Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series Rethinking65 is doing on older advisors who are continuing to work. You may also be interested in reading our articles on Don Rembert and Dick Wendin (both 82), David Demming (74) and Minoti Rajput (70). Want to suggest an advisor for the series? Contact Editorial Director Jerilyn Klein.
By any reasonable measure, Douglas F. Garrison’s accomplishments are impressive, but after having just some of them repeated to him, Garrison responds with modesty:
“It’s been a blessed life; it’s been wonderful,’’ he says from his home in Houston, TX, where he works about 30 to 40 hours a week for Investec Wealth Strategies. A CFP and senior wealth advisor, he joined the independent wealth management firm 10 years ago.
For more than 30 years, Garrison, 72, put in up to 60 hours a week working for ExxonMobil in its human resources department.
“The last 10 years of my career, I did benefits design work, working on 401(k)s, retirement planning, life insurance, healthcare, all items of interest to employees who were thinking about retiring, or retiring. So it was an easy transition to go from designing a savings plan and thinking about investing and thinking about healthcare to becoming a financial planner for others.’’
Before his long career at ExxonMobil, Garrison had graduated from Yale University with a degree in social psychology, received an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and then spent three years in the Peace Corps, working with farming communities in Brazil’s Amazon.
He and his wife, Geni, a Brazilian, were married in 1982 and, as he puts it, his Portuguese is pretty good.
Having another language has come in handy for the Garrisons, who have completed 12 bicycle tours, largely in Europe and one of South Africa.
Making a Difference
Two years ago, Garrison donated one of his kidneys to his stepdaughter, Jessica. Garrison and his wife have two other daughters, Sarah and Rebecca, who was to be married at the end of August.
And then there were the marathons that Garrison completed after 50.
“I did my first marathon at age 55, and not to brag, but I will, because I did the Disney Dopey Challenge at 65, which is 5K on Thursday; 10K on Friday; a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday. That’s why they call it the Dopey Challenge; you have to be dopey to do that!’’
Garrison now walks about three miles daily.
With all that physical stamina, it’s not surprising to hear that he was far from ready to spend life in a lounger sipping iced drinks after he retired from ExxonMobil in 2008 at 59½.
“I guess the question is, ‘What is retirement?’ At 59½, I concluded that I had done as much as I wanted to do at ExxonMobil, and I was young enough and had enough money to support my wife and my kids, so retirement to me meant finding another way to spend my time.
“I guess the question is, ‘What is retirement?’ At 59½, I concluded that I had done as much as I wanted to do at ExxonMobil, and I was young enough and had enough money to support my wife and my kids, so retirement to me meant finding another way to spend my time.”
“I wasn’t sure what that was, whether taking care of my own finances, or doing volunteer work, or consulting, or giving HR courses, or, I really enjoy writing, so maybe I would write.
“My golf game was not good enough to spend my time playing golf and my wife married me for better or worse but not for lunch. I took two months off, then I went into the CFP program at the local university in Houston.
“After I succeeded in getting that education behind me, I did a little bit of consulting and in January 2011, I joined the firm that I currently work with. I liked the way they did their business and they liked me,’’ he said.
He currently has about 35 clients, many of whom are former ExxonMobil employees. Investec Wealth Strategies focuses on comprehensive financial planning for affluent individuals and families, Garrison said.
“I enjoy the client contact and our firm’s comprehensive approach to wealth management and quite frankly, feel I’m doing more HR-like work now than in my last years at ExxonMobil. I am happy to share my knowledge of ExxonMobil benefits with others in the firm and have helped the firm develop expertise in assisting ExxonMobil employees and retirees,’’ Garrison said.
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His move into finance isn’t entirely without precedent in the family: Garrison’s father, Joe Garrison, followed the stock market when he was a youngster in Indiana and advised his family on investments. His mother, Shirley, graduated from Queens College in New York at 20, and became a chemist, which is where she met Joe Garrison, also a chemist.
“My mother was a smart lady, and she went to work for Texaco in a research lab in Beacon, New York, where they met, I am told, at Mrs. McGillicuddy’s boarding house, around World War II. My dad tried to enlist but he was told, ‘You have a job in an important industry and we’d prefer you to make chemicals to fuel the economy.’”
