Finding Purpose in Retirement with Joe Duran

August 31, 2020

Finding Purpose in Retirement with Joe Duran

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Finding Purpose in Retirement Show Notes

When he was 20 years old, Joe Duran came to the United States with $200 to his name. He graduated from college, took a minimum wage job at a financial services firm, grew its value from $30 million to several billion, and sold his first business at the age of 34. He then found himself feeling profoundly lost.

In the years that followed, he interviewed entrepreneurs who had sold their businesses and discovered that many people lose their sense of purpose and identity after exiting their business. He’s now a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs Personal Financial Management, and in both his practice and his forthcoming book, The Thin Line, he explores why the difference between misery and happiness – or success and failure – is whether life happens to you or for you.

Today, Joe joins the podcast to share stories from his own life, as well as his experience in financial services, about why it’s so important to live life in alignment with your priorities. If you’re trying to shape a financial plan – and a retirement – that gives you purpose and satisfaction, as opposed to merely helping you survive, this episode is a must-listen.

In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:

  • How Joe’s eye-opening education and youth in the country now known as Zimbabwe ultimately led him into the world of American finance.
  • Why you don’t need to know everything in order to succeed in business or in life – and why investing in experts saves you time, money, and energy.
  • Why so many financial plans fail to reflect reality or a family’s shared values and how to fix this.
  • How Joe’s work helps provide the kind of treatment typically given to ultra-high net worth individuals to everyone.
  • Why Joe sold his current company, United Capital, to Goldman Sachs – and how he now helps people make great financial decisions without sacrificing his personal life, his marriage, or his relationships with his children.
Finding Purpose in Retirement - Preparing for a Satisfying Retirement

Inspiring Quote

    • “We better know what money is for, because everyone I spoke to who had it had massive regrets about what they had to do to make it.” – Joe Duran
    • “The business is not your baby. It does not care about you.” – Joe Duran
    • “Satisfaction is a lasting thing and satisfaction means that you are living up to the life that you set for yourself, to the standards and things that you wanted.” – Joe Duran
    • “Life is a sum of all our choices.” – Albert Camus

Interview Resources

Interview Transcript

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[00:00:09] Dean Barber: Welcome to The Guided Retirement Show. I’m Dean barber. Well, I’m going to tell you right now that this podcast is probably one of the most exciting podcasts that I’ve done. And we’re going to be speaking today with a gentleman that many of you may not be familiar with but once you hear this podcast, you’re going to want to do some research and you’re going to want to read his books and you’re going to want to be on the lookout for a new book that he’s writing. We’re going to be speaking with Joe Duran.

He’s the Managing Director of Goldman Sachs and he is the Head of Goldman Sachs’ Personal Financial Management. He didn’t get here by accident. Joe Duran entered the country in the United States at the age of 20 with $200 in his pocket. He worked his way through college and started a business. He sold a business at the age of 34, wrote his first book, and has created one of the premier wealth management forums and formats in the country that is only available to a select group of advisors.

And I am blessed to be a part of Joe Duran’s network and partnering with Joe and his company. I hope you enjoy this podcast as much as I enjoyed the conversation with Joe Duran.


[00:01:27] Dean Barber: So, Joe Duran, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing you and working alongside you obviously from a distance because you’re in Newport Beach. I’m in Kansas City. We’re in the same industry.

[00:01:40] Joe Duran: Maybe from a distance even if we’re both in Kansas City right now I have a feeling.

[00:01:45] Dean Barber: I think you’re right. Yeah. Due to COVID-19 and obviously, I am working in my home office right now. We had an exposure over the Fourth of July where a family member came down with COVID that was visiting. Fortunately, nobody else in the house got it so kind of crazy stuff. But, Joe, I want you to take our listeners back to where you came from. How did you get to the point that you are today? But let’s go back to the beginning. You came into the United States when?

[00:02:20] Joe Duran: Oh, gosh. 1990 I think it was. So, I was a teenager and had $200 in my pocket and had been traveling around the world. I grew up in Zimbabwe. That’s where the accent is from. And had a very broken family life. I grew up in what was Rhodesia then became Zimbabwe and grew up in the middle of a civil war until I was 12 in a white-controlled country or half of my childhood, and then it became a democratic country called Zimbabwe.

And my school the wealthy white kids moved to Australia, South Africa, Canada, the United States. I went to private school. My parents had very little money. And so, my school of 700 kids went to all of a sudden 650 black kids and 50 white kids. Maybe it was 30 or 40 total in the entire high school.

So, it was a heck of an education and an eye-opening experience because I think on two fronts, one, the unreliability and unpredictability of life and, second, the fact that we’re all human beings don’t matter what color skin we have, which I would not have known growing up in what was a very racist country, and then having to see the change and experience the change.

So, it was a really unusual childhood. When I left, I had to support myself since I was 11. So, I worked selling hotdogs at 11 and by the time I was 18, I was working night production at a factory and making my own money as a DJ as well on the weekends as well as going through high school. And then traveled the world working throughout, paid my way through college, ended up graduating St. Louis University but along the way, I studied in Madrid and met my wife of now almost 30 years, hard to believe.

[00:04:22] Dean Barber: Congratulations.

