Thomas Lee

I was a South Korean orphan until I was 4 ½ years old, adopted by an Italian mother and Chinese father.  When you grow up knowing you were an orphan, you ask yourself many times, “why was I adopted?  Why didn’t I just stay in Korea and work in the rice paddies?”  Well, in October 2009 I found out why.  My birth mother came back into my life.  It turns out she had been trying to find me and my brother for six years.  I even found out I have another brother who was adopted to Switzerland!  My birth father had died leaving my birth mother destitute with three malnourished baby boys.  Then in early November 2009 I found out my best friend from high school had died of a heart attack, 38 years old with 4 kids. 


I’ll never forget.  My Mom and Dad (the Italian and Chinese ones), my brother, my wife, and my children got together to open the envelope which contained pictures of the birth mother I hadn’t seen for over 30 years and the second brother I never knew I had.  Before I opened the envelope, with tears, I told my family, “I have some really bad news.  Knauert died.”  The mix of emotions that day, sharing the news of my childhood best friend’s death and seeing my birth mother’s pictures, was in a word, numbing.  I simply did not know what to feel.


A few days later I had lunch with my business partner, Dan Sipe and my brother.  We were talking about my topsy-turvy world and what this could mean in business, namely why are we in this business and how could we give back?  Somehow our conversation turned to a seminar the three of us had attended in 1998 about charitable trusts.  I commented, “You know, I’ve always wanted to get into that stuff more, but I never really had a track to run on.”  That night, I woke up at 2:00 am, talking to myself.  Evidently it was loud enough to wake up my wife.  Half asleep, I was saying, “I don’t know why God gave me this idea.  I don’t know why God gave me this idea” over and over again.  Naturally, Misoo asked, “What idea?”  Well, as Dan is fond of relating to people, “Tom went downstairs in the middle of the night, started writing and number-crunching, and hasn’t stopped yet.”


GIVE was born.  I had figured out a way that a client, if he/she fits a certain profile, could have more for retirement and more for heirs BY giving money to charity.  There was nothing new or invented with the strategy.  It was simply combining several long established techniques to get them to work in concert.  I first ran it by Dan.  He told me, “Tom, I think you’re on to something.” Then I ran it by my accountant.  I became obsessed with vetting the strategy with any expert I could get to meet with me.  The response blew me away—it still does.  One prominent accountant said, “This could fundamentally change the way people give money to charity.”  A high profile estate attorney said, “This is profoundly … profound.”  A planned giving director of one of the largest charities in the country said, “This is the first time I’ve seen these strategies presented in a way there is no compromise … the charity gets more, the donor gets more, and the heirs get more.”  In 12 months I had met with 50 estate attorneys and accountants one on one, some of them nationally renowned.  I started to get referrals.  I started being asked to be on boards.  I started getting asked to do seminars.  I started using the strategy with clients. 


The response from clients was even more meaningful than the response of experts who vetted the strategy.  All of a sudden, clients who volunteered at hospitals, worked in the soup kitchens, had close relatives die of diseases could now give new expression and dimension to their financial life.  Almost all thought they could not afford to give philanthropically.  My career was now transformed.  Did I make more money?  Yes, but I had already been blessed beyond my dreams with my financial planning/asset management practice.  I just found out today that I am the #25 advisor out of 5,000 nationwide at Raymond James, one of the largest broker dealers in the country. 


According to a Fidelity study, over 70% of financial advisors consider themselves charitably inclined (Like many, my charitable involvement has been related to my background, giving to orphans and disadvantaged youth.).  Yet a very small percentage of financial advisors regularly discuss charitable strategies with clients.  In my experience, the most common response to the question, “how many charitable trusts have you helped to execute” is “none.”  The next most common response is “one.”  This can all change.


Another major breakthrough came when Matt Halloran, the top consultant at Ron Carson’s PEAK Advisor Alliance, the largest consulting organization to financial advisors in the country, encouraged us to share these strategies with other advisors.  Before this conversation, Dan and I had a goal to redirect $100 million dollars over our entire careers.  Matt had us do a 10X mind expander exercise.  The math was easy--$1 billion dollars.  He told us this would happen in just a few years.  I didn’t believe him.  But you know what?  Matt left the PEAK Advisor Alliance to become the National Director of Development for GIVE.  I believe him now!


So, why didn’t I just stay in Korea working among the rice paddies?  So that I could have a part in redirecting 1 billion dollars to charity.  Yes, that’s with a B.  You will be saying the same, “yes, that’s with a B.”


Thank you for being part of this movement.