Lee DeLorenzo’s 26-person team at United Asset Strategies cuts across myriad demographic metrics, from age and gender to ethnicity and religion. DeLorenzo, president and founder of the Garden City, N.Y–based practice, has deliberately sought employees with different experiences, backgrounds, and languages, and has even helped clear immigration and transportation hurdles to enable talented candidates to join her practice.
Barron’s: How does diversity strengthen your practice?
Lee DeLorenzo: It brings multiple perspectives to problem solving and innovation. It helps us better serve clients. For example, we can better address the needs of clients’ children if we have staff more in line with them in age. We have people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and one in their 60s. We also have Spanish, Polish, Cantonese, and Mandarin languages represented. We have 13 females, 13 males. Our ethnicities are Caucasian, African-American, Latino, and Asian. Being diverse enables us to embrace, honor, and tolerate our differences, which makes us better people.
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Do you have unmet diversity goals?
I’ve been wondering why African-Americans don’t answer our ads. So I recently had a heart-to-heart with an African-American woman who has been with me for 16 years. I said, “You’re the only African-American employee.” She said, “Yes, that’s not lost on me.” We got down to probable cause—it’s transportation. For African-Americans living in the Queens area, for example, it’s a nightmare and costly for them to get to Garden City using public transportation. Going forward, our benefits will include 100% public-transportation reimbursement.
You got into the business at a young age. What’s the story behind that?
In 1979, my father, who was a life-insurance agent, hired me to be his assistant. He made me become a life and health agent, then a [Certified Financial Planner], and then a stockbroker—all before I was 24. In 1991, my dad told me he was moving to the Virgin Islands full time. I was just turning 30 but had to emerge from behind the desk and take over.
What is most gratifying about being an advisor?
Loving my clients and loving my staff right to my core. If I had a choice of someone saying, “Lee, you just brought in a million dollars,” or “You just got a widow to open up,” I’m going to go with the widow every time. I’m in this for a deep personal connection.
What’s an example of going the extra mile for clients?
During this Covid crisis, a man called, literally having a nervous breakdown, saying he was ready to hire us and wanted to meet to sign papers. He had a big margin balance. Things were blowing up. On the way to the meeting, he had to pull over because he was having palpitations. My guy brought the papers to him on the side of the road because he said he would feel better once he signed.
How do you create strong connections among your employees?
One thing that connected us recently was I added 10% to holiday bonuses to give to a charity of my employees’ choice. We shared the names of the charities and learned more about one another. One gave to the Leukemia Society and we learned about a death in the family. Another gave to an art center; another was about animals. It opened a dialogue, brought us together.
How are you managing investments through the recent tumult?
During the downturn from February to March, we raised cash and increased exposure to gold. In April and May, we used technical analyses to redeploy the cash because the economic downturn fundamentals were less reliable. We sold weaker-balance-sheet stocks for stronger ones, and took advantage of companies that would benefit from stay-at-home orders—those focusing on cures, testing, ventilators, masks, thermal imaging. Our cash hedge and gold level has since been reduced by about 60%.
How about in fixed income?
About 40% of the firm’s assets are in individual fixed income, and they’re outperforming equities, for the most part. We’ve taken advantage of the dislocation in credit markets to trade preferred stocks and U.S. Treasuries profitably. Our last trade in fixed income was to take profits in long Treasuries.
What are your business goals?
A clear goal to get to $2 billion under management. And we want to get there having fun.