[00:04:23] Joe Duran: Yeah. And have three amazing daughters. The range in age from 22 and 19, all the way down to 12 and all from the same woman. I have to add that if you’re from Newport Beach, California or Laguna Beach, California, the assumption is that there’s a second wife but no. Jen was determined to have another one and it’s been an amazing voyage. I came here with $200, paid my way through college, started with a very small advisory firm that we sold to General Electric when I was 34 years old.

[00:04:57] Dean Barber: So, let’s back up to this, this coming here with $200. And so, first of all, why did you choose the United States? Why not Australia or New Zealand where so many other people went? Why the United States?

[00:05:15] Joe Duran: Well, I grew up watching a TV show called Dallas and that TV show had a character called J.R. Ewing. You have to be older to remember the show but we’d watch it on a black and white TV, moving the antenna so we could get the picture. And I just said to my parents when I was like 14 years old, “I’m going to go to America and I’m going to be like J.R. Ewing,” and not in a bad way but just being this person who lived in big businesses, was hugely successful. And that was an awful experience.

My parents were like, “Well, I don’t know how you’re getting there. How are you going to make that happen?” But that sounds like a very big dream. And lo and behold, that’s why America was always the ultimate destination for me. It was always the shining beacon of where you went and where the streets were paved with gold.

I got here I find out when I bought my first $6 hotdog at the old TWA airport in New York City, I was like, “Wow, $6 for a hotdog and a coke.” That’s like a huge percentage, 3%, of my current net worth. But anyway, America was always the place that you grew up wanting to be a part of.

[00:06:32] Dean Barber: Right. And so, you then started at St. Louis University.

[00:06:37] Joe Duran: Yeah.

[00:06:49] Dean Barber: And why St. Louis University?

[00:06:42] Joe Duran: Well, actually I started at school here and then when I studied abroad, I went on the St. Louis University program in Madrid. And candidly, it was just what was available in Madrid when I got there. And so, when I transferred back, I just finished at St. Louis University and it was a remarkable experience because I had started my journeys in America on the West Coast and the people in California were very, very different most especially up at Berkeley. We were very, very different than the people in the Midwest.

I know that I could never ever have accomplished what I’ve accomplished in this country without having that Midwestern education because no matter where you go, no matter how it’s voiced, no matter what the political opinion, the core of America in every city shares a very similar value system but it’s most evident in the Midwest.

Like when you are at school playing rugby against KU in St. Louis, you get to meet the driving values that really drive everything. So, what I found whether you’re in Los Angeles or whether you’re in New York, or wherever you’re in Kansas City, the people are driven in very similar values. It’s a very family-based, values-based culture and it couldn’t have worked out better. And frankly, the people were incredibly welcoming but I could never imagine St. Louis was not a place that I’ve even heard of really but that’s how I ended up there. I just had been studying there, wanted to study in Madrid and St. Louis, you had a program there.

[00:08:29] Dean Barber: Well, so the kind of a fake deal that got you to St. Louis University. So, how did you decide on the financial services industry? What was it that said, “Oh, this is the direction I think I want my career to go?”

[00:08:43] Joe Duran: I wish I could tell you that I had a burning passion for it but it was a total fluke, as most of life is. I was studying marketing and I thought, “Boy, I don’t feel like I’m learning anything at all,” and I should get something that actually feels like it has substance. I hated accounting so I didn’t have the talent to do computer science so I’m like, “I’ll do finance.” That was it. So, I got a degree in finance and marketing and then I thought, “Well, I know how to sell. I know a little bit about money. So, it seems like I should be in money, in investing.”

And so, my wife was from California, my girlfriend at the time, and we drove up and down the West Coast. It was the early 90s, ‘92. We just had a pretty significant recession in 1990. The stock market had done very poorly and nobody was hiring in our industry. So, I literally drove up from San Francisco in my wife’s car because I had very little money all the way down just cold calling money managers and getting referrals from them for other money managers.

And I ended my trip down in San Diego. In the meantime, I was interviewing for a 3M job which I was offered in a fast track management program where they were going to pay me $60,000 and fast track data management. My last visit was to a guy called Bob Dodd. He was the chairman of a very small $30 million or $40 million RIA in San Diego. And I said, “Look, I want to get into the financial services business and he said, “Well, I’ll offer you minimum wage,” and I said, “I’ll take it.” And that was it. It was pure coincidence. I didn’t really have a passion for it at the time but I did that and we did that for about nine years. We grew it to several billion dollars.

[00:10:31] Dean Barber: What was the catalyst for that, Joe? Because that’s an incredible story. What was it that grew that from 30 million or 40 million to several billion?

[00:10:39] Joe Duran: I’ve always been very fortunate in identifying where I think things are headed and business success relies on two really important things. Number one, you have to be willing to do the work but secondly, it’s really helpful if you’re in front of a big wave. And I’ve seen this throughout my life that the people who succeed are smart enough to get in a place where if you use a parable here from California, if you’re going to catch, you’re going to try to surf, you need a board, you need to know how to use it but you also need waves.

And you don’t have control of the waves but you can have control of where you go and when you go. So, I was very fortunate that I identified when this phone used to go in and out of mutual funds was a timing firm. I didn’t really love that strategy but what I did love is the idea that people who own mutual funds needed help and advice about when to buy them and sell them how to allocate across asset classes. At the time in the early 90s, there were no easy solutions for that. So, we built…

[00:11:42] Dean Barber: The computer systems at that point didn’t really exist.

