The Smartest Guy in the Room (Financial Services Company of the Year)

In 1988, Bernard Beal put forward a rather outlandish proposal to his wife, Valerie Lancaster-Beal. “Hey, look,” Beal recalls saying. “I’m thinking that maybe we take this money and go buy a farm.” Beal knew his wife was willing to say goodbye to Wall Street. The couple had achieved great success early in their careers–he as a senior vice president at brokerage house E.F. Hutton, and she as an investment banker with Drexel Burnham. They worked long, hard hours; lived on their salaries; and put their lavish bonuses in the bank. By the time they were in their early 30s, they had socked away enough money to escape to a more leisurely life. That year, as recession and crisis swept the world of finance, the couple was forced to do some soul-searching: stay in New York or leave?

Beal was serious about the farm, and Lancaster-Beal actually liked the idea. It wasn’t long before the two were touring with a real estate agent through the hilly countryside of northern Virginia’s horse country looking at equestrian farms. The couple saw several estates they liked, but when they returned to New York, Beal presented his wife with another option: a business plan he had written some eight years earlier while studying for his M.B.A. at Stanford University.

Reading the outline for the first time, Lancaster-Beal discovered that her husband had always dreamed of using his talents to start his own firm. The business plan was his wish list, a blueprint that outlined a small investment banking operation that specialized as an underwriter of municipal and corporate bonds as well as serving as an investment advisory firm. In the business plan Beal had hidden in a drawer for close to a decade, the couple found an answer to their dilemma. “We will get to that

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