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Yesterday was Kobe Bryant’s memorial service here in Los Angeles.  On January 26th Kobe, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and 7 others tragically perished in a helicopter crash on their way to Gianna’s basketball game.   This catastrophe has sent ripples across the country (across the world, really), but has hit especially hard here in Los Angeles, where Kobe played his entire 20-year career.  As I write this, there is an MTA bus driving past our office with “RIP KOBE” on the front of it.

I was not a fan of Kobe’s during most of his playing days.  I misunderstood his intensity and deemed him to be a poor teammate and thought of him as selfish, both on and off the court.  But like many casual fans, I started to see a different side of him late in his career and started to appreciate his work ethic and approach to the game.  He became more open with the press, and it seemed he was embracing his teammates more.  I cheered loudly during his final game, when he unbelievably scored 60 points against the Utah Jazz.  I marveled at the speech he gave during his jersey retirement ceremony at Staples Center, when he spoke directly to his daughters and advised them:

“You guys know that if you do the work, you work hard enough, dreams come true. You know that, we all know that. But hopefully what you get from tonight is that those times when you get up early and you work hard; those times when you stay up late and you work hard; those times when you don’t feel like working — you’re too tired, you don’t want to push yourself — but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream. That’s the dream. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. And if you guys can understand that, what you’ll see happen is that you won’t accomplish your dreams, your dreams won’t come true, something greater will. (Points to the rafters). And if you guys can understand that, then I’m doing my job as a father.”

With that speech, he won me over for life.  And since his retirement, he had been giving interview after interview, speech after speech, that were all mini courses on the benefits of hard work, obsession, attention to detail, perseverance, and winning.  All things he summed up with the phrase, “Mamba Mentality.”  Ironically, I had just watched a new interview of his on YouTube the Friday before his accident.

Kobe had one of the more storied careers in NBA history, but somehow, he was quickly eclipsing his impact on the world with his post-playing pursuits.  He ran a production company and won an Oscar two years after retiring from basketball.  He ran a venture capital fund.  He ran several basketball camps and relished in coaching his daughter’s basketball team.  As I said previously, he was becoming a great speaker and interview candidate as he continued to educate the masses on his “Mamba Mentality.”  I believe that is why his untimely passing has created such a deep wound for all of us…at 41 years old, he seemed to be just getting started.  There was much more to his unwritten story – it was going to be so fun to watch.

Kobe was larger than life and would not be deterred in any endeavor.  That personality and ability to conquer all has made his death that much more confusing.  Seemingly no one could comprehend the news when we first heard about it – everyone assumed that he would find a way to will himself and that helicopter out of harm’s way, just like he had done with all other challenges he faced throughout his playing career and beyond.  It just didn’t seem possible…people like Kobe can’t die on someone else’s terms – it has to be on their terms.

One of many murals that have popped up in Los Angeles since the crash.

And with all of these confusing thoughts swirling around in my head, I’ve been forced into a reflective mindset that I rarely slow down long enough to appreciate.  Our daughter’s passing in 2017 was too painful for me to stop and fully contemplate the ramifications of – I simply pushed forward and kept moving (and I still haven’t fully dealt with…), but Kobe’s passing has allowed me to stop and take stock of the things in my life and the relationships I’ve been blessed to have.  And I’m happy to realize that I have a lot to be grateful for… I am grateful that Alex Webb, who started at PFI Advisors in June of 2018 after graduating from Miami University in Ohio was able to take the skills he learned here and begin a career at Dimensional Fund Advisors in January of this year – he is going to do great things!  And I‘m beyond excited that Anna Maria Garcia, who had been with PFI since the very beginning and means so much to our family, has recently left to pursue a teaching career.  We are eager to watch her use her talents to inspire the next generation. And in Alex’s and Anna’s place, I am so grateful that we’ve added two amazing team members in Sandra Saldana and Jay Veale.  Both joined PFI in Fall on 2019, and in very short order have put their own fingerprints on our organization.  Sandra has added to and created many of her own processes which have scaled our business more than I thought possible.  Jay has brought his deep analytical skills he leveraged at UC Berkeley to our consulting projects and has institutionalized much of our client work.  It is a true pleasure working with both of them! I am thankful that our son Luke enjoys spending time at the office and continues to find ways to put his unique spin on our business and the work we do for clients every day.  We all report to Luke and he is an inspirational leader to us all!  I am also grateful that I have a wife and business partner, Larissa (“Reese”), that explains to Luke in language he can understand why Dad is on planes so often and has to miss certain events from time to time.  Both of them are very patient with the hours I work and the travel schedule I maintain.  For that, I am eternally grateful. Most importantly, I want to express my immense gratitude for my wife and business partner, Reese, who has been pulling double duty in keeping PFI Advisors and our family afloat during these fledgling years of our business.  It has been no easy feat, I assure you, but she has had full commitment to the business and our shared vision of what it can become in the future.  She has been more than accommodating in allowing me to test different hypotheses as we’ve continued to navigate the ever-changing RIA landscape. And I’m so grateful she had the courage and communication skills to sit me down recently and give me a wakeup call about the effort I was putting into certain areas of our business, and the results we were (and weren’t) seeing from those efforts.  It was somewhat similar to the moment where Stanley Tucci tells Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, “Oh please, let’s be serious – you are not trying.  You are whining.  You have a job that a million people would die for, and you wonder why [the market doesn’t] give you a kiss on the forehead or a gold star on your homework at the end of the day?  Wake up, sweetheart!”  I badly needed that conversation, and our business badly needed me to have that conversation.  Both myself and the business have seen marked improvement in the first quarter of 2020, thanks to Reese!
I am also beyond grateful for  our clients, who continue to trust in us and have been such champions of our business.  Just like most RIAs, our business relies heavily on word-of-mouth and referrals, and our clients have been beyond generous with their time and kindness toward us! With regard to our COO work, both with our written materials and our podcast, I wanted to acknowledge two recent emails I’ve received.  One person wrote to me and said he had just been promoted to the COO role at his RIA, “Your PFI whitepaper on the role of the COO played an instrumental role in my earning my promotion. Your white paper helped to validate the role that I’ve been playing at my firm.” While another recently wrote a short note, “I have been in the wealth advisory business for over 20 years, as an advisor. I recently started listening to your COO podcast. I find it very interesting and have been learning quite a bit, so thank you.”  For those of you who create content on a regular basis, you know how important it is to receive a shot in the arm once in a while to encourage you to keep going…I am so grateful for both of these messages, plus other similar messages that people have been so kind to send.  We have something special in store for our COO community, coming soon! Another reason many of us were attracted to post-NBA Kobe was the fact that he seemed to be taking a breath and allowing himself to smell the roses.  He wasn’t slowing down by any means, but the “victory-at-all-costs” mentality seemed to be evolving.  The scowl was replaced by a relaxed and appreciative smile.  He was determined as always but was also very aware of the many blessings he had in his life.  While I sure wish we could turn the clock back to 9:30am on January 26th and reverse the events that led to that horrific accident, I am grateful they have forced me to pause and take stock of those around me and all the incredible additions they continue to make to my life.