[00:11:46] Joe Duran: No, but everything was an Excel spreadsheet. It was the old dial-up internet modem where things would slowly scroll.

[00:11:54] Dean Barber: Or you get the giant books of the Morningstar report.

[00:11:57] Joe Duran: Exactly, yeah. And so, advisors would sell a mutual fund to their client but then they wouldn’t really talk about how to allocate across. It was very complicated to do. So, we built a firm that said, “Look, most advisors want to provide advice to their clients across broader asset classes but don’t have an easy way to do it.” So, we built a firm that helped independent advisors deliver across fund families. We were the first mutual fund supermarket where you could mix fund families and build allocations and we would do the allocation for you completely.

And we would debit the fees, we would do all the work, and we’d work with the advisor to build portfolios for clients. That business really took off. We’re in front as I mentioned of a very big wave of the move for advisors to go independent, and they needed platforms or solutions that would help them do that, which is what we built.

[00:12:52] Dean Barber: Interesting. So, this wasn’t Joe Duran as the independent financial advisor gaining billions of dollars. This was Joe Duran, entrepreneur, solving a problem that the industry had and other financial advisors wanted to use your system.

[00:13:13] Joe Duran: Exactly right. And then about six years, then we started acquiring those firms because they would use our platform for everything. We’re actually were asked, “Can we just join you?” And we said, “Sure.” And so, that’s how we built an advisory firm that had both independent firms that use our platform and advisors that were part of our firm. And so, I’d spent a lot of my time especially in the beginning meeting with clients of those advisory firms because they wouldn’t know how to describe what we did.

So, I would actually meet with the clients and talk about how we would help the advisor to do a better job managing across their portfolios, managing the risk rebalancing, which in those days was really complicated. We would do it all and make it easy so that the clients will always hit their target allocations but the advisors wouldn’t even know how to describe it because it didn’t exist at the time. So, I had to come in, meet with clients. So, we built that business by 2001. We sold that to General Electric so I’d been working for about nine years.

[00:14:18] Dean Barber: So, how did this work out? I’m having a hard time envisioning this. I got this 20-something-year-old kid in Zimbabwe, right, that is telling me how to do all this stuff. How did you gain the trust of the financial advisor community at large at such a young age?

[00:14:37] Joe Duran: Well, I had one advantage. My accent gives me 20 IQ points I don’t deserve. So, people would hear my accent and assume I knew a lot more than I actually did. Second, we had really smart people who actually did see. We had CFAs and people that I hired that actually did the work. So, the one really important thing that I’ve always been very fortunate in is attracting brilliant people and creating the context for them to do brilliant work.

A good leader and business leader understands your success if you’re really going to go beyond yourself, beyond being a sole practitioner. I have a very simple mission statement and we actually just recap this with my team yesterday. My job is to help brilliant people do brilliant work.

And so, create the environment where I attract brilliant people and also create an environment where those people are able to do the most amazing work possible. And so, I always had even though I was 24 years old [inaudible – 15:43] a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, who was validation for myself. We had a 50-year-old CFA who ran the portfolios, so that I was nothing more than a Colonel Sanders poster boy initially.

I, of course, was helping to run the business and I made a lot of mistakes early on, most of especially when we got to our first billion dollars, which at the time was a lot of assets. I was 27 years old, 28 years old, and we had a huge party at the Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel. We’ve had the Oscars at the time, the Golden Globes. And we had this huge bash and we had not invested enough in operations. We had a really bad year. We ended the year at a billion dollars but our business did not do well in between.

[00:16:34] Joe Duran: And that was you learn a lot by realizing, “You know what, I don’t know at all.” I’ve got to surround myself with people different than me who have an attention to detail because I’m not an attention-to-detail kind of guy and so you learn. You learn and most importantly, you have to approach everything with humility to say, what if I’m wrong?

And I’ve been very fortunate that I get reminded very often by many people around me how frequently I’m wrong but most importantly, I’m willing to listen no matter where I sit at the organizational chart. So, obviously, we had this amazing success with 30. I’m 34 years old now when we sold. I started at, I think I was 24, 25 after college because I started a little late. And we sold this thing for 120 million, which at the time seemed like it was a life-changing amount of wealth, obviously, with a guy with $200. We had partners and all the rest. So, we shared that around a group of people.

But it was a life-changing event and it really opened my eyes to the next voyage that I took. So, it was really very important and eye-opening in a couple of ways. One, when you get to multi-millions of dollars, and I’m not doing this to boast but just to share that when you suddenly have the choice to do whatever you want, not out of a need for survival, which certainly the first company I built was because I had to survive, I had to pay the bills, I had daughters, that I wanted to have a nice life.

But all of a sudden, when you have choices in your life, it’s not always great when you get to the end result. And I’ll just share to you an interesting story. I had a two-year non-compete. Very early on, I realized I was not cut to be a part of General Electric even though I had a five-year contract. I just wasn’t happy. So, I came on to my wife and I said, “Honey, I don’t know if I can do this,” and she said, “Thank God. You’ve been an ass since the day you sold the company.” And I said, “Well, what am I going to do?”

[00:18:36] Joe Duran: She’s like, “Whatever you want. You’re 34.” Well, interestingly enough, even though people should think that I should be ecstatic and really happy, I wasn’t, I was really lost. I felt really, really almost borderline depressed and I’m not a depressed human being and I know a lot of people suffer from that, it wasn’t my case.

