Financial Advisor George Croonquist celebrated his 50th anniversary at Janney with a party in the Hackensack, New Jersey, office where several clients, branch managers, and Jerry Lombard, former Head of Janney's Private Client Group, celebrated his achievements in the industry. Many in attendance assumed it was a retirement party when they arrived.
However, 16 years later, George's retirement still has yet to come.
George is Janney's longest-serving employee, and his mission to work hard and serve his clients has withstood generations.
"I'm not a golfer; I'm not a tennis player. This is my hobby," George said. "Helping the clients is what I love doing, and I wouldn't have it any other way."
A Different Industry
The business was vastly different when George started in November 1957 when he joined Joseph Walker and Sons as an order clerk. He found his way into the job after he got connected to Bob Gerrie through a family member. Gerrie would end up becoming a long-time mentor to George.
During his days as an order clerk, George would go to New York City two nights a week to become registered by the New York Stock Exchange through the New York Institute of Finance. Once registered, George was taught the business by Gerrie.
“It was a much different business than today, simply stocks, bonds, and very little else."
A customer would come into the office and discuss a strategy with George, and then he would call into the order room of the New York office, who would then call down to the floor of the NYSE and enter the order. From there, whether a person bought 10 or 100 shares, they had to deliver the stock certificate to the client.
"Clients would spend hours in the office watching the ticker for the latest prices. It took 10-15 minutes to execute an order versus milliseconds today," George said. "It was common for us to register and ship out the certificates so that it would be seven days for settlement.”
George recognizes attending a Dunwoody Seminar in the mid-1980s as the turning point in his career, where he changed his business and became more successful.
"I started on the road to fee-based business and became very successful," George said. "I ended up bringing in $40 million in six months and remember my clients bringing their securities in shopping bags to be held as assets under management with us."
When George’s firm was acquired by what would eventually become Janney Montgomery Scott, George got connected to Norm Wilde and John Gray, mentors who played an instrumental role in George’s professional growth. From there, George went on to serve as the manager of the Hackensack branch office, was invited to be a partner of the firm in 1975, and subsequently was named to Janney’s Board of Directors, one of the fondest moments in his career.
"I never thought I'd be able to say something like that in my lifetime,” George said. “I later retired from the board and was complimented by Janney, where they invited my son, Tom, to take my place. That was quite something, and I'm very proud of that, to say the least."
A Three Generation Business
While many things have changed over his tenure, one of George’s favorite evolutions is growing The Croonquist Group to span three generations, as George is now joined by his two sons, Thomas and Peter, and his grandson, Brent.
George said with a smile about his favorite part of still coming to work, "it's getting to work with my two sons and grandson. It's something I'm very, very proud of. I honor their opinions, and they honor my opinions. So, what could be better?"
Tom joined his father in 1989 after working at a municipal bond house, and then Peter followed suit in 2000, coming from Smith Barney, after receiving a call from his father.
"He called me and said, 'You better join now because I'm probably going to retire soon,' and that was over 20 years ago," Peter said.
George responded — "I fooled them all."
Tom and Peter have been relishing every moment with their father and continue to learn from him.
"Dad always said clients come first. With all the technology we have, you still have to subscribe to an old-school service model, which is pick up the phone and talk to your clients," Tom said.
“Much of what Dad has taught us was service, not just a service model in the branch to your clients, but service to the community. So we have tried to model ourselves after our Dad that way," Peter said. "It's an honor to come in and work with your dad and brother, and now I get to work with my nephew.
"What's interesting is we're working with clients where we have third and fourth generations of clients, so there's a longevity that permeates through."
Tom and Peter have modeled themselves after their father's example, but they have also been at Janney for over 20 years, creating a long-lasting, stable legacy for their clients.
"Each of us has had a long history with one great firm. No one has been here longer than my father, and my brother and I have logged decades with this great firm," Tom said. "We feel that when you're at the right place, build a business, and your practice will grow. And it has grown."
As George looks back on some of the experiences that he's had at Janney, he will always look back fondly on the CEO Club Level trips that allowed him to travel to places like Egypt to see King Tutt's tomb, getting to see the terracotta soldiers in China, seeing and bringing home pieces of the Berlin Wall and going to Russia and visiting Leningrad before it's the modern name of St. Petersburg.
George was named Janney's Financial Advisor of the Year in 1992 and has made it a priority throughout his career to give back to the local community, including previously serving as the Chairman of the Board for Hackensack University Medical Center, which is now known as Hackensack Meridian and grown from one hospital to 17.
He served on the Board of Trustees for his alma mater St. Peters University, was a trustee of his local parish, and was recognized by both the Boy Scouts of America and the Hackensack Rotary Club for his efforts in the community.
And this legacy of serving the community, not only the clients, has been passed down to the next generation.
"He's led by example for us to be committed to your community service and be dedicated with your free time, not only to your family but also to your community," Tom said. "It's been a great example that he set for us. And I hope we can do the same for the next generation."
George’s advice for the next generation of Financial Advisors is simple and time-tested.
"It's so difficult to come into the business today as opposed to when I came into the business, but I have to say honesty is at the top of the list in terms of importance," George said. "Honesty and the client come first. Always put the client ahead of yourself and your interests."
And while George's impact on the family business, community, and Janney has spanned generations, he would like to be remembered simply.
"He's a nice guy, honest, and a hard worker in the business," George said on how he would like to be remembered.
For Tom, his father's legacy is more complex.
"You have all of these great recollections of his stature in the firm, his decades of leadership, close friendships he's made throughout all of his years, and finally, the legacy of his sons and grandson," Tom said. "Not to mention all of our excellent support, including George's assistant, who retired after 36 years, Jane Hess. To have great partners like that and our current assistants Janet and Crystal, who are treated with kindness, fairness, and respect.
"Our branch has those characteristics, which is why people want to come here and stay here for so many years, and we owe a lot of that to Dad."