Hillis Financial Services CEO looks back on industry changes over 50 years, prepares next generation
SAN JOSE, Calif –Hillis Financial Services, a veteran financial services practice in the Bay Area, today honors CEO Jack Hillis for his 50 years of success and for his dedication to preparing the next generation of financial advisors.
“The key to success in financial services is knowing the past – the most expensive words on Wall Street are ‘This time is different,’” said Hillis. “I was on the front lines during three of the four worst market declines in the past 100 years, the Oil Embargo of 1973, the 2000 Tech Bubble Bust and the 2007 Financial Crisis, as well as witnessed the market drop 22 percent on ‘Black Monday’ in 1987.”
“Despite those declines, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has climbed from a low of 689 in 1971 to over 26,000 in 2018,” continued Hillis. “After 50 years, I still learn something new every day and still come to work exhilarated. I constantly remain optimistic about the future and look forward to the coming years.”
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According to Hillis, he has seen just about every mistake that investors can make – and witnessed the effects of fear and greed – as well as observed key tactics that make investors successful.
During his 50-year career, Hillis has seen current events, market movements, regulations and new technologies spur watershed changes within financial advisory. To truly understand the industry, it’s important to be familiar with the industry’s profound evolution over the past 50 years.
“When I entered the industry, everyone was a stock broker and financial planning didn’t exist,” said Hillis. “In 1968, investment choices were quite limited and commissions were fixed and very high. Each firm used the same commission schedule and it was non-negotiable. For an investor to get an active stock price he had to call a stockbroker.”
Below is an outline of Hillis’ five-decade career in financial services, written in his own words. It includes his overview of the decades, highlights historic events and related impacts on the market, and spotlights industry milestones.
1968 to 1979
January 1968 was quite an interesting time to become a stockbroker. The Dow Jones was trading in the low-to-mid 900s and investors were anxiously waiting to hit the magic 1,000.
The current events at that time were quite jarring. We had the Tet Offensive, and the Vietnam War was at its peak. Martin Luther King was assassinated, followed by Robert Kennedy; there were riots on college campuses; and Richard Nixon was elected president at the end of this era.
The 1970s was the decade of stagflation. The Dow began at 800 and closed at 839, with it reaching an all-time high of 1,051 and boasting a record volume of 44.5 million shares in 1976.
The investment fallacy of the day was to invest in the ‘Nifty 50.’ These were 50 stocks that were considered one-decision stocks. People bought them and then forgot about them. The problem was Polaroid and Kreske went bankrupt and Burroughs and Simplicity effectively wiped out shareholder equity.
On August 19, 1979, Business Week issued its famed “Death of Equities” issue with the Dow Jones at 875 and about to begin the greatest bull market in history.
One of my steadfast rules is that if you do the opposite of what the media is headlining, most times you will be fine.
1980 to 1989
At the start of the 1980s, interest rates were incredibly high. The prime rate was 15.26 percent and money market funds were paying 12.68 percent. The average mortgage rate was over 17 percent. (I was fortunate, I got my mortgage at 16.7 percent.)
The Dow finally broke out of its era of stagflation and closed at a new high of 2,662.95 in 1987.
October 19, 1987 was Black Monday. It was the largest one-day drop in the history of the stock market. The market was down 22.6 percent in a single day. Due to the lack of technology and the high volume (by 1980s standards), the tape was running anywhere from two to four hours behind. Investors had no idea what the actual price of their stocks were.
By the end of 1989, stocks had recovered to the pre-crash level.
1990 to Present
The Dow hit 3,000 in July 1991, 5,000 in November 1995 and 10,000 in April of 1999.
From 1997 to 2001, there was wild speculation in the markets. Speculators were rushing into stocks that never should have gone public. Day trading became the rage, until day traders lost everything. I remember a comment in the newspaper that said if you were 25 and a millionaire, now you are just 25. In my 50 years, I have never seen a day trader consistently make money. It is impossible. You have to be right too many times.
From a low of 7,891, the Dow recovered to reach a high of 12,820. The financial crisis hit and the market dropped to 6469.
Many in the industry struggled to recover from the dot-com collapse and survive the financial crisis. We survived and flourished by using a proactive approach to controlling risk, having a sell discipline and proper asset allocation strategy.
By 2014, my practice had grown to servicing over $300 million in brokerage and advisory assets through LPL. Rather than fearing the downturns as many did, my experience enabled me to take the emotion out of investing and make clear, confident decisions. Overall, I have remained bullish on the markets, knowing from history they would go back up. I was able to weather the storm and appropriately manage my clients’ investments.
I believe the next five years have the potential to be some of the most dynamic years in my career. I plan to stay actively involved.
“I am dedicated to passing along my knowledge and five decades of experience to the next generation of advisors,” said Hillis. “This means inspiring more Millennials to embark on careers in the industry and empowering them with the knowledge they need to succeed.”
“If new and incoming advisors only take away one lesson from my career, I would advise them to stay bullish on the stock markets and be patient,” continued Hillis. “Despite market volatility, prices have historically gone up over time.”
Hillis currently mentors Dylan Bell, an associate advisor at Hillis Financial Services and a member of LPL’s first class of young advisors in its debut program, the LPL Advisory Institute. Hillis hopes that Dylan will keep Hillis Financial in the forefront of investment advisory for the next 50 years.
After starting his career at a large brokerage, Hillis moved into the independent advisor space where he felt he could better serve his Bay Area clients. He founded Hillis Financial Services in 2001 and has been recognized as part of LPL’s Chairman’s Council from 2002-2018, which is based on an annual production ranking and represents less than 2% of the firm’s advisors nationwide, and as a Top Wealth Manager by the National Association of Board Certified Advisory Practices in 2012 & 2013.