[00:18:56] Dean Barber: So, you couldn’t see yourself retiring and just…

[00:19:00] Joe Duran: No way. No way. No way. And I was 34 and I would go out to coffee at Starbucks, I’d be like, I would just feel lost. And so, I thought, I’ll write a book. I went to graduate school. I got graduate degrees from both Columbia, New York, and Berkeley. But in the meantime, I wrote a book and I interviewed 100 entrepreneurs who have built companies and successfully sold them.

And it was eye-opening because I start every conversation the same way, “Tell me what it felt like when you sold the company?” and they’ll say, “It was great. It was the American dream.” And I said I don’t feel that way at all and then they’ll say, “Guess what, me either. It was like a death in the family.” I felt like I’d lost all sense of purpose and identity. I made massive sacrifices I would never redo again. I got all this money but I lost my marriages and I have no relationship with my kids.

All these sacrifices people made for money and it was the very beginning of this idea that we better know what money is for because everyone I spoke to who had it had massive regrets about what they’d had to do to make it. And for me, that really was a life-changing event for me to go, “Okay, how we live matters.”

[00:20:18] Dean Barber: How long did it take for you to do those hundred interviews with successful entrepreneurs?

[00:20:22] Joe Duran: It took me about 18 months to write the book. It was my second book. It’s still in publication today and that basically shares the 20 things you need to know if you’re going to build a successful business. The second half of the book is about selling it and how you need to adjust your mental frame. But the most important thing is that the business is not your baby.

It does not care about you. And that is very hard to understand the first time you build a business. Having built a second one that was significantly bigger, my attachment to it is very different. But most entrepreneurs, again, don’t get the good fortune of building two. They build one and they wrap their own identity around this thing that they’ve built and it actually limits the success of that business in two ways. Number one, you don’t free the control broad enough to allow for other people to do great work.

And second, you don’t create the environment for yourself to be balanced and flourish, and that limits your ability to make the best possible decision. And so, again, great businesses should be driven by like a child that you hope loves you forever. Business has absolutely no feelings for you. But it is remarkable the amount of entrepreneurs who believe that they are a reflection of their business when in fact their business should be a reflection of them. And so, those lines can blur and can cause you to limit your own success and your own happiness.

[00:22:00] Dean Barber: So, do you think, Joe, that that 18 months of the interviews with these CEOs, successful entrepreneurs exiting their business, and the lessons that you learn from them, was that a fulfilling time for you? Did you feel lost while you were doing that? Or was that something that was filling a void for you?

[00:22:21] Joe Duran: It was filling a void but at the same time, you cannot fill the void of a lack of purpose. And for me, I was just digging around trying to figure out what can I take from this. And I took one thing above all else, man without purpose or women without purpose is naturally going to feel lost. We are made and put on this earth to accomplish something. And it doesn’t matter what it is if you don’t have a mission and a purpose that gets you up every day then you are going to feel lost because you’re not heading in any particular direction.

[00:23:06] Dean Barber: And that’s a sickening feeling, right?

[00:23:08] Joe Duran: Yeah. What am I doing this for? And I am not a human being who’s here to simply take. Now, there are people who love to say, “I’m here to be the greatest golfer in the world,” and I tip my hat to them. I know that for me, as a friend of mine, we were hiking in the mountains in the midst of this, and this was an enlightening moment.

He said to me, “Joe, some people are meant to sit on an island sipping mai tais and some people are meant to be paddling to that island. You are a guy who needs to paddle to the island,” and it’s true like I am not made to sip mai tais on the beach. I love to do it once in a while but not that I recognize. I like to know that I’m contributing in some way to furthering mankind in some way. And that has been always my motivating factor.

[00:24:00] Dean Barber: So, let’s talk about this psyche and the things. You talked about the sacrifices in life that people made, they lost their families, they lost their wife, maybe estranged children all for money. And that in and of itself has to be an empty feeling, right?

[00:24:19] Joe Duran: Yes.

[00:24:20] Joe Duran: Because I’ll tell you a quick story about me and I don’t think I’ve told you this before but when my kids were, I’ve got five kids, and the youngest is now 19 and the oldest is going to be 30 here in a couple of months. All of my kids were pretty young at this point in time and I was trying to grow a business much like you were and I hired a coach and this coach asked me, she says, “Okay, I want you to write down where you’re going to be in five years and where you’re going to be in 10 years.” And so, I start writing all this stuff down and she goes, “Wait a minute.

No, you’re writing about your business. I want to know about you, your personal life. Where are you going to be? How old are your kids going to be? Where are you going to be living? What are you going to be doing?” I broke down and started crying and I said, “Oh my God, in 10 years, I’m going to have one of my five kids left at home and I can’t tell you the names of my kids’ teachers right now. I’m so busy doing what I do. And for me, that was a pivotal moment where I said, “This business isn’t the most important thing in my life. My family’s the most important thing.”

And so, I had to restructure everything and reprioritize my life and where I was spending the most valuable piece of my time and who was I giving it most to. And I think that’s kind of what you’re saying but be many of these men and women, they didn’t get to that point until it was too late.

[00:25:40] Dean Barber: Look, you’re hitting on something really important here, which is the reprioritization that needs to occur. I would suggest there’s been a lot of research done on this. And a fellow graduate of UC Berkeley, who’s a Nobel Prize winner in psychology and economics wrote about this particular subject because he’d been studying happiness and wealth and financial decisions, and realized happiness is not the ultimate goal for every human. They say it is but yet we constantly make sacrifices all the time for something far more important.

