Holiday Letter - 2021
I am embarrassed to tell you how many times I have started this letter, only to delete all that I had written with a better thought on how to express what has been another year of incredible ups and downs. I learned so many lessons in 2021, but will spare you the majority for fear the pages it would cover will lead to an early recycling.
One thing that has always been clear for me (perhaps from my father repeating it endlessly when I was a kid) is to never miss out on the lessons that I can learn from my failures. For those who look at failures as lessons, the experience will make us stronger and, hopefully, help prevent us from making those same mistakes twice!
My greatest failure in 2021 was the inability to keep the absolutely incredible team we had built together for the long term. 2021 was the most difficult year we have faced in terms of turnover. Having had minimal turnover for years, I took for granted what had become the same faces in the office everyday. Several team members have been with us for years and have become an important part of everyday life for other team members and for you. That all changed in 2021.
We had three team members depart: Mary Alice Winn; Erik Gorenflo; and Alix DeMartino.
Each of these departures was a painful reminder of why we worked diligently over the years to create incredible systems and processes. Our goal has always been to create a “playbook” that would allow someone off the street to be able to walk into our office and perform many of the tasks needed with little or no knowledge other than the ability to read and turn on a computer. While that proved very successful in the transition to our new team members, what proved difficult was the loss or change in the friendships we had developed with those team members and the incredible knowledge they had about you and your family. That knowledge put meaning and desire into every effort.
We are incredibly thankful for having the opportunity to work with Mary Alice, Erik and Alix and still have consistent contact with them, especially Erik and Alix who were long time team members. Erik was an instrumental part of our daily work on 401k plans and did a phenomenal job in transitioning both his client and work knowledge to Jeff Blitz. Erik is now working close to home in Buffalo, NY and periodically comes back to Syracuse to pay a visit to myself and the family as well as the team. A friendship that will endure the test of time.
Alix pursued a dream that she has talked about since we first met, about a decade ago. She moved to the West Coast…it was a “slow” move as she zig zagged the United States for a few months on her way to Portland, OR. Finally arriving and settling into her new living arrangement and finding employment with a small financial services practice in the area. Alix’s tenure at Custom Wealth Management proved to be one of the most profound of any team member in our 23 years of existence. She influenced the practice in so many ways that I could easily fill the pages of a book explaining our progress thanks to her.
Combined, her initiative, tremendous sense of responsibility, punctuality, integrity, sense of humor, humility, etc. etc. will be sorely missed by all of us at CWM. We made a decision early in the transition process that it would take two people to fill the shoes of Alix. With incredible effort, Alix and Andy were able to find us to great opportunities for doing so in Perry Noun III and Sam Capilli. Reflecting the commitment Alix has to the CWM team and to you, she continued to work for 4 months to see that the transition was smooth. Even today she makes herself available for phone calls and emails when we have questions. Alix will continue to be part of our lives for the long term as we continue to treasure the incredible woman she has become.
While Mary Alice’s stay with CWM was relatively short compared to most, she had a great impact as her quiet but committed personality allowed her to transition from a more significant role in her prior life to the role of helping me better manage my time and tasks. She did a wonderful job and helped me gain a better perspective in many areas, most importantly recognizing small steps in my daily activities that were hampering productivity. With Mary Alice’s departure we took our time in finding the right person to fill her shoes.
It took longer than we had hoped but paid off significantly with the finding of Haley Stuart. Haley has proven a wonderful addition to the team. Book-ending the younger side of the practice, she brings a great deal of enthusiasm to the team. It proved a natural fit as she took over the lead role in our Monday Morning Meetings and in reaching out to you for scheduling. She carries several other responsibilities. Combined, the four new team members we brought in between May and October of 2021 have brought us an incredible sense of confidence in the future of CWM. We are incredibly thankful to be in an overall better position given the contributions from Alix, Erik, Mary Alice and, now, these four new team members.
Let me return, for a moment, to the failure in my ability to retain a great team for the long term and the lessons I learned from that experience. I have always envied the people I know who have had team members remain with them for an entire career. Not just the incredible comradery that emerges from long term relationships. But, also, the benefits gained in those individuals knowing one another well enough to simply do what the other would expect or desire.
