Get to know Robert
From Air Force Pilot to Financial Advisor
I get asked quite often how I ended up in this business, how I became a financial advisor, and what were the driving forces in creating this company and writing my book. My clients know that I was an Air Force pilot, and after almost 10 years of serving my country, I went on to fly for a major commercial airline as an international airline pilot.
So, how did I go from being an Air Force pilot, one of the coolest and most challenging jobs in the world, to being a commercial airline pilot for a major airline, and then to becoming a financial advisor? Well, first, I want to tell you that I think I am one of the luckiest individuals in the world. I have literally loved everything I have done and feel blessed to have had all of these experiences and opportunities in my life. Each one was just as fulfilling, if not more fulfilling, than the last. I love what I do now, and when I look back, I was just as passionate about each one of those endeavors.
How did I end up here? It had to do with a lot of life events that were primarily influenced by my father and my parents’ financial journey. My dad was my hero. He was a brilliant and hardworking man, a great husband to my mom, and a great Dad to us children. His goal for me was to be a doctor. My dad lived through the Great Depression, served in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific during WWII and was a scientist in the Cold War space race. I think he felt that medicine was a good career for me and that it would weather any of the same storms that he experienced in his life.
After World War II, Dad used his GI benefits to get a master’s degree in engineering. This was a time when the majority of Americans had a high school education. Dad went on to head many of the projects that led to a successful space program or helped design the guidance system for the first cruise missile, the Matador.
My dad was a truly and uniquely gifted individual and, most importantly, my hero. He had a great career until the late 1970s, known as the Carter years. This was a very challenging time for the economy. America was entering a period called “stagflation,” meaning a stagnant economy with high inflation. I was still in grade school at that time. I don’t remember it too well, except that my dad lost his engineering job due to budget cuts. He was unemployed for a very long time and, to tell you the truth, I don’t know how he did it.
As a Dad, he never missed a beat. We always had food on the table. He was home every night, and we had a very normal family. As a parent and the main breadwinner for my family, I have no idea how he did this and still kept everything on track and normal in our family. I never saw the stress and challenges that he must have faced for almost six years of his life. Once again, my dad was an amazing guy.
Although I was a young kid during this period, this event greatly shaped my choice to become a financial advisor and also the emphasis I place on finding the right investments and plan for my clients.
It Started With Dad
My dad was in the Army Air Corps based in the Pacific Theater in the later part of the war. It wasn’t until he passed away that I learned that he earned a meritorious service medal in WWII. I have no idea what it was for. He never spoke about his service, and I think that was how his generation was.
I remember as a kid finding Dad’s A-4 bag in the garage with his uniforms, helmet and various other things, but he never talked about his experiences from what must have been a very difficult time. I don’t know what he went through, although he was very concerned when I decided to follow in his path and enlist in the military.
I am telling you so much about my dad because he was one of the greatest influences in my life. I followed in his footsteps in many of my decisions. He studied engineering, had a very analytical mind and served in the military. He wanted me to be a doctor, but rather than going to medical school, I decided to be an engineer, like my dad.
After getting my engineering degree, I decided I would continue learning and pursued a master’s degree in Computer Science and then a PhD in Mathematics. I did not complete this degree, although I made it through the majority of the course work. I decided that engineering really wasn’t for me; at least, not the job I had as an engineer. I enjoyed the sciences, and I loved solving problems, but I wasn’t really happy in front of a computer for hours upon hours. I wanted to be challenged, to have fun, and to do something that was beneficial to others, not just myself.
A Change Was In Order
After graduating and landing a fantastic job as an engineer, I decided a change was in order. I was intrigued with my father’s time in the service and was influenced by one of my father’s best friends and a fellow engineer at Honeywell, Fred Dinger.
Fred was a little younger than my dad, and he was a fighter pilot in the Korean War. He influenced my decision to change careers and enlist as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, and man, what a great decision that was! I knew that this is what I always wanted to do, and I was hell-bent on making it happen. One day at lunch, I decided I would stop by each of the recruiter’s offices — Army, Navy, Marines and the Air Force — and see who would accept me into their pilot program. I had no previous knowledge of the military other than playing with all that stuff I found in my dad’s A-4 bag and watching a few John Wayne movies. It looked pretty fun, and I signed up for what turned out to be a very positive and influential event in my life.