And that something far more important is satisfaction with the way you live. That, in fact, narrowing the gap between the person you think you want to be and the person you are is what drives happiness. Happiness is a temporary state of mind that can come with a really good old fashion and a nice steak or a great hug from your kids. You will feel happy. And just as surely, your happiness will disappear the minute that you find out your car’s been driven into a ditch by one of your kids. It’s a feeling.

Satisfaction is a lasting thing and satisfaction means that you are living up to the life that you set for yourself, to the standards and things that you wanted, the decision you made to say, “I want to be a person who is in my kid’s life, that 10 years from now I am a caring and loving dad, that I am a caring and loving husband, that I’m healthy, that I run a successful business,” and how you prioritize that understanding that all of that, accomplishing that will allow you to have those feelings of happiness more frequently. But even if they don’t occur because lots of bad things happen, that you will still be proud and satisfied with who you are every day, that that is what lasts.

[00:27:38] Joe Duran: And in order to get there, you have to do the work or go through a process to say what matters to me? And unfortunately, we so seldom are taught at any point in life that it is for each individual completely different. And there’s no right or wrong. We’re all told, “Go to the best school. Make the most money. Retire with the most amount of assets. Get a beautiful spouse.

Have perfect kids.” Those are the markers of happiness but they aren’t. For some people being a great carpenter and being fantastic at it and being single and living in Singapore is their thing, good for them. What I guess I’m sharing is we are individually and personally responsible for our own lives. And so, we should be responsible for understanding what gives us meaning, what matters to us, and then make choices that align with that intention.

It’s so easy to blame others to be a victim but what I have found in my incredibly fortunate life is that your life is the sum of your choices and that’s a famous Albert Camus quote that things are going to happen and you will have no control over them but you will always have control over how you react. You will always have a choice about how you think about it. And then I’m working on a new book called The Thin Line and The Thin Line is on this very simple concept, that the difference between misery and happiness, or success or failure is the thin line about whether life is happening to you or for you. And your perspective about whether you are a victim of circumstance or a shaper of your life is the difference between being completely happy and earning your life or not.

[00:29:33] Joe Duran: So, to me, it’s a really interesting idea, “Did this bad thing happened to me or for me?” because if it happened for you the awful upbringing that I had, the hard things that have happened in your life, then you’re going to sit back and say, “What can I learn from this? Why did this happen? Why is this happening for me?” And it changes everything. That simple question, that’s simple word, two or four, even makes you a victim or gives you complete control of your life. It’s just an interesting idea that for me, relays itself in almost everything in life. And so, for me again I know I could be simply winning 1,000 lottery flips but a lot of times it hasn’t felt that way in life. I’ve just chosen to say every time something bad happens, it’s happening for a reason.

[00:30:26] Dean Barber: Thanks for listening to The Guided Retirement Show. I’m Dean Barber, Managing Director at Modern Wealth Management. We’ll be back after this short break.


[00:30:34] Female: At some point in everyone’s life, you have to go to school because let’s face it, a good education is important and just because you’re nearing retirement age or you’re already there, it doesn’t mean the learning stops. One of the easiest ways to learn about retirement is at Modern Wealth Management’s Education Center. There, you’ll find things to read, to watch, and to listen to about important retirement topics. So, go to Click on the menu dropdown. It’s in the upper right-hand corner and select Education Center.

There you can download and read our Social Security checklist, watch Dean Barber’s latest video on the current state of the markets, or listen to an audio recording about tax reduction strategies and so much more. There’s no cost. Just sign up for access at It’s as simple as that. Besides, there’s no tests, no textbooks, and I promise, not to move your seat even if you talk too much. There’s so much to learn about retirement. Just go to Click on the menu drop down and select Education Center.

[00:31:48] Joe Duran: Satisfaction is a lasting thing and satisfaction means that you are living up to the life that you set for yourself to the standard and things that you want, a decision you made to say I want to be a person who lives in my kid’s life that 10 years from now, I am a caring and loving dad, that I am a caring and loving husband, that I’m healthy, that I run a successful business.


[00:32:29] Dean Barber: We’re back. This is The Guided Retirement Show. I’m Dean Barber. So, here you are now and we’re going to back up in time again. So, you’re what? Thirty-seven years old. You had two or three years that you wrote your book, you interviewed these people, and I have to think that it changed your perspective on life and what was truly important in life, which is what we’re talking about today.

And then that is what really led your vision to your creation of United Capital. So, I want to go to your creation of United Capital, your vision for not just helping the financial advisors find the right asset allocation. What I think you learned there was that that is a commodity. There’s something far more important that financial advisors should be more than just an asset allocator, right?

[00:33:26] Joe Duran: Yeah. Look, my view is very simple. In order for anyone to listen to advice, they must be understood. And what does that mean to be understood? It means that you have to, if you’re going to listen to anything I have to say, I have to know what you care about. I have to know what matters to you. I have to know the things that keep you up in the middle of the night.

And most importantly, I have to talk about the things you care about. And money and investing is not one of them. We had a very simple idea which is rather than focusing on people helping people die rich, let’s make sure they live richly because money is fuel. And you have to think about money as fuel. It is a resource. The more of it you have, think about if you’re driving, the more fuel you have, the more choices you have of where you can go. Now, you’re going to need to stop and get more gas along the way but you’re not going to view getting gas as a destination. It is simply refueling.

