Mike Hennessy: “To Develop Resilience, Devote Yourself To Discipline”

Devote yourself to discipline. We all know the ways to riches and good health — work hard, save often, and exercise regularly. But rarely do we commit the time and sacrifices necessary to achieve these outcomes. If you want to accomplish your goal as much as you want to breathe, then the actions necessary to […]

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Devote yourself to discipline. We all know the ways to riches and good health — work hard, save often, and exercise regularly. But rarely do we commit the time and sacrifices necessary to achieve these outcomes. If you want to accomplish your goal as much as you want to breathe, then the actions necessary to reach that goal should occur as consistently as breathing.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Hennessy. Mike Hennessy, CFP®, CFA®, is the founder and CEO of Harbor Crest Wealth Advisors in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He helps families, retirees, business owners, and the boating community get the attentive, comprehensive care they need for the best financial outcomes that align with their values. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and a holder of the right to use the Chartered Financial Analyst® designation.

Thank you so much for joining us Mike! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

Ithought I was going to be a doctor — I majored in bioengineering and even had an internship with the Medical Genetics Department at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. It too me far too long to realize that, with my eye injury (born almost blind in my left eye), my options in medicine would be severely limited.

After deciding I wouldn’t pursue medicine, I didn’t know what to do next. A bunch of my friends were finance and accounting majors, so I thought I’d give that a try. I interned at Goldman Sachs and was hooked on high finance. I parlayed that internship into a position with BlackRock in New York, moving from analyst to portfolio manager by my mid-twenties.

I then moved to sunny south Florida with my wife, working for a hedge fund and then a consulting firm. Despite all the on-paper career success, something nagged at me. I didn’t feel fulfilled working with 1s and 0s on the screen. I wanted to sit with people, understand their problems, and use my skills to help them achieve their goals.

My aha moment came when I realized I could use my gift with numbers to guide families to their financial freedom. I started an independent, fee-only RIA — Harbor Crest Wealth Advisors — to serve the south Florida boating and business owner community. I’ve been an avid boater my whole life, and boaters are some of the best people to work with because we all are bound by that feeling of freedom the water brings. My firm’s mission is to make sure our clients feel that same sense of clarity and tranquility with their personal and professional finances as they do when they are cruising down the Intracoastal or winding their way through the Keys.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I began my career at BlackRock during the heydays of the financial crisis, working as a mortgage analyst just as that market was melting down. BlackRock was, and is, known for their strong risk management platform and the firm was called in to handle several critical assignments on behalf of various US government agencies and organizations. I was tasked with running these trillion-dollar portfolios through the firm’s analytical engine, distilling the results, and creating the reports that went right into the hands of the top brass at these large government and monetary organizations.

There were weeks of all-nighters, making sure every bond was modeled properly and that every number was pristine for presentation. It was exhilarating work, to be thrust into the epicenter of the mortgage meltdown and to work alongside some of the brightest minds in the industry to find solutions, fast, to alleviate the nationwide issue.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our firm heavily emphasizes giving back. Each company has a superpower — something that makes them remarkable — and we are firm believers that these skill sets should be used both for the growth of the company and support for those in need.

For instance, my financial planning firm has partnered with Family Reach, an organization that provides assistance to families with a child or parent afflicted with cancer. The stats around cancer diagnosis, health, and finances are astounding. Cancer patients are 2.65 times more likely to go bankrupt. Patients who declare bankruptcy have a 79% greater risk of dying from their disease. Financial stress has a direct impact on someone’s mortality when they have cancer.

We provide pro-bono financial planning services to families and patients suffering from a cancer diagnosis. We take our superpower — our understanding of personal finances and the emotions behind those numbers — and happily donate our time and resources for those in need.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Two people come to mind, though there are countless others who helped guide me along the way.

The first is my boss in the portfolio management group at BlackRock. He had an immeasurable impact on my career. I thought I was driven until I met him and learned how to be a world-class professional. I’ve never been pushed so hard in my life. He had a knack for motivation, too. Everyone on the team bought into the mission and would run through a wall to make the impossible happen.

