Terry Fergus discusses the importance of building relationships and always having your eyes open to see the opportunities around you. As a successful entrepreneur and trusted financial advisor, Fergus shares the most important question that every client is dying to answer – “Tell me about yourself.” Tune in to this week’s Million Dollar Monday to hear more!
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The second thing is ask the most important question that every client is dying to answer. And then shut up and that question is, tell me about yourself.Greg Muzzillo :
Hello and welcome to Million Dollar Monday. I'm your host, Greg Muzzillo bringing you real successful people with real useful advice for people with big dreams. I understand big dreams. I turned an investment of $200 and a lot of great advice from some really successful people into my big dream Proforma. That today is a half billion dollar company. Well, we have a unique guest today because he has two unique stories. One story is how he's built his own very successful business. The other story is about how he is a consultant and trusted advisor to very successful entrepreneurs and lots of other successful business people. So he brings great advice and encouragement to all inspiring entrepreneurs and people with big dreams from both of those perspectives. I am excited to introduce to you my good friend and very successful businessman. Terry Fergus, Terry, thanks for joining us.Terry Fergus:
Greg It's always good to see you we've known each other since we were 14, but we won't go into that with the public, but otherwise great .Greg Muzzillo :
Oh goodness. It's all good, Terry. So let's start at the beginning and yes, I have known you for a long time, but share with everybody kind of your growing up story, you know, what were those things that gave you your work ethic? What were those experiences in life from your parents or your education that gave you the desire to own your own business? Let's start sort of start there, your background.Terry Fergus:
Well, a lot of it is as we all grew up , we're all kids of parents that were, were young people in the depression and they were all coming out of that. So a lot of our parents didn't have very much and in fact , my father drove a bread truck and my mother was a grade school teacher in a Catholic school. And she used to say cost her money to teach. So it was , you know, so nobody had that. Neither one of them had a degree and a college degree and , but they always aspired something better for us. And they taught us that they said, you know, work hard, keep your character about you. And then you'll get whatever level of success you can do. My father used to always say, and also keep your eyes wide open. And that's what happened. So from there as you and I met, we met in high school, a wonderful, wonderful place St. Louis High School in Clearview w here I ended up coaching football there for 25 y ears along with everything else. But it was, we learned a lot from the people around us. It was a mixture of kids from all over the place and also some great, fine teachers that really encouraged me to go on to college and to become an accountant and then onto my, the rest of my career. So it was a lot of people that took a kid who probably they could have kicked him in the corner and said, I don't know, there's something about them we like, so let's push him along. And as my father said, keep your eyes might open it and I did, and I listened.Greg Muzzillo :
Yeah, I like that. Keep your eyes wide open. I also think , I say, and I think, this is what he might've meant . And to some degree was be aware of opportunities that surround you. Right. And I tell , I talk about keeping your antennas up because some people seem to go through life, either not with their antennas up or not with our eyes wide open and seem to miss great opportunities that come their way. And, yet they s orta miss them. So tell me a little bit about your education that led up to, eventually I think that you w ork for one of the big eight at the time, there was eight of them you and I share that in common, although you lasted a l ittle longer than I did at Haskins and Sells, but anyhow, so talk a little bit about your education, the beginning of your career, and then how that turned into starting your own business.Terry Fergus:
Well, some of that really started, I started out at Jack Carroll university in accounting. I didn't finish after a little, over three years, I just literally ran out of money. I was working full time. The whole bet and I said, you know what? I just can't finish it. So I was working at a Stop and Shop food chain., Rigo is that you would remember from cleveland right ? There was a family owned. I was working there, but I had taken a couple of tax classes. So I started doing the guys in the back rooms taxes for $20 a tax return to all by hand. Then there was no internet and I kept going. I finally got married and she finally said, why don't you finish your degree? So it was actually, it was almost six years later that I went back and she said, you're really not doing anything. You're working at a grocery store come on , you can do more than this. My wife was a big inspiration. And so she worked