An advisor’s job is to help you make the most of your voyage, not to just make sure you have fuel in the tank. And what does that mean? It means understanding where you want to go and what you want to do and how you want to do it because life is filled with trade-offs. If the advisor doesn’t know, is it more important for you to make more money or spend more time with your kids? If we don’t know how you would trade off your limited time, which is what is not a replenishable asset, then how can we possibly give you good advice? How is it possible for anyone to tell you how to invest your money if they don’t know what you care about? It was evolutionary at the time.

[00:35:08] Dean Barber: That was something that nobody even talked about because think about this. When EF Hutton speaks, people listen. And you had all these people in the financial services industry that their superpower was their secret sauce on how they manage money. And so, it created this, I guess, view from the public that the financial advisor’s job is just to get me a better rate of return.

[00:35:41] Joe Duran: That’s correct.

[00:35:42] Dean Barber: And so, what your whole concept here turned that on its head but what it did was it didn’t just change financial advisor’s lives. You’ve changed. This idea has changed the lives of thousands, if not millions of Americans that have been fortunate enough to work with advisors who subscribe to that concept of trying to help a person live richly, and really get fulfillment out of their life.

[00:36:15] Joe Duran: Well, we call it financial life management. This is more than investment management. It’s more than financial planning. It’s financial life management. And again, just to go back to why that’s the case, I interviewed 100 people, and they all thought, “If only,” so what do we all think? If only I had a million dollars or I had $2 million. If only XYZ happened, I will be happy. That’s not the case. There’s never-ending amounts of earnings that you will come up with and they will not change your happiness.

[00:36:51] Dean Barber: The regrets you have, they had to be more of the family sacrifices, though, right?

[00:36:58] Joe Duran: That’s correct.

[00:36:59] Dean Barber: They were successful in business but they regretted the sacrifices on the family side, right?

[00:37:05] Joe Duran: Exactly. Yes.

[00:37:07] Dean Barber: So, that’s where your vision says, “Okay, how do we help people identify that?” So where did you start? How did you think about how are we going to help people identify this?

[00:37:15] Joe Duran: Well, I’ve always been a student of behavioral economics and so I said, “Look, how do we create a way for people in a non-threatening environment to make trade-offs?” and we know money only does three things. It helps you to avoid pain, take care of the things that you’re afraid of, in other words. Second, it helps you to do things that make you happy, provide enjoyment and happiness.

And third, it helps you to take care of the people you care about. That’s all that money does. And so, we went to our advisors and we said to them, “Look, we want you to write down all the things that your clients can think of that they’ll ever want as personal financial goals, the things that they say they want and that matter to them.” We had about 250 items. And then we took a whole group of people and bundle them into groups and we ended up with only 15 things. Five for happiness, five for fear, five for taking care of other’s commitment, and put them together and said, “Okay. Is there anything missing?”

And these are things like, “I don’t want to be a burden to my family,” or, “I want to educate the people I care about,” or, “I want to grow as a human being.” And so, we literally went through this, we tested it, we found out that a few of the cards could be improved.

And we’ve recently retested a decade later, nobody has come up with anything missing. So, we managed to compress all of our desires people live for down to 15 cards and then people literally prioritize that and we did lots of tests on-site, pilot testing, how does it happen? What’s the sequence that should follow? As it turns out you have to do it in exactly the right sequence, otherwise, it clouds the results. But two things really happened that were amazing.

[00:39:10] Joe Duran: Number one, we never found anyone who had actually articulated and put in writing what mattered to them. And number two, we’ve never found a married couple who ever actually spoken about and articulated what do we collectively agree we work for? What is the purpose of our work? And I know you’ve done this exercise. I’ve never sat down with anyone and found anybody who said, “Oh, no, we know. Here are our top five things that we work for,” which is amazing, right?

[00:39:38] Dean Barber: Right. No, it’s more you hear, you see the husband looking at his wife and he’s saying, “I didn’t know that was important to you,” and she says to him, “I didn’t know that you cared about that.” I mean, what I find about that exercise and you coined the phrase in honest conversation, I look at it as a family prioritization exercise. Why are we here? Why are we doing the things we do and why is it that we do what we do? And what do we want the rest of our lives to look like? And I really believe that we can shape our own future based on the choices that we make each day.

[00:40:15] Joe Duran: Well, we know that’s true and, Dean, as you know, every single financial plan that anyone has ever been given is wrong, the day it is written.

[00:40:23] Dean Barber: Of course, it is.

[00:40:23] Joe Duran: It is simply a reflection of our best guess about the future. Nowhere in that financial plan does it show somebody getting cancer. No. Dean, nowhere in that financial plan does it just show exactly when your kids are going to get married and what it will cost. You have best estimates but we know that life will not unfold that way. So, then the question is, you’re paying an advisor to manage your money and they have no idea what it’s actually going to do. And you’re paying an advisor for a financial plan. That’s wrong the day it’s written.

What are you really paying an advisor for? Well, I would suggest the reason you pay an advisor is to help you optimize your choice making any given day. Because the course corrections you’re going to have to make as life actually unfolds cannot be done by a computer. It has to be done with the help and counsel of somebody who understands you, who knows what matters to you, and when you’re making a decision that compromises your long-term satisfaction.