The second is my wife. She’s been my biggest supporter through all of life’s highs and lows, she’s my best adviser when I need a fresh voice outside of the one in my head, and she is also my best butt-kicker when I need to change my perspective and don’t quite realize it. I wouldn’t be even 1% of where I am today without everything she does for our family.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience, to me, is learning how to adjust your plan and your attitude when life happens. We often associate resilience with overcoming a singular event or inciting incident, like a car crash or a close death in the family. But one can also be resilient in the face of a recurring issue, like a difficult work partner or a personal disability.

Striving to maintain a positive mindset in the face of difficult times is the hallmark of resilient people. In personality psychology, this can be described as an internal locus of control. While we cannot control the external environment — and the recognition that we cannot is indeed another underrated trait — understanding that we do have control over our response to emotional events is critical to resiliency.

The important distinction is that resilient people are not simply impervious to pain and anguish. They hurt just like the rest of us. Resilient people, however, recognize that they do have domain over how they react when presented with a difficult issue. They realize that strong emotional reactions occur almost involuntarily after a negative event. But they choose to say — I feel these emotions but what do I want to do next? That next is the magic behind resiliency.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Two A’s — Abe and Albert. Their individual accomplishments, despite significant and persistent personal setbacks, made indelible marks on our society. The world we live in today would be radically different if less resilient people were placed in their shoes during such crucial times in world history.

Their respective backstories — consistent professional failure and depression for Abe, an isolated childhood and floundering early career for Albert — make their respective meteoric rises even more impressive. They simply never gave up. And for that, they irrevocably shaped the course of human history for the greater good.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

There is no better motivator than being told no.

I was born nearly blind in one eye and with asthma and was told to limit my physical activity. I trained, smart but ruthlessly, waking up at 5 AM to jump into a freezing cold pool in the middle of winter. In high school, the swim team I captained won the state championships. Ditto with our crew team.

In college, I was told that engineering students weren’t able to study abroad because of the demands of the curriculum. I took extra courses early as a freshman and sophomore, foregoing Thursday night parties for dates at the library. I was the first bioengineering student to study abroad in Australia.

I was told I wasn’t in consideration for a role at BlackRock, despite interviewing well. I called the group, on the hour, every hour, on the last day of consideration before I had to turn down a competing offer because I knew I wanted to work there. BlackRock accepted my application.

I was told starting my own business was a bad idea, that it was better to join an existing firm and maybe one day I could run the group. I was also told my personality wasn’t suited for the profession. I built the firm, on my own, handling everything from compliance to the type of paper for our collateral to the ways we work with clients and the charitable organizations we support.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

Our family had a very difficult 2017, due in no small part to my first major professional failure. That paled in comparison, though, to the loss of our young puppy to an unexpected and aggressive brain cancer.

I remember telling myself, through the white-hot shock of failure, to hold the steering wheel straight and keep my eyes on the road. It’s bad enough you have to tell your wife you just got fired, just a few short months after she left her job to stay at home to raise your infant son. We can’t afford a car accident right now…wait, am I even still insured?

Fast forward a week and a half, and the 4-year-old puppy you and your wife raised, probably treated too much like a child, is gone. Ripped from our family by brain cancer. Your son just learned to say her name. What do you say to him? How do you make sure he remembers his first puppy? Why does this hurt so bad?

I’d spend the first decade of my post-college life riding a magic carpet up through the billowing, buttery clouds of professional and personal success. Analyst at BlackRock, working on complex mortgage portfolios for large government institutions during the depths of the financial crisis. Leveraging that experience to become a portfolio manager in my mid-twenties.

I said sayonara to the city and took my talents to, well not quite South Beach, but south Florida. Portfolio manager and trader for one of the oldest hedge funds in the business. Sitting next to the guys who wrote THE model for all interest rate options. Surrounded by palm trees, boats, and beaches. Paleo during the day, Jimmy Buffett at night. Seriously, how could it get better?

And it was getting better…until it wasn’t.

I had my strongest P&L year…until it wasn’t.

I was hitting my professional stratosphere…until I wasn’t.

We had a perfect family plan…until we didn’t.

It took a few weeks, probably months, to get our emotional feet back under us. I hate to admit it, but it took me a good bit longer than that to get over the Humpty-Dumpty’ing of my professional ego.

But we couldn’t simply wallow in lost jobs and doggies forever. We had to move on, we had to learn from this, we had to rebuild for our family.