I try hard to not take that for granted at home with my wife and children. One of the ways we ensure it is not taken for granted is every Sunday evening we are together filling out and sharing our Attitude of Gratitude notebooks. I would like to think that effort is having the impact on the rest of the family that it is having on me…recognizing and sharing our gratitude with one another and the incredible sense of satisfaction that comes from that discussion.
While we do that at home, it is all but missing from the office. Nearly every week I mention the CWM team or a specific team member in my Attitude of Gratitude journal entry and share that with my family. But, I have come to realize, I am not doing that nearly enough in the CWM environment. I will be more focused on expressing my gratitude to the CWM team going forward. While that may or may not result in an opportunity for long term team members, I know it is a step in the right direction for not only myself but the CWM team as well.
Let’s take some time to hear what is new with each team member. We enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to learn about you each time we connect. Here is an opportunity to learn a little more about our team members!
2021 was a year of “adapting” for Candace. As a generation Xer, she stepped up during the time of remote working and was very self-sufficient, resourceful, and able to adapt to technology. Candace concentrated on balancing work life and personal life and focused on her mental and physical health. Fitness and nutrition became one of her top priorities and she lost almost 20 pounds!!! The envy of others in the office, in particular me.
Her and her daughter, Lila, enjoyed a “girls” vacation in Virginia with 2 other female family members. They also enjoyed the outdoors while camping in Saranac Lake. Candace still continues on her journey to become TikTok famous and even flew out to Colorado to meet a TikTok friend. She had the opportunity to jog up the stairs while at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, hike up a mountain and even paddle board for the first time. This was a year of growth, peace and happiness for Candace!
Perry Noun III joined us in June, 2021. Fittingly, when asked what one word he thinks of as we exit 2021, that word is “CHANGE”. In his own words: “Change with the markets, change with the pandemic, change with economies at home and abroad, and yes, change here at CWM. If we are mindful of our past lessons from 2020, we are wise to remember that change should not be feared. Yes, it can be scary, daunting, intimidating, and sometimes downright uncomfortable, but change also carries with it opportunity, excitement, creativity, and inspiration. As we move into 2022, let us not be fearful but excited. Let us not be intimidated but inspired. If we confidently and boldly look change right in the eye, opportunity looks right back. It is this opportunity that brought me to the CWM team in June of this year, after 6 years with another CNY based firm.”
We would like you to know a little more about Perry: His daughter Michaela is 9 going on 18 and his 7-year-old son Perry IV learned that air hockey just might be his calling and looks forward to returning to the Enright home for a rematch. As a fan of quotations, Perry could not pass up the opportunity- this is one of his favorites from Helen Keller: “Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye.” We are thrilled to have Perry on the CWM Team.
The past year was another unique year for Andrew Hodge. With COVID concerns still lingering, the usual traveling the country seeing concerts in his free time was still on hold. Fortunately, unlike Canada, golf courses remained open here in 2021 and Andy and his wife tried to get out as much as possible when the sun was out in Syracuse. As everyone seems to say, their kids are growing up too fast. Lylah (8 going on 25) took some golf lessons over the summer and is playing basketball this winter. Hayden (22 months) started walking and talking earlier this year. Both girls have a love for music and dancing so if you ever drive by his house don’t be surprised if you see a disco light going around inside before breakfast time. After celebrating his 10th anniversary with CWM in May, Andy is looking forward to the next decade of working with the CWM team and all of you!
We also welcomed Haley Stuart in September, 2021 as Executive Assistant. Haley never imagined she would complete her Master’s Degree via completely virtual courses. Not only that, she completed it in eleven months, immediately after graduating with her Bachelor’s Degree from Le Moyne College during the COVID – 19 pandemic. Due to the pandemic, May gave Haley the unique opportunity to celebrate with not one but two graduation ceremonies spanning only a week apart. As she closed the final chapter of her undergraduate degree a year late, she was also able to celebrate her accomplishment of completing her Master’s as well. When Haley is not at her desk, she can be found at the Ballet and Dance Center in Syracuse, NY teaching a variety of styles of dance to all ages. Haley is also the founder/ chapter sponsor of the National Honor Society of Dance Arts at the dance studio. This is only the beginning and Haley cannot wait to see what next year brings.