That they can say to you, as long as you are aware that taking that job in that different city will put at risk all these other things you said that matter to you. And if they choose to go ahead and do it in a non-judgmental way, help them to make the trade-offs to optimize that decision, which is all that matters because you’re right. Your whole life is affected by how you make decisions. So, the job of a really great advisor is to help bring truth and understanding and discipline to how you make those choices.

[00:41:54] Dean Barber: Yeah. And once I think the thing that is so exciting to me is once people take the time to sit down and work with an advisor who works in that capacity and have that conversation, the clarity that comes out of that is phenomenal, phenomenal.

[00:42:16] Joe Duran: Under control. Look, there’s something really powerful about understanding what matters to you and then taking action to get there. So, again, this is about no longer being a victim to circumstance. You are telling the universe this is what I care about. You’re telling the people that you care about, this is what I care about. And you are now putting yourself to accountability of making decisions that align with your intentions. And that is how you narrow the gap between what you think you want to be and who you are. That’s how you narrow the gap and that is what will bring you satisfaction and opportunities to be happy more often.

[00:43:02] Dean Barber: So, this is what’s fascinating, Joe, about what you’ve done. So, when you think about the things that you’re talking about here and the intimacy and how well I get to know my clients and other advisors that are part of your organization, get to know their advisors, that’s something that until you created what you did was pretty much exclusive to the ultra-wealthy, where the ultra-wealthy said, “Look, I’ve got this money,” and I’m not giving it to anybody until they understand me, right?

[00:43:35] Joe Duran: That’s correct.

[00:43:36] Dean Barber: But the average I’ll call them the “millionaire next door” has never thought that they had the right to do that and our industry was ill-equipped to do that. So, what you basically…

[00:43:47] Joe Duran: Oh, they couldn’t it, yeah. You couldn’t do it.

[00:43:50] Dean Barber: You’ve basically taken what was once available only to the ultra-high net worth people and you’ve made it available to the masses but still those people that are looking for it, they’ve got to find the right advisor. They’ve got to find the advisor that works in that capacity. And I will tell you because it’s the way that I do it and all the advisors that are in my shop do it. It is a high intensity.

There’s a lot of work behind it. I’m going to throw your money in these different accounts and go play golf and let’s hope the market goes up. No, this is the true financial life management where our conversations with our clients go on multiple times throughout the year. So, they’re getting now for the first time the ability to get the same kind of treatment that the ultra-high net worth people have gotten from the family offices.

[00:44:46] Joe Duran: That’s correct. And also, on an ongoing basis, making sure that we’re staying on track. So, we measure on track on a scale of one to 10 how are we doing on these priorities. Yes, look, the reality is if you have a lot of money, you have a lot of really good counsel and you have a lot of dedicated care that you can have, and that requires a lot of expense. Having the systems and tools that allow us to do this in a predictable and consistent way also allows us to do this for more people. And at a level of client that is not at $100 million.

So, that’s really powerful. That’s a small component of it. I think about it in that context with even investing money and everything else that we do to say how do we provide average everyday hardworking Americans the tools and systems to take advantage of the technology that’s available to do things in a much more sophisticated way than would ever be possible today.

So, another example, you can do with investing now, create individually managed portfolios that are tax-managed in individual stocks that replicating ETFs that are tax-efficient. You don’t pay anyone else’s taxes. That would have been unimaginable a few years ago for somebody with $200,000 or $500,000. Today, you can do that efficiently. So, we use that size now, now that we’re at tens of billions of dollars. We have a lot of resources, especially as part of Goldman Sachs to develop and invest on things that you get to use as you get access to all of this research and all this work and all this incredible technology spend to further your cause of helping individuals live a better life.

[00:46:32] Dean Barber: So, I think that we’re going to kind of fast forward here because you sold the company that you built, right, to Goldman Sachs.

[00:46:44] Joe Duran: Just before you go on, I want to make sure we’re clear. It’s not just me. I am a whole team of amazing people. I don’t want anyone to think this was me because I can tell you I would have built a hot dog stand by myself.

[00:47:01] Dean Barber: Right. We’ll get to show your company was sold, right?

[00:47:04] Joe Duran: Yeah.

[00:47:06] Dean Barber: So, I think where I want to go with that, Joe, is that when people first looked at this deal, it was a head-scratcher, right? Why would Goldman Sachs, the premier money manager on Wall Street that has ignored the millionaire next door, that wasn’t their market. That wasn’t what they were looking for. Why would they do this? But when you come down to the why, it’s because they recognized that what you and your team, United Capital, had created could be something that could be broadened out for the masses, therefore allowing even more people to experience what their ultra-high net worth investors have experienced over the last several decades.

[00:47:57] Joe Duran: That’s correct. Look, Goldman Sachs, their average client is 50 million-plus. They had no way internally of understanding of how to access this market but they’re commercial and smart creatures and they said, “We know that most of the wealth in America is not with the billionaires. It’s with millionaires, with hard-working entrepreneurs all over the country, and we don’t have a way of working with that market.”

So, we can try and figure it out or we can buy one of the preeminent national independent firms that we believe I think they believed we were the best that there was available and make sure that we have a team that can build out and provide the services to not just our clients but the clients of really good, carefully selected independent firms. As you know, in order to be a partner, you had to go through a lot of review both ways. We had to pass your standards but you have to pass ours.