double shifts. I quit, we have one child with a second on the way. We moved in with my mother-in-law who was a very wonderful individual. And I went on a bus a nd finished at Cleveland state university. The turning point was a professor a nd t hat was professor Paul, he's deceased now. But actually what he did was he came to me, r ight before I was going to graduate and said, you know, there's the accounting Beta Alpha Psi t here. He said, I want you to go to it. I want you to sit at this one table. I said, professor Paul, you forgetting who you are t alking to y ou. I'm not Beta Alpha Psi that's a smart kid. Right ? I found out years later that he had actually been with Pete Marwick Mitchell, which turned into KPMG earlier. I did not know that. A nd he had told these guys don't look at his resume. Don't look at his grades, just l isten to him talk. So I go t o this thing, the guys a t KPMG gave me an interview and hired me and I kept pinching myself, wondering, wait a minute, did you pick the wrong guy? I'm not Ivy league the whole b et. And so I started up the ladder and I did say, once I'm out, I don't insult anybody on this, on this thing, but it's w hat I did. I did the normal interview and they said t o the partner in charge, how can I get your s eat someday? And he knew, I didn't know at the time, w ell, realize s on, I'm doing you a favor. He didn't say that. He said to a favor of an old friend of mine. He said, Terry, the best students from the best Ivy league university take a minimum of eight years. All the story forward. I was hired on August 2nd, 1982 , July 1st, 1990, I was elected to the partnership August 2nd, 1982 to July 1st, 1990 is seven years and 11 months. Right ? So thank God I didn't go to Harvard because I had to wait another year. Of course they all said, now we remember why we should've never hired you. He said that. I said, well, what was the reason they said, because you could surround yourself with really good kids. You were one yourself, but you could make them work as a team. And you ended up generating business by utilizing everybody around you. And they said, and at the end of the day of businesses, you know, Greg is bringing revenue in the door.Greg Muzzillo :
Yeah. Being a good accountant comes in second to being revenue generator. We all, we all knew that were you on audit tax, what, what group were you with when you were with them?Terry Fergus:
I went to tax and most of, believe it or not that was because I did the ones, on the kitchen table. I knew enough that most of the beginning, students didn't know that. So I just knew how to get a tax return done . And I kept my eyes open as my dad said. And of course in the big four now, now big four , it was big eight. As you know, the training was incredible. And I think after a couple of years, I had the equivalency of a master's in tech, just by what they trained you in the training sessions. But because I could also speak and things like that, I eventually became one of the teachers in the firm besides that, the thing that actually probably put me on the map was in the nineties was if you , may have been called was the merger of all the big banks in the country. And KPMG did most of the big banks. So I flew around the country, jumping in and showing all the owners of small banks that are getting smaller because of the big ones, how to A, keep their taxes down low and B, Now what do you do? And that's really where the business came from. That went like crazy. And the only reason I left was, I was up to the operating committee of the firm and I was, one of the guys who founded the high net worth practice in 1992. We built it from zero to $130 million a year business. When I decided to leave in 2001. And , which for a $5 billion a year company, that wasn't a heck of a lot was left, you know, a t any level. Right. And , the chairman said, Terry did something upset you? Why are you leaving? Well, I left November 1st, 2001. I traveled 150 segments a year, but I used to get home all the time at three o'clock, wherever I flew. So I could coach high school football. And I told the chairman of the firm , the international firm, I said, you know, my real job is coaching high school football. I just do this because my wife and kids like to eat, he laughed . I said, but after 9/11, 2001, I could no longer get home anymore. Now it was going to be 75 to a hundred nights a year out of town. And I just told t hem, it's not you guys I've learned everything you can learn, from this I will be forever i n d ebt to you guys .Now I'm g oing t o take my high net worth guys. And if you don't mind, I'm g onna take a few of these guys and we're g oing t o go off and I'm gonna s tart my own firm. And they agreed. They said, thank you for everything y ou've done. They were grateful.Greg Muzzillo :
Wow. They did not keep you from bringing some of your clients with you.Terry Fergus:
Nope . They said, Terry, you know, you're not, you're not taking the Pepsi audit from us. T hose a re good clients. They said, we get it. I mean, it's really generating guys like you across the country. You know, oneGreg Muzzillo :