Jeff Blitz joined CWM at the end of May, after nearly two years of discussions considering the opportunity. Jeff was working with another advisor and sought an opportunity to expand the use of his skills. As it turns out, CWM was a perfect fit. A little more about Jeff: His son Brandon, now 13, made his 3rd FM Little League All-Star team (would have been 4 years but for COVID), and he excelled in AAU basketball (where he was coached by local legend DaJuan Coleman) as his team won a handful of tournaments in the spring & summer. David (23), his middle son, moved to Tampa, FL in August, following brother AJ (27) out of Syracuse, who left for Eugene, OR in 2020. Speaking of AJ, he recently got engaged, so 2022 already has one highlight on the calendar! The entire family was able to meet up in late August in Zulma’s (Jeff’s wife) native land of Puerto Rico for an awesome vacation – which featured zip lining through the mountains; not by Jeff but his 83-year-old uncle joined in with the younger kids!
Sam Capilli spent 25 years in Corporate Finance, including several years as a CFO for a publicly traded company. In 2019 he took some time off to spend with his beautiful wife of 20 years (Nicole) and his children (Jack -16 and Bianca -13) with the goal of determining what he would do next. Sam joined the CWM team in June of 2021. We are excited to learn from Sam’s 25 years in corporate finance and apply his skills and experience to the value we aim to deliver to you.
Dan Bennett completed his 2nd year with CWM and is continuing to build his practice. He has been working toward obtaining his CFP and has the goal of sitting for the exam by Summer, 2022. His son Hayes just turned 1, and daughter Lennon just turned 3. His lovely wife Candice started a new career at Bond, Schoeneck and King earlier this year where she has thoroughly enjoyed the new challenge. Lennon was up briefly on skis last year but Dan and Candice are hopeful she is determined to go down the bunny hill all by herself this year at Song Mountain. Travel was light for the Bennett family this year (as if corralling two kids under three is challenging) but they plan to take the kids to Acadia and Smokey Mountain National Parks this coming spring/summer.
That leaves me….2021 proved a year of learning. It started with a significant surgery for Andrew in Boston. We have reached month 10 of a 12+ month recovery and it has been every bit as difficult for Andrew, Kristin and myself as the doctors suggested. As we all know, it is truly heartbreaking to see your child go through difficult times.
Andrew has had more than his share and we welcome your thoughts and prayers as he fights to not only recover but to help others recognize him as the typical 15 year old (December), just trapped in a body that continues to keep him from having the movements and voice of most 15 year olds. Cooper has experienced incredible growth, both physically and cognitively, and welcomed his 13th birthday back in May. He threatens to reach a height well beyond that of mine, but I have always felt I was meant to be taller given the big feet. Yes, he has already matched my size 13, but that does not mean he is borrowing my shoes (at least not with me knowing).
Paige hit double digits, turning 10 in May. She has learned far too much for any 10 year old, but I suppose to be expected when she is around two older brothers and their friends all the time! She continues to excel in both dance and gymnastics and takes any opportunity to prove she is as good as her brothers at anything they throw her way.
The Summer brought Cooper to challenge Paige to a foot race. After many “mis-starts” Cooper finally admitted defeat as he looked off in the distance at Paige crossing the finish line.
Kristin deserves nearly all the credit for the success of these kids, and, in turn, I claim the credit for many of their faults. Without hesitation, she is always running them from one place to the next, juggling their homework, playing with friends, doctors appointments, COVID interruptions and all. For the two of us, Groundhog’s Day seems to come to mind as we pull ourselves from the mattress before the sun rises and do it all over again. We have no regrets. We would do it all over again.
That is the one word I would use to summarize 2021. To be honest, that is the same word I would use to summarize 2020…and every year prior. Family, the CWM team and you give me the greatest sense of Gratitude. THANK YOU!
Our very Warmest Regards:
John Enright Perry Noun Andrew Hodge
Candace Schell Dan Bennett Haley Stuart
Jeff Blitz Sam Capilli