Dear Friends and Family,
A lot happened to Berkshire Money Management in 2021. A lot has happened to all of us. As a nation, we’ve begun to return to restaurants, gyms, and movie theaters. I’ve seen hugs chosen over fist bumps. The pandemic is not entirely behind us – it’s affecting psyches and small businesses. Collectively, we’re healing. The 7-day moving average of COVID-19 deaths is on the decline. However, as I write this, the 7-day moving average of COVID-19 deaths is still 1,115 deaths per day. It will be some time before completely healing. And we’ll see those scars for a while.
In the summer, BMM re-opened its doors (well, we opened our big ol’ porch overlooking the lawn and a waving American flag) to clients who, like the rest of us, became weary of constant video meetings. Now that it’s chillier, we purchased air filters to place inside the offices. Video chats, lemonade-and-rocking chair meetings, and investing in hardware were minor adaptations relative to much of the rest of the world, and we’re grateful for that.
The biggest news for the BMM family is that our office mom, Joanne Wandrei, decided that she would retire at the end of 2021. She tried to retire last year, and we begged her to stay on at least part-time, and she obliged. But she knows that it’s time to push her baby birds out of the nest to fend for ourselves. Including a previous firm, Joanne, Stacey Carver, and I have known each other since the late 1990s. I am going to miss her terribly. We all will.
Speaking of Stacey, she’s back! Stacey and I founded BMM together twenty years ago. (Yup, we made it to two decades in 2021. We celebrated it with a questionable mix of tequila and ax throwing). About a decade ago, Stacey went from running BMM to full-time hero – rescuing animals, feeding the hungry, standing up for the rights of the disenfranchised. So, when Stacey says she wants a seat at the table again, you make that happen. Referencing Game of Thrones, I exclaimed that it’s “The Return of the Queen!” Channeling her inner-Elton John, she insisted, “The b!*@h is back!” It’ll be fantastic to have her humor and big brain back in the office!
Stacey got the fire in her belly as she took on the project of opening our Great Barrington, MA office at 322 Main Street. It was a bigger project than we anticipated, so, fortunately, Jamie Smith was instrumental in getting this job done. And thankfully, we have Holly Simeone to run the GB office.
But wait! There’s more. While we can never replace Joanne, 2021 did welcome more people to the BMM family. We brought on Acelynn Fulton, Holly Simeone, Jared Reinstein, Nadia Dubowyj, and Chelsea Smith. In our marketing brochure, I cite that BMM’s vision is “to be the freakin’ best.” Well, maybe we’re not the best at being stuffy and speaking in industry jargon. But you can’t deny that we’re trying to capture the spirit of that vision!
We brought in more people because BMM is growing. As CEO, I always say that I don’t hire people when we need them; I hire people three years before. It’s my job as Chief Investment Officer to figure out where the economic world is going; I try to apply that to managing BMM. For example, a new service that I feel will be valuable to parents is BMM’s College Planning, headed by Lauren Russo. As far as I can tell, there’s nobody else in the area doing the type of work Lauren is doing, and not that many nationally. BMM College Planning has the potential to save parents, and their kids, tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of dollars. And then we’re helping people reduce their taxes, file for Medicare, maximize Social Security payments, and make sure people don’t run out of money in retirement. There will be a high demand for BMM’s services over the next few years, so we want to bring on talent today.
As BMM grows, we have also promoted from within. Natalie Wheeler is now our Chief Operating Officer, and Zack Marcotte is the Director of Financial Planning. Natalie told me that “COO” would look better on her resume. Yeah, she’s a wisenheimer. Zack was more gracious with the promotion, LOL!
We were fortunate enough to find these professionals amid a labor shortage which speaks volumes about our culture – people want to work at BMM. The national narrative isn’t solely the labor shortage but also inflation. In response to a massive Consumer Price Index (CPI; a measure of inflation) print of 5.4%, I gave everyone a 5.4% plus-up bonus in August 2021. I don’t want my people punished for things out of their control. One thing that was in their power, indirectly, was that BMM again won the Best of the Berkshires – Wealth Management award (BoB). So, I gave everyone $5,000 as a “thank you” for their work with clients. And, for fun, when Bitcoin plummeted nearly in half this summer, I gave everyone a grand to buy their preferred cryptocurrency. There has already been chatter about what type of yachts we’re all going to buy. (Maybe that’s a sign of a bubble?)
Regarding being voted BoB, I suspect it wasn’t only our clients who voted for us. We don’t have enough clients to collect more votes than national stockbrokers or local banks. We likely pulled it off because the community appreciates our giving, and they said so with their votes. Thank you to all of you who voted, and I’m glad you like what we do because we love giving back to our community. BMM donated $25,000 to the Thanksgiving Angels to feed local families during the holiday. We presented the same amount to help our local firefighters gather and celebrate two hard years at the Firefighter’s Combat Challenge. (The BMM team competed in the Challenge as a group and performed admirably. I raced one-on-one against my workout buddy, Lenny Light of Lenco Armored Vehicles, and I got smoked.)
BMM tried to host an annual fundraiser for the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention, but abutting neighbors persuaded the Town of Dalton to deny a permit. In response, BMM donated $20,002 to provide the BCSP with all the expected revenue without incurring any of the expenses. Suicide is a very serious issue and, I admit, I lost a little faith in humanity on that one. But we tried to continue doing good, donating about $12,000 to the Berkshire Community Diaper Project. We pledged $50,000 to the Berkshire Humane Society. We donated $10,000 to the Berkshire United Way’s #HereForGood volunteer month (events for kids, trail cleanup, meal deliveries, etc.). Right at the end of 2020, we went shopping and spent $7,500 to acquire more than 100 new coats and pairs of gloves and boots from local small businesses for the Elf arm Clothing Program for kids. The team at BMM went at it again and repeated those efforts just before Thanksgiving. And we gave $5,000 each to the New England Basset Hound Rescue as well as Construct, Inc.
On a personal note, I hope to do more for Construct, Inc., which helps with affordable housing, rental assistance, fuel and utility bills, and other housing-related costs. I was honored this year to be voted onto the board of the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire, which also helps with affordable housing as well as business assistance. Business advice is in my wheelhouse. I am learning more about helping people with housing needs. I am dedicated to developing my skill set to further those efforts.
I once said that BMM is a hospitality company that just so happens to manage money well. It’s not all about the money – not for our clients and not for us. Parents want their children to get the best possible education. Doctors want to know how to run their clinics. Thirty-somethings wish to balance their cryptocurrency holdings with something more reliable. Retirees want to pay less in health care costs. Business owners want to move more product and pay fewer taxes. Nurses want to navigate unfamiliar choices. Grandparents want a family meeting to secure their legacy. And BMM prioritizes people over profits.
Our workers, our clients, and our community come before our profit margin. Our actions match our words. I give a bunch of those profits to the people who work at BMM. And then we give it to the people who need it most. That is our 2021 story. I hope your story was a great one.
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