After growing up in Illinois (where his father’s last assignment for Texaco took him), completing his education and serving in the Peace Corps, Garrison was hired by then-Exxon and settled in Houston. His experience at that corporation is put to good use at Investec Wealth Strategies.
“Because of my professional experience with pretty in-depth ExxonMobil benefits plans, I can help former ExxonMobil employees manage their benefits, and figure out how to transition from being an employee to being a retiree,’’ he said.
Garrison says the firm also has a small insurance practice, primarily for long-term care policies; the service is performed on a commission basis. He continues to enjoy working with clients and helping them prepare for a secure future.
“I like what I’m doing because I am still making a contribution, still providing guidance to clients and adding value. I really enjoy the contact with clients, but during COVID, I’ve been mostly working from home.”
Coping With COVID
“Also, my daughter who got the kidney transplant is staying with us for a month or two, and she’s immune-suppressed because of the anti-rejection medicine she takes, so I am not going to the office unless I really have to. I’m personally concerned about the spread of the Delta variant, but Texas has an independent streak and a lot of people here don’t like being told you have to get a shot or you have to wear a mask.
“From March 2020 to June 2021, we were strictly Zoom and phone calls and emails. We only started meeting back in the office a couple of months ago. At the office, we have reinstated wearing masks in all common areas.’’
Working from home has the usual perks, including the elimination of commuting through heavy Houston rush hour traffic, Garrison said.
“Still, people like the personal touch, shaking hands, having a cup of coffee. I’m going into the office in two weeks to meet a prospect in person. It’s nice to be able to have an hour-long meeting, talk about a financial plan, and it’s good to look someone eye to eye, see their body English. Face-to-face meetings will never disappear, but for now, Zoom appears to meet the needs of our clients.’’
Garrison considers himself blessed to have a mentor: John Goott, founder of Investec Wealth Strategies.
“He’s one and a half years older than me, and he founded the firm in 1984. He immigrated from South Africa in 1982 with his family and founded the firm on his own. He’s very creative in terms of thinking outside of the box, and innovative in the ways he meets the financial needs of people.
“He has great relationships with his clients. They’ve been with him 35, almost 40 years,’’ Garrison said.
Goott obviously possesses one of the characteristics that Garrison says is essential to succeed in planning.
“Financial advisors need to listen more and talk less. Don’t feel you have to prove that you are the smartest person in the room. Get clients to talk about their own stories and issues more. There is a tendency in the industry among financial advisors to act all knowledgeable, to want to try to impress,’’ he said.
Garrison impresses by doing. His years working in the Peace Corps taught him lessons he applies to life.
“Living overseas in very humble circumstances, in very humble accommodations, changes the way you look at the world. It made me aware of other cultures and how privileged we are to be Americans.’’
Outside of work, he and his wife are part of their church’s marriage ministry program.
“We facilitate small group discussions in a program called ‘Re-Engage,’ that deals with marriage issues such as how to more effectively communicate, resolve conflict, and grow closer to one’s spouse,’’ Garrison said.
The couple also works with Jubilee Prison Ministry, which puts on a three-day weekend in Texas state prisons with inmates and volunteers discussing faith, forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption. The Garrisons have worked inside the prisons and provided meals and support for the inside teams.
Although their traveling has been cramped since 2020 by the COVID pandemic, the Garrisons are hopeful they will be able to visit Rwanda and Zambia as part of their work and contributions to the World Vision clean water program.
“We are big believers in supporting World Vision’s campaign for clean water. They’re working to eradicate extreme poverty, with the emphasis on helping children around the world. We’ve helped raise money to get clean water in Rwanda and Zambia, and my wife and I may be able to visit there.’’
Nearing 73, Garrison figures his future this way.
“The financial rewards from staying active help us with our personal philanthropy. I’ll keep working as long as I’m useful to clients and the firm and can balance work and home life.’’
In a four-decade career in journalism, Eleanor O’Sullivan has reviewed many books on best practices for financial advisors, has written for Financial Advisor and the USA Today network, and was movie critic for the Asbury Park Press.