buddies. And even though the food offerings are diverse in New York, Mulkin says it is nearly impossible to find a good meat-and-three serving up fried chicken and Southern veggies.

“I miss fried okra and all the comfort foods of the South,” Mulkin says. “And it’s nice to be able to go back to Birmingham and slow down a bit, because it is very fast-paced here. It’s nice to be able to put your feet up and take a deep breath and relax.

“I love being in New York, but Birmingham and the South will always be home. I can’t imagine retiring anywhere other than the South to be back with my good friends and family. It’s just a special place for me.”

“Singles work great, doubles are even better. But you don’t have to swing for the fence every time.”     
-James Dixon

Consider James Dixon to be something of a wilderness guide. But instead of traversing deep rivers or thick forests, he leads people through the often intimidating landscape of finances and investments.

As the Executive Managing Director of the Southern Region at Stifel Financial Corporation, Dixon is charged with the daunting task of helping clients plot their way toward monetary growth, while avoiding potential obstacles and pitfalls along the way.

“I help my clients navigate their whole financial world and provide a pathway for them to meet their goals, whether it’s money for retirement or their children’s education,” Dixon says. “I provide solutions for problems my clients don’t yet know they have, and anticipate what they’re going to need to do to save and invest their money.”

A native of Eufaula, Dixon has lived in Mountain Brook since 1994, not long after graduating from the University of Alabama (where he also received an MBA in 2001). He began his career as a financial advisor with the securities brokerage firm Sterne Agee & Leach, which was acquired in 2015 by St. Louis-based Stifel Financial.

Dixon says he has long been interested in finance, and how money can be used to create generational wealth. He also enjoys taking others along on this journey, helping steer them through a world that can seem overwhelming to many people.

“I’ve always been fascinated with the markets. It’s continually changing, with new things to learn,” Dixon says. “And I enjoy the challenge of finding the best possible strategies to achieve a client’s needs and goals. You have to be a good listener, so you can determine what they actually need and what’s most suitable for them.

“It can be very complex, because you have to assess what your client’s needs are and what their risk tolerance is, and then choose investment strategies to help them achieve their goals. There is a different purpose for different things one might need, whether it’s retirement, income, travel, insurance, or estate needs. It’s all-encompassing.”

Over the years, Dixon says he has learned that the best piece of advice he can give clients is to view their investments as a long-term strategy, not as a quick big-money fix to any current financial situation they might have.

“You don’t have to try to hit a home run with your investing,” Dixon says. “Singles work great, doubles are even better. But you don’t have to swing for the fence every time.”

Away from work, Dixon spends as much time as possible with his 16-year-old twin boys, who just completed their sophomore year at Mountain Brook High School. He says they like going to Lake Martin, attending Alabama Crimson Tide football games, and simply enjoying the way of life that can be found in Mountain Brook.

“This is a great place to live and raise a family,” Dixon says. “You can have a very high-quality lifestyle here.”

Of course, it can be easier to find a high-quality lifestyle if one has a good guide to show them the way.

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