Ask The CEO

Photography by Rebecca Baxter By Kathleen Majorsky August 31, 2010

Kelly Caldwell, 43, president and CEO of Caldwell Trust Company, graduated from Georgia Tech as an electrical engineer. He soon realized he was far too social to sit in a room solving electrical problems. Caldwell came back to Florida and asked his father, R.G. Caldwell Sr., founder of his family’s trust company, “What is it exactly that you do?” That was 22 years ago. 

Today Caldwell Trust Company manages $450 million of client monies. But Caldwell says his job is more than managing money: “We take care of families.”

How has the financial crisis affected your business? Our clients—from wealthy to more than wealthy—are revisiting how they spend money. It’s a fundamental change in the way people are living. Everyone lost money. People have been flocking out of the banks to the benefit of the local providers, including us. That money’s got to go somewhere, and it is coming to the local providers. 

So does that mean you have more clients and more money under management now? We are at record assets under administration today even though the market is still 30 percent or more below of what it was in 2007, because we’ve continued to track new business and hold on to our old business. We went from $364 million in December 2008 to $450 million today. That is about a $90 million increase in new assets in the last year and a half, most of which is coming from new business. 

How are you dealing with the new financial reforms passed by Congress? It is affecting everybody right now—our clients, estate planning attorneys, CPAs. This entire year is a year of unknown. It’s freezing people from making decisions because no one knows what the rules are.

What’s been your best business strategy in the last two years? There is no substitute for quality people. That’s helped us continue to grow our company even in a bad economic time.

What qualities do you look for in the people you hire? People who are really dedicated to winning, who refuse to see failure as an option. They are not complacent.

What is your own personal savings and investment philosophy? I follow my own advice to clients: Don’t watch CNBC. Rarely does the world change significantly from one day to the next. Managing money, whether it is your own money or somebody else’s, is about allocating correctly for what I call a risk-adjusted performance. I’m an investor. I set a good risk/reward allocation that is good for me. I monitor it, but I resist trying to make tweaks and changes.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? It came from my father. Gather up your information, make a decision and move on. In the investment world it is sometimes called pulling the trigger. You can beat an idea to death, but at some point you have to make a decision. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about investments, personal life or whatever it is. It doesn’t mean you won’t come back and revisit the decision. But people become paralyzed waiting for too much information to make the perfect decision in an imperfect world.   

You compete in triathlons. How does that help you compete in business? There is always somebody faster than you. And in the real world, there is always someone with the better car, more money. But what you find out in the middle of a triathlon, when it is really painful, is that you are not competing against them. You’re competing against yourself. It is in how you deal with the competition against yourself that you either find enjoyment or you don’t.

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