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KEN DOW, CFP®, CIMA, Managing Partner, The Dow Group - Raymond James USA, Chicago, Illinois


"A solid structure is the key to longevity"

Ken Dow, CFP®, CIMA, The Dow Group - Raymond James USA is a unique figure in his industry. Yes, like many he’s highly educated, with a master’s degree in finance, and both the CFP® and CIMA designations, which means he’s a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER ™ professional and is accredited for institutional money management, but he’s unique because of where he started: Ken is an engineer by training.

He sees and understands the importance of structure, and knows that without a solid foundation, almost everything will fail. Ken’s engineering background has been surprisingly applicable to his career in finance. Both industries require extensive planning, a rigorous process that ensures risks are minimized, and the development of integrated systems so things get done how and when they should.

It wasn’t an easy transition, but Ken was heavily invested in making the change – and he worked hard to ensure it was successful.

Building a career from the ground up

Ken worked hard, but despite his engineering career taking off, he felt like he needed something more. It didn’t feel like a fit for life. He chose to apply to the Kellogg School of Management, one of the most prestigious marketing schools in the world.

“As an engineer, we’re very goal oriented. We have strong left-brain development, but I wanted to develop the right side of my brain and expand my ability to think and act creatively,” Ken said. “While I was getting my marketing degree at Kellogg, I had a strong interest in my finance classes and started reading more about investing. The finance classes felt more practical; more everyday life appropriate. The practice still leveraged the analytical mindset, which I like, so the classes resonated with me. Seeing the parallel between engineering and finance, I decided to double-major. That’s really where this journey began.”

So, at the time Ken was working full-time in engineering, working on the marketing side of the product line, and trying to advance his career. He kept thinking about finance, and wondering what it would take to make a monumental shift to a new industry.

Fortunately, his wife’s boss knew someone, and she was willing to chat with him. Ken peppered her with questions, he wanted to know everything: how she started; what it takes to excel; how to get noticed, and so much more. She answered his questions patiently, and after a few minutes realized how passionate he was about the work.

She encouraged him to apply.

He did.

It was a grueling interview process, with eight individual interviews. They asked him about his background, experience, and desire to change careers. In the end, the majority of the interviews all focused on the same things: how much wealth he had personally, and how many big clients did he already know, and could bring to the firm.

“Back in those days, the industry was an ‘old-boys club.’ It was about two things: network, and net worth. If you were missing either of those things, it was an uphill battle in the snow. I just didn’t have the connections they wanted. I knew I could get them if given the chance, but I was coming into this process on the ground floor – and it wasn’t their ideal scenario for a candidate.”

Ken didn’t let that deter him, though.

He continued moving forward in the interview process, going into each subsequent interview more resolved to make a good impression and have them understand that he would do whatever it took to be successful. He wanted to instill in them the confidence he had in himself. After all, he would be leaving a career for which he was already established, and failure would not be an option. Ultimately, his determination paid off: even though he didn’t have the network or the net worth they were looking for, they gave him a shot.

Ken worked impossibly hard, putting in 80 and 90-hour weeks, every single week for the first 7 or 8 years. He had to build his practice from scratch, but he knew that hard work was his differentiator. Ken dug in, he “systemized, and optimized” and within two years he was number two in new accounts acquired.

His success was unsurprising to those who knew him, though, because gives nothing less than his best.

Comfort and Peace of Mind

A lot of financial companies have similar logos, like a sword and shield, some arrows in a quiver, and so on. Their taglines are more aggressive; about protecting or defending.

Ken had a different idea.

His logo for the Dow Group is two Adirondack chairs in front of a setting sun. This significant difference was no accident.

“I chose this logo because I want people to feel calm about their financial plan – we aren’t storming a castle; we’re building a future that provides comfort by improving a person’s financial life. I wanted to make sure my logo reflected that. What I want from people who see it is to feel relaxation and balance. That’s a good window into what we’re trying to accomplish through our practice: maximizing wealth without worry. Everybody wants to sit down, relax, and enjoy life. That’s who I am, and that’s what I try to provide to clients.”

This unique perspective sets Ken apart.

Engineering success

As an engineer, Ken created systems and processes to ensure maximum efficiency. He prides himself on developing elegant solutions to complex problems.

In the not-too-distant past, Ken faced some life-altering health challenges. It isn’t dramatic to say he was in immediate peril. He was impressed by not just the care he received, but also the comprehensive weblike system that kept him, his team, and his treatment, on track.