Of the things I'm picking up on though Terry is that , you never, you never upset people, you know, in Italian, there's a saying that loosely translated means never spit on the ceiling because you never know when you're going to have to go back in that room. And one of the things I'm hearing from you, Terry , is you just have a great way of getting people, to like you getting people to trust you. And e ven when you tell them you're leaving their firm, they like you so much. It's like here, fine, take some business with you rather than, you know, a lot of people when they hear s omebody, maybe g oing t o be trying to do stuff like that, they start getting out the lawyers and, get pretty legal. You must have a great skill at building relationships, building trust and, and creating great friends along the people that you've worked with over the years.Terry Fergus:
Well, I always told my staff that I tell my guys now, cause I tell them when you meet somebody new, a new client or a potential new client, whatever, first of all, leave the tax code home. Because if you start quoting tax code sections, they have no clue what you're talking about. So I told them , I said, so first of all, always explain in English. The second thing is ask the most important question that every client is dying to answer. And then shut up. That question is, tell me about yourself, because they're all proud of what they've been able to accomplish. Then they tell you about the pluses and the minuses. And if you keep your ears open, you not only find things you can help them with, but you learn a lot. I've listened to some guys tell the stories and it's helped me when I've tried to advise other people, because it's like, it's like having a whole bunch of moms and dads around telling everything , all the things they failed at, you know, and you work from that. So what you do is, and I told them, make your clients, your friends , because in order for me to help you with your estate planning or when you should sell or how you should sell, I have to know you. I have to know what makes you tick. Anybody can spear the code or have the, answer. But what makes it that it's important to you? Is it the right time for you to sell, forget about the money? Are you ready? Are you ready to hang it up or not? Can you let go or not? And that's in the KPMG when I left, I still actually did some things for them because I had a specialty in the banks that they still wanted me to help teach some other guys first. It was kind of a mutual thing when they said, and I told them what I was going to build. And they f igured eventually those clients m eet audits a nd r oll b ack b ecause I don't do audits. Y eah.Greg Muzzillo :
So in building your own business, tell me some of the high highs and the low lows of building your business.Terry Fergus:
The biggest thing is, as I'm sure, you know, Greg is the people finding the people with relatively the same value and that understand that it's the client first. I know that we all have lives and I don't surely don't want to spend 15, 16 hours a day you know, working at the office. Most of the stuff we did, we were at, the big accounting firms because their work computer, they're doing all by hand. Let's hope the computer makes it a little faster, you know ? But the idea is, think of the client first, the fact I have a philosophy, cause I don't have a million employees. I paid for all the benefits I pay for all their cell phone and I pay for internet in their home. And I tell them, when, my clients call you answer, because you're using that phone for yourself first . And then a lot of times the clients are all over the world, but they don't do the math the time zones. Right . I've got some calls and my wife goes , what are you doing? I say hang on. And as soon as you tell them , okay, I'll do it when I get to the office, they always do the math in their head. They go, oh my gosh, I'm so sorry. I forgot what time it is. Always tell them you care about it, but really do it. And it's hard to find people that do that. Yes, we make money. Yes. You'll make money working with me and for me . But if we don't have the common goal, we can't win. And I learned this drag from football, I coach running backs and quarterbacks. And I tell the quarterback, whenever you can, you buy your lineman a can of pop or take them out for a hamburger. Because without them, you don't have time to do anything and their name never gets in the newspaper, yours does. But without them, you don't go anywhere . So if I've got a great tax guy, a great , controller that can do the books for people. And I have a lawyer that works w ith me too that helps, h elps mitigate between the law firms. And so if, we can't work together and count up everybody's talents, c ause nobody's got it all, then we can't succeed. So don't be jealous because you think somebody else is doing better than you. They're not doing the same thing you're doing. Otherwise I have them do it. No. And that's the thing is building a good team has been the hardest thing of all you make. A lot of people h ave t o say I like you, but y ou're just not it.Greg Muzzillo :
What other lessons have you learned in observing the life of other very successful entrepreneurs? What other lessons about growing a business or, other life lessons? Have you learned that you'd like to share?Terry Fergus:
Well, again, a lot of times I tell people by getting involved in the community, like I learned more from those kids, from coaching teenagers I think that sometimes they learn from me and my wife said to me, one time, wise, they kept me grounded when you're flying all over the country and lecturing and going to Washington, DC and traversing with presidents and all those types of things, you can get pretty impressed with yourself. And then you go to a kid who's talking to you just about regular life. And he, you know, and so he didn't want to hear your resume. Just wants to know what what's the next play and how come he can't memorize it. And it keeps you grounded, you know, The one who's not starting and how does he work to become a starter? You know, those types of things. I've learned a lot from the kids. I still learn a lot from coaching my own grandkids and I coach them in their grade school . But , in my backyard there's always been a half court basketball court. And sometimes in the winter time, they have to shovel the snow off of it , to play, but it's, but they are, there is always a community place where anybody could come. And so I tell them, when I say get involved , it's just talking to somebody sometimes it's not necessarily, you know, paying for education or do anything, it's talking to them. And when you do, I t alked to my clients, I l isten to their life and I learned from their life. I didn't wait for them to e nd so I can spew what I knew. T hey, I walked in the room c ause they figured I knew what I knew, y ou k now, so now t hey're telling me about them. And I would ask them questions. Well, how did you get your first loan? You know, like the older, older guys right out of the depression, h ow d id you do that? You know? And they said, it wasn't easy. We had a, it's a very colorful loan, as you can imagine a t the time. And , but they talked about, they talked about their failure and you learn from listening. And I tell everybody in my office, learn from listening.Greg Muzzillo :
Terry ,you build a successful business. You work with very successful business owners and other successful people. You've built a wonderful life, a wonderful legacy. Let me ask you this. Terry, what big dreams do you have left for the rest of your life?Terry Fergus:
Well, as you can imagine, I have a couple of kids that have started their own businesses you know , one acquired a small little marble granite company. She acquired it in January of 2020, excuse me, right before the pandemic. And she panicked. But then she soon found out that everybody everybody's redoing their houses. And so it actually came out okay for her. She was able to weather the storm. But one of the things I told them, one of the things we talk about with the young businesses. Sometimes you got to take that step back before you take that step forward because you have to make sure you've built a good foundation. And you, and I know that, is to build it bigger is if you didn't have that good foundation, you can't build it bigger cause it'll all collapse. So I want to help them with that. I'll probably torture children for the rest of my life, coaching on a basketball court .My wife, always said, please don't use that line. Okay. I got it. But I said , because there's I'll backup a little bit here , the story, my wife, one time before, even when I started coaching , at your old grade school St. James in Lakeland, I actually started coaching 45 years ago. I coached in grade school for 20 years while I was growing up through the big firm . When I couldn't get to a high school football field by 3:30, that wasn't going to happen so I, I did that. And before I started that, she said, and we h ad cell phones back then she said, you said you were coming home. She says, y ou're like an hour late. And I said, I drove by this, outside court, in t hese kids, they weren't shooting a b asketball right So I got out and I said, yeah , I had to tell him , like , you hate to see a kid that she says, you actually did that. I said, yeah, why? And she goes, oh my God . She said, I knew that was the beginning of the end. And you're going to start coaching for real. But I love doing that now. I still want to do that. And as my chief operating officer said, s he's 20 years younger. She said, even if you want to slow down and move on, you can't retire yet because she said, I don't have enough gray hair. She s ays, you g otta be here. And I'll always be around for old friends because they d idn't get involved with their families t o t his it's u sually generation. And i t just c ome i nto the family meetings and be that other, that other view, you know? Y eah.Greg Muzzillo :
You know what , Terry , it's great to spend some time with you here. And what maybe my biggest takeaway , Um , is that I asked you about your big dreams and your big dreams are just all about other people. Your big dreams has nothing to do with you now, your big dreams are just all about seeing other people in your family and otherwise Succeed And that just tells me everything I need to know about the heart that you have. And person that you are, Terry it has been really great spending some time with you. Thank you for sharing your story . Thank you for sharing your heart with all of us today.