We made the decision that my wife would stay at home. No job is more important than raising our family. Period, full stop, end of story. We had enough savings and a nice enough severance for me to shift gears and find a new job, or maybe, a new career. That proved harder than I imagined, though.

Weeks of cold calling, playing the LinkedIn game, and debating how badly the NY-FL commute would be turned into months, with nary a prospect in sight. “Thanks, but we don’t trade that.” “You need an MBA.” “How did you get my number?” I was selling ponchos in the desert.

Then, the epiphany. The clouds in which I floated before falling, I realized, were emotionally empty for me. I could never really grab hold of them, despite their lofty position. All of the 1s and 0s I generated didn’t put me side by side with a concerned couple and let them know that they would be OK in retirement. The broken phones and whispering office politics never helped a young family scrap and save for their child’s dream college, without bankrupting their own future.

I decided I was going to take my talents in a different direction and use my superpowers for financial good instead of financial gain. Goodbye scarcity, hello abundance.

The numbers are more than just numbers. There are stories, wonderful stories, behind each and every figure in someone’s financial life. I wanted to be the one to help clients weave a better story for themselves. Help them drive, not white-knuckled and worried, but relaxed and free.

We are building something down here, something that is an experience for our clients, and not just another quarterly portfolio review. It’s just the start, but the tide is turning. Instead of a foggy horizon, it’s clear skies and open seas.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

I alluded to this earlier but managing some of my physical issues on the road to sporting success taught me self-awareness, discipline, and process versus outcome management. I was never going to be the world’s best baseball player — having poor depth perception due to being nearly blind in my left eye simply took that option away — but I did have a strong desire to succeed in sports just as any child does. I found I could tolerate, well, demanding physical activity that didn’t require fine motor skills.

I started to excel at swimming and crew, but asthma would short-circuit my ability to bounce back physically from demanding practices or meets. I learned how to calm my breathing, with the aid of meditation and inhalers, to lessen the time I needed to recover. By setting and acting on a process, I was able to elevate my performance despite the persistent issues.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Build self-awareness. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and consistently monitoring how you are acting, is critical to improving your chances at achieving the outcomes you want. Honest self-assessment is notoriously difficult, and clear awareness while executing is even harder. But you have to build these skills, one step at a time, in order to accurately frame where you are and where you want to go.

2. Devote yourself to discipline. We all know the ways to riches and good health — work hard, save often, and exercise regularly. But rarely do we commit the time and sacrifices necessary to achieve these outcomes. If you want to accomplish your goal as much as you want to breathe, then the actions necessary to reach that goal should occur as consistently as breathing.

3. Design and execute a process. Choosing a goal puts something shiny off in the distance with no clarity on the effort or timing required. Sure, you at least know what to look for. But how will you get there? Drawing the map and traveling the road is the best way. No matter what shows up along the path, you know which way to go.

4. Take a breath. Our initial, internal emotional responses are often involuntary. But what you choose to do next isn’t. Is it really worth tailing the car that cut you off on the highway? Viktor Frankl said it best — “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

5. Own your outcomes. You were dealt a hand in life, with some positive cards and some negative cards. Many times, rightfully so, we use these circumstances to explain why we are where we are and why we haven’t achieved what we dreamed. But what if you didn’t, from here on forward? What if you flipped this script on its head and said that everything that happens to me is under my control. Doing this allows you to view life through a different lens, showing possibilities that weren’t visible before.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Let’s RAK it!

Try to give one Random Act of Kindness (RAK) a week to someone in your family or social circle. Do it with the expectation you will receive nothing in return. It need not be a gift, though it can be, if the gift is personal and thoughtful. It can just be a genuine conversation that’s about the other person. Or it can be an offer to help with something important in their life.

You would be amazed at how unexpected charity and gratitude lift both your spirits. I promise, you will win for giving just as much as the person who receives your RAK.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

Seth Godin.

Seth just thinks on a different wavelength than the rest of us. His daily blog is like finding a $20 bill in your sweater from last year, but you get to find it every day. When I try to do creative work, I find myself trying to deconstruct and solve problems with the same clarity that Seth delivers every day.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m active on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. We also publish blogs regularly on our website. The links to our social pages are listed below:

Facebook: facebook.com/harborcrestwealth/

Twitter: @harborcrestwa

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/company/harborcrestwealth

Firm Website: harborcrestwealth.com

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you, too, for all you do!

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