“As an engineer, I created systems and processes – and after going through the Mayo and Cleveland Clinics – I was thoroughly impressed by their approach. They set up appointments, and meetings, and testing, and then once they’re complete, the doctors collectively return with their findings. I was fascinated by the way they made sure nothing slipped through the cracks. It’s why I created my proprietary Blueprint document. It integrates all facets of a client’s financial life that we then review – I don’t want anything slipping through the cracks, and I want them to see everything in detail so they know nothing is.”

The checklist that Ken had while working with his doctors during his treatment was an inspiring tool – and, as detail-oriented as Ken is, nobody is perfect. A good memory is a great tool, but it’s just one of the many tools that Ken uses to ensure that client needs are met. His system ensures continuity and prevents things from getting lost or forgotten.

Ken’s unique approach, and positive outlook, have engendered strong relationships with his clients. Even while he was sick, and wasn’t working at full capacity, his clients remained firmly behind him. He was so grateful for their support. Knowing they had his back made it easier to fight the illness in front of him.

Their loyalty is something that Ken will never forget.

All for clients

Ken’s approach to client service is high-touch and customized. His client list is small, by design. He wants to ensure that he and all his clients are on the same page about what they’re hoping to achieve.

“I’m seeking the same for my own life, as I do for my clients: balance. I’m happy to keep my existing client list and work with a new person here and there when we enjoy each other’s company. This business requires too much interaction to dislike the people you’re working with. I joke sometimes that if I didn’t have clients, I wouldn’t have friends.”

For Ken, there are three elements to his industry-leading client service: active communication, proactive and accurate administrative support, and what he calls “the wow factor.” He can’t control the market, so he optimizes the systems he can.

In active communication, Ken personally builds quarterly market outlook and investment strategy booklets for his clients, delivered electronically. He’ll do a deep dive on market outlook, offering his thoughts on where he thinks the market is headed, and how he came to the opinion. Ken’s chartbook tells clients where the market is right now, where opportunities may exist, and what is happening in their portfolio.

Clients appreciate the in-depth and critical approach Ken takes to these communications, and they often chat with him about what the results could mean for them. He prides himself on being one of the few people in a client’s life that will consistently deliver.

“When you call the cable company, or the phone company, they rarely follow through on what they say they’re going to do. Sometimes they’ll half do it, but it’s never exactly what they said. My key differentiator is that I am going to be the one person in my client’s life they can fully depend on. It doesn’t happen very often, I know, but I deliver on that. Our strategy is threefold: we tell our clients what we’re going to do; we do it; then we tell them when it’s done. It’s simple in theory, but not everybody delivers this!”

The second element is administrative support. This is a critical area because sometimes things need to be done immediately: maybe it’s raising cash, supporting required minimum distributions, or a host of other things. Ken sees this as an area that isn’t entirely in his control, so he provides a highly attentive level of service, so he doesn’t miss anything.

It’s also an opportunity for Ken to re-emphasize that core value, that he does what he says he’s going to do, “sometimes clients laugh and tell me I must be hard to work with because I don’t miss anything. Fortunately, I have a great team, but also, I’m a former engineer: 1+1+1 always equals 3.”

Lastly…the wow factor.

Ken acknowledges client birthdays, their children’s birthday, an anniversary – he doesn’t call every single time, but he recognizes personal milestones because they are important to his clients, and that matters to him because he cares. He actually cares.

He’ll send flowers or a small gift; Ken prides himself on giving things a client needed but didn’t know they needed.

“I had a client who was renovating. So, for Father’s Day, I got him a set of coasters for moving furniture. They allow you to move the heavier pieces around without damaging the floor. He loved them. They were a simple gift, but I took the time to really listen during one of our conversations and knew this might be something he’d find useful.”

Ken is different because he’s thoughtful and makes an effort. He takes client success personally because every client is like family to him. Ken works hard so they can be comfortable – that’s his overriding goal.

Gary Milakovic is a veteran writer with more than a decade in the public sector and corporate communications. He has covered a wide spectrum of topics and his work has been featured by large and small organizations across Canada. Gary is passionate about communication, his writing often focuses on uncovering the “story behind the story.”

The Dow Group, Raymond James

1901 Butterfield Road, Suite 100

Phone: 630 - 716 - 8100

Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services are offered through Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc. The Dow Group is not a registered broker/dealer and is independent of Raymond James Financial Services. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.


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