I loved the military and greatly value both the structure and dedication they instill in the troops, and the competitive nature of always trying to give 110% to anything you do. I have dedicated all of the proceeds of my book to military charities, and I greatly respect the sacrifices our heroes are making on our behalf in Iraq, Afghanistan and other distant places. I wish I could do more.
The military instilled in me a sense of direction, teamwork and structure that to this day have greatly benefited my ability to help others with their finances. I believe that the leadership skills I learned in the military helped me to assemble and lead a truly amazing group of professionals who are the core of our firm. Their ability to help provide great insight and advice in what has turned out to be a very challenging time in the markets never ceases to amaze me.
Although I served in several small conflicts, it was a time of relative peace until Desert Storm. I was sent to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, flying missions in the First Gulf War. After I returned, I decided it was time to move on. The military was great, and I learned a lot, but after being away for what felt like the better part of my time in uniform, I decided I would transition to commercial aviation.
I went to work for one of the top, if not the best, companies as an international airline pilot. I traveled the world, and just like my time in the Air Force, loved every minute of it.
A couple of years into my new career, I had three major events that influenced my decision to build our firm, The Harwood Financial Group. The first event was that my father was diagnosed with cancer. Not just cancer, but a very brutal form of cancer that was attacking his brain.
The second event was that the company I worked for was in its second round of bankruptcy. They were laying people off, cutting salaries, canceling our pensions, and things were not looking good.
And third, I finally met the woman who would become my wife. We were not married yet at the time of these other two events, but I knew where we were going, and I was looking toward the future. I decided that I would volunteer to leave the airline and went out on furlough so that I could have quality time with my dad. Unfortunately, my dad passed, but I was able to spend a lot of quality time by his side, study finances and work on what would eventually become Harwood Financial.
Fueled By Personal Hardship
My dad was a successful engineer and a good saver. Unfortunately, he never planned for the fact that he might get sick and then not win the battle with the disease. Insurance would not cover much of his medical expenses and, as a result, Mom and Dad spent through the majority of their savings. I think any of us would have done the same thing if we were faced with a medical emergency. We deal with it, and we worry about the consequences later.
Dad did not have a pension, and when he passed, Mom was left with Social Security and a little money in the bank. We ended up selling their home. They had a nice place on the water, and Mom moved into the condo.
I learned a lot from this event, and it greatly influenced my decision to become a financial advisor and to take the time to plan my customers’ accounts and make sure we address things that could potentially derail their retirement. It is the backbone of my book, “Investing for Retirement,” and my practice: Always remain cautious regardless of market conditions, have a plan just in case something goes wrong, and invest in a way that will give my clients what I believe will be the greatest probability of success in what may remain a very challenging market and world for many years to come.
Why am I sharing all this personal information with you? Well, for two reasons. One is that if you are looking for an advisor and you are considering our firm, you may want to know about my background and what makes our firm stand out among a very crowded profession. Second, I wanted you to understand my motivation for writing a book and donating all of my proceeds to charity.
My passion has always been to help others and to solve problems. I was a math major and am an engineer first and foremost. I have spent many years studying the markets and finances as well.
Success with your finances is not about identifying the next hot stock or mutual fund. It is not about investing in a little of this and a little of that. It is truly a mathematical problem. It’s about seeking to develop and implement a strategy with statistically the highest probability of success and the lowest probability of failure. Nothing is for sure, so get the probabilities on your side. It is about risk management, reducing the risk of loss while maintaining the ability to grow your wealth, and securing your income regardless of market conditions.
My education, specifically the math and the engineering, serve me well as a financial advisor. Most of us simply want the ability to enjoy our lives without too many speed bumps along the way. The engineer in me is the planner. Engineers are always looking for new and better ways to solve problems. The mathematician says, “Let’s seek to build in a low-risk manner that will give you the highest probability of success.”
The military taught me to lead and not follow the herd, to always do the right thing, and to always strive to be the best you can be. The airline pilot in me is focused on the goal of getting you to your destination in the safest, most efficient way possible.
I don’t believe in taking any unnecessary risks. No home runs with only your hard-earned money. By simply defining your goals, building a financial road map and endeavoring to choose the best investments you can to help you achieve your financial goals, you get to your financial destination as safely and efficiently as possible. We call it The Harwood Way, and we truly believe it is a better way to invest.