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On the Job with Victor Sullivan

Photo by Barry Levine

Photo by Barry Levine

ALBANY -- Victor C. "Vic" Sullivan III has 30 years of experience as a financial adviser and is the branch manager in Albany for Wells Fargo Advisors. He also owns SpringHill Farms just outside Albany. In three decades, he's seen markets soar and bottom out. Last week, he shared some of his observations with The Albany Herald:

Q: If you were a young adult fresh out of college, what would you do first in searching for a job?

A: Regardless of what you may hear about the economy, employers are always looking to have the best people on their teams. In this day and time, you need to be able to separate yourself from the competition by either having superior skills or a better work ethic. In many cases you may have to initially take less in pay than you'd like, but once you get on board and do a fantastic job, your employer will do whatever it takes to keep you.

Q: What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?

A: When I came back to Albany after graduating from the University of Georgia, I immediately went to work at AG Edwards. I was single and lived at home with no material expenses until I bought a little house two months later, so I suspect the first few dollars involved the search for a young lady that would eventually become my wife. I was mighty fortunate that I soon found her: Jane Anne DeLoach from Blakely.

Q: What's the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A: Recognizing their success and making sure they have the tools it takes to be their best are important. You don't want an employee who doesn't work out coming to you saying, "I could have been successful if only ..."

Q: What was your first job?

A: My first job was during the summer after I turned 16. I worked with the RH Coody Construction Company and as we prepared the Shadowood Apartments in East Albany for the placement of sod around the new buildings. We had a crew of high school guys doing that job and it was indeed an adventure.

Q: What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?

A: At UGA I took a course that was taught by the dean of the UGA College of Agriculture on commodity trading that was also available to those of us over in the Terry College of Business. Of 150 students taking that course, I was the No. 1 trader and two brokerage firms contacted me. One of those was AG Edwards in Albany, led by Pink Whelchel and Bill Fleming. I accepted their offer and began my career here after finishing at UGA. As of June 1, 2011, I will have been with the firm for 30 years, though the name has changed to Wells Fargo Advisors through acquisitions. The opportunity that later came to be Branch Manager is something I've really enjoyed, especially since my son, Victor, joined our team. Making sure everyone who works with me has a bright future, all of whom are dear friends, is now a key goal.

Q: Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A: Pink Whelchel tried to teach me everything he knew about the brokerage business after I joined the firm back in 1981. I know he often wondered if I was listening, but so often to this very day, when it comes to watching after my customers and trying to do what is in their best interests, I think of him.

Q: What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?

A: Difficult economic cycles create opportunities. Stay cool, diversified, adjust as needed, and don't panic. There's also a benefit of having experienced difficult times previously, such as in 1987 when I watched the market lose about 27 percent in one day.

Q: If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology -- examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. -- what would you most like to see go away?

A: I don't know, I sort of like all of those things, though the biggest negative to me would be that it is sometimes difficult to "cut off" work, even when on vacation. As long as you can stay in touch with the office, to some degree, you just about will.

Q: What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A: Having a Blackberry that will let me communicate with the office or clients through email and calls facilitate my ability to do things when out of the office that used to be impossible.

Q: What was the last book you read?

A: Some of the books I read have long fallen from the Best Seller List. "Something of Value," by Robert Ruark and published in 1955, is an example. The book concerns the impact of our culture on a Third-World nation as we expected them to abandon their way of life and "be like us," a plan that rarely works and has implications in other countries even today. I read in spurts, particularly during vacations and hunting seasons.

Q: I'm up and going by ...? And what is your morning routine?

A: I'm usually up around 7 a.m., and then enjoy a cup of coffee while reading the news online and watching Squawk Box on CNBC.

Q: Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A: I love to spend time at my farm in Terrell County, where game and timber management are among my passions. I'm also about to wrap up my term as the President of the UGA Alumni Association, which has me in Athens just about every week working in some capacity with the university. This has been an incredible two-year opportunity, highlighted in 2009 and 2011 by speaking to the 40,000 Sanford Stadium attendees at the Spring Commencements of both my children when they were among the UGA graduates.

Q: If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A: When you're fooling around with investments, your life is full of "woulda, coulda, shouldas," so you learn pretty quickly to avoid focusing on the past. I've also tried to avoid being overexposed in any one thing that could create a material negative implication on things, but there's no doubt I should have loaded up on a few particular stocks that quickly come to mind.

Q: Best thing about your job?

A: If you need a raise, you work harder. Our office is also like a big family; we share each other's ups and downs and enjoy spending time together. It is also special to have been in one place for so long. I've really enjoyed working with so many clients through the years as we planned their long-term goals, and now I've seen them materialize. It's also fun to begin helping their next generation.

Q: Worst thing about your job?

A: As I mentioned earlier, sometimes it's hard to turn it off. It seems that every time I go out of town for more than a few days, the markets go crazy.

Q: The most beneficial course I took in school was?

A: In terms of practicality, it would be either Mrs. Martin's typing class at Deerfield, or Mrs. Barrow's "Contemporary Georgia" at UGA, where we had to fill in every Georgia County and its seat on a blank map, or the "Weather and Climate" course those of us in the business school took so we could avoid a tougher science class.

Q: What is your favorite tradition?

A: Spending July the 4th on my boat dock at Lake Blackshear with lots of good friends as we watch the Knights put on a great fireworks show and feeling so thankful for being an American.

Q: What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A: A full-time farmer -- if you could assure me of plenty of rain ...

Q: Finish this thought; "On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself...

A: Climbing on my old John Deere and still trying to plow a straight row.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A: Taking care of your clients' and customers' needs first overrides everything. If you do that, everything else will take care of itself.

Q: Crystal ball time: What's your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?

A: As a country, it seems we don't want many lower-paying jobs, causing many area manufacturing industries to leave us that are unlikely to return. This will impact our region for quite a while. If the politicians will address the budget situation before the markets do it for us and the excess capacity in housing is consumed, the economy could turn and the recovery could be great. The lower dollar will help our agricultural exports and hopefully we can increase them. Don't bet against American innovation and let's continue to focus on south Georgia's great advantages, such as our low cost-of-living, great climate and the ideal logistical position between Atlanta and the large Florida markets.

Q: What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A: When I buy one, I'll tell you.

Q: What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?

A: The need for our agricultural industry by the world markets will only grow, which should create a variety of opportunities for us. We should also leverage our outstanding health care system with our low cost-of-living to lure retirees into the region. I guess that could make driving more adventurous for us in 10 years.

Q: What was the best vacation you've ever taken? Why?

A: Several come to mind, but our family trip to Yellowstone when the kids were young will always be special to me. That said, when I was a kid and Dr. Charlie Holman of Albany told me about taking his son to Africa back in the early 1960's, he could never have imagined how that would later impact my life.

Q: What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?

A: Things have changed dramatically since I first got in the financial services industry. The Dow Jones Average was at 800 when I started and has been as high as 14,000 since. The move from a predominantly "transactional" business model to primarily an advisory platform in recent years has dramatically changed how we do business. Our clients like that we can now be on their side of the table as we make recommendations over time to help them reach their goals. We also take a more goal-driven approach to asset allocation and risk reduction and we utilize sophisticated computer projections to forecast an investor's lifetime outlook. Lastly, we are highly conscious of asset preservation, which may bring on board techniques to reduce an investor's dependency on the stock market in their portfolio. It's a great industry, and the transitions we expect as the baby-boomers retire make the outlook for the next 20 years very exciting.