And our view is very simple. We’re going to partner with only the finest advisors in the country to provide them the ability to have all of our tools and systems to go way beyond what we could have done at United Capital because we now have resources that go way beyond, way, way beyond what I could have done to investment acumen, to investment options, that have only been available to the wealthiest of clients.

But as part of Goldman Sachs, and as a partner of Goldman Sachs, I can bring a lot of that to bear here in a way that’s really good for everyday Americans. And that’s really exciting. That is a way for me to repay to this amazing country by providing things that are not available to everyone else.

[00:49:46] Dean Barber: So, thank God the friend of yours on the top of that mountain as you were hiking convinced you that you should be the guy paddling to the island. And you’re still paddling and I still hear the passion in your voice every time I talk to you and it’s electric. I mean it’s energetic and anybody that took the time to listen to the conversation that you and I have today that don’t get that Joe Duran is one passionate individual and you’re not doing this for Joe Duran anymore, right?

[00:50:19] Joe Duran: No. Look, I can tell you with this last sale, this really is absolutely not about money anymore. For me, it’s what I love. I love making a positive impact on the world. It is my driving force. It is why I wake up every day because I am on this planet to make a positive impact and I know no better way on helping people make great decisions to take ownership of their life to provide resources that are not available unless I walk this planet and help to make that happen.

That’s what I exist for. And it’s rewarding and exciting without sacrificing my marriage and my kids doing it in a very different way than we did the first go around. I always took vacations. I always took breaks with this building of this firm. But also, we get a much bigger platform. I get to do things in a much greater way.

So, at the one year anniversary now and I’m more excited now than I’ve ever been in my career even though I don’t own it anymore. I’m now an employee just like everyone else. But to me, it’s no less important what we do. And frankly, I think we now have the resources and ability to do it in an even bigger way. So, that’s exciting.

[00:51:36] Dean Barber: Well, and it’s exciting for me to have the good fortune of knowing you and partnering with you years ago and I’m so glad that our paths crossed and I want to take just a minute just say to thanks for taking the time out of I know your very busy schedule to share who is Joe Duran and what drives you here on The Guided Retirement Show.

This is a story that people need to hear. And here’s just one last thing that you looked at our country when you moved to the United States and said there’s opportunity, right? And I believe that there’s opportunity for everybody in this country but you have to go out and make it happen. It’s not going to come to you.

[00:52:22] Joe Duran: So, look, the streets are not paved with gold. No one’s stopping you from doing whatever you want legally, ethically, to do the work, to build your own street, and coat it with gold if you want. The reality is there is nothing stopping you from having the life you want, literally nothing. There’s no one on the other side saying you can’t have it.

That as long as you have a mindset that, “I’m going to make the pie bigger. I’m going to be a contributor to this planet and to this country. And all I want is my fair share.” That if you have that mindset, you can do almost anything and I’m living proof of that. Now again, I could have just been incredibly lucky twice but I kissed the ground every day that I get the good opportunity to do good things, be proud of what I get to do, and only possible in America, I can tell you, because I’ve traveled the world. There is no other country this could happen.

[00:53:21] Dean Barber: Yeah. You didn’t get lucky, Joe. You worked hard. And it’s interesting because some people can look at the successful people and say, “Oh my gosh, they got lucky,” right? It wasn’t luck. It was never luck.

[00:53:33] Joe Duran: You need some luck. You need some luck too but you got to do the work.

[00:53:38] Dean Barber: You got to do the work and you got to not expect for somebody to give you something for nothing.

[00:53:44] Joe Duran: What they say you are lucky when opportunity meets preparedness.

[00:53:48] Dean Barber: That’s right.

[00:53:49] Joe Duran: And every person with a great idea, that’s 1%. 1% is inspiration. 99% is perspiration. I might not be the smartest but I will be the hardest working.

[00:54:05] Dean Barber: Well, Joe, thanks so much for joining us. I really appreciate it and I look forward to our continued work together. And congratulations on the success of your life and how you’ve impacted so many others.

[00:54:16] Joe Duran: Thank you, Dean. I very much appreciate it. Have a great day.

[00:54:19] Dean Barber: All right. You too.


[00:54:20] Dean Barber: Well, if that doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will. What a great story about Joe Duran. I want you to make sure that you share this podcast with your friends, with your family. Get it out there to all the young people who think that it’s going to be easy to make things happen. This isn’t a podcast that I think we got to learn about life, about passion, and I love the fact that Joe got the opportunity to do those 100 interviews with successful entrepreneurs and CEOs and really understand that life’s not all about money.

There’s far more important things in our lives than money. And as Joe said, the money is the fuel. Find yourself the right advisor, look to the advisors of Modern Wealth Management. That’s exactly what we do. We do it exactly like Joe was talking about. We’d love to start a conversation with you and help you in any way that we can. Geographic boundaries don’t exist with the technology that we have today. We can help you wherever you live in the United States.


Investment advisory service is offered through Modern Wealth Management, an SEC-registered investment advisor.

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Investment advisory services offered through Modern Wealth Management, Inc., an SEC Registered Investment Adviser.

The views expressed represent the opinion of Modern Wealth Management an SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Information provided is for illustrative purposes only and does not constitute investment, tax, or legal advice. Modern Wealth Management does not accept any liability for the use of the information discussed. Consult with a qualified financial, legal, or tax professional prior to taking any action.