FREE 14.1 Feature – Jeff Hartman

Informal is the name of the game with Jeff Hartman and his associates at iTP Partners, LLC, in Jacksonville, Fla. While conducting an interview in his office, it was suddenly brought to a pause. “We’ve got to go somewhere else,” Hartman says, standing. “I can’t stand sitting across the desk from you like this. I literally think I’ve had only one client in this office. It’s too stuffy and formal.” Just like that, we’re sitting comfortably at the nearby Starbucks, discussing not only business, but Hartman’s family, his connection to the city he chose as home and how he came to be the No. 7 manager for American Portfolios (AP) in 2019.

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    FREE 14.1 Feature – Jeff Hartman

    FREE 14.1 Feature – Jeff Hartman

    Life is a Game…Relationships are Life

    Informal is the name of the game with Jeff Hartman and his associates at iTP Partners, LLC, in Jacksonville, Fla. While conducting an interview in his office, it was suddenly brought to a pause. “We’ve got to go somewhere else,” Hartman says, standing. “I can’t stand sitting across the desk from you like this. I literally think I’ve had only one client in this office. It’s too stuffy and formal.” Just like that, we’re sitting comfortably at the nearby Starbucks, discussing not only business, but Hartman’s family, his connection to the city he chose as home and how he came to be the No. 7 manager for American Portfolios (AP) in 2019.

    Hartman grew up in West Virginia and graduated from the small college of Alderson Broaddus University, which had only about 800 students at the time. It was there that he earned a Bachelor of Science in sports medicine … the farthest thing from financial services. He knew when he walked across the stage at graduation that his chosen degree path was not in his future; but, like many setting out in the world, he wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to pursue. With a self-imposed timeline of two years to figure out the future—coinciding with the graduating year of his future wife, who also attended Alderson Broaddus and is a physician’s assistant—he set out to find his passion.

    After dabbling in a master’s program in health care administration, he landed at the YMCA, working as a trainer; it was there his passion for the community fully developed, and also where his future was mapped out, though not in a way he expected.

    “I really enjoyed working with people through the Y and its programs; I thought that might be a career I could work with,” Hartman says of those days of discovery. “But it was the CEO of the YMCA, who was a great mentor to me, who said I should talk to someone he knew at AXA. I could tape your ankle in under 30 seconds, but I didn’t know the difference between a stock or a bond. I spoke to him and figured, ‘What the heck; what have I got to lose?’ I gave it a shot and here we are, 22 years later.”

    It was from that same YMCA community that Hartman garnered many of his first clients—and helped lead to his continued involvement in the YMCA to this day, as well as with other organizations such as Blessings in a Backpack, F3, Crosswater Community Church, Spina Bifida Foundation and the Special Olympics. Building his book of business as a fresh-eyed 27 year old, Hartman knew he had to put himself out there. He started with the advice of his manager—working to gather as many clients as possible, regardless of the size of their portfolios—by focusing on building relationships. He knew that, if he succeeded in this, he would continue to grow with the clients and would garner referrals. To build such relationships, however, he had to live by the advice of another mentor.

    “One of my mentors, he would tell me ‘you’ve got to be belly-to-belly with people.’ People don’t do business with you over the phone. They don’t do business with you through e-mail. Right now, face-to-face is how you get to truly know somebody and conduct business.” Hartman still does business in this manner and encourages those starting anew in the financial services business to do the same. “It’s so easy to text or to e-mail, but you’re not building a relationship—and this is a relationship business, through and through. My best friends today are people I didn’t even know before they became clients! If asked why I’m successful, I don’t know; in all seriousness, I think it’s just because I truly dig relationships.”

    This concentration even lends itself to his business mix, which is approximately 90 percent advisory and 10 percent commissions. Hartman started working in the advisory space early, recognizing quickly that not only was it good for him from a business perspective, but, more importantly, it was good for his clients. His belief is in having that accountability to clients, and for them to know him personally and that he is in it for the long term—this puts his clients at ease. In fact, in 22 years, Hartman can count on one hand how many clients have left him, and those were due mainly to relocation and wanting an advisor in closer proximity.

    It’s that focus on relationships that has given him continual success, now and in his early days. “The second best piece of advice a guy ever gave me was ‘people don’t care what you know, until they know how much you care.’ That’s the way I take on everything—from my own clients to anyone I’m talking to about potentially joining our firm; I want to know them, and for them to know that I’m sincere.” With that goal in mind, Hartman found great success with AXA and quickly rose to become a manager, impressing his colleagues so much with his success in West Virginia that he was moved to Columbia, S.C., for two years, and then to Jacksonville, Fla., for another four years, where he covered Hilton Head, S.C., down to Daytona, Fla., and over to Tallahasse, Fla.

    It was after 14 years with AXA—and yet another move to Atlanta, Ga., where he ran the Southeast Marketing Center, covering every advisor in Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana— that Hartman knew a change was needed. First and foremost, his wife of 22 years, Hester, along with his three daughters—Alexis, 18, a freshman psychology major at the University of North Florida; Gabriella, 16; and Elise, 14—had to be his priority. For him, being a great father, husband and person to his family is what he wants most … and he admits that “my priorities were not what they used to be; I wasn’t spending the time with my family that I wanted or needed.”

    Taking this wake-up call to heart, Hartman took the next year to do due diligence, researching different firms to eventually set up his own shop. Ultimately choosing OneAmerica Securities, he quickly realized it was not going to be the right fit. It was after speaking with his long-time colleague, friend and mentor—Bob Sansone (of Pittsford, N.Y.)—that American Portfolios came into the mix. “The most important thing to Bob and I, as we were looking to operate one OSJ in two different locations, was to have a firm that would work with us and listen to what we wanted to accomplish,” Hartman said of the discovery process when looking into AP. “Bob had a lot of territories he was responsible for in the North, and I had moved all over the South; we knew we had a lot of relationships to succeed. AP had only ever worked with OSJs in the same territory; we were different.”

    Hartman admits that when presenting AP the idea of an OSJ operating in two different regions of the country, he didn’t know if the broker/dealer was actually convinced they could pull it off; and, he understood from where the doubt came. But, AP listened, heard what they wanted to accomplish, and pledged to support him and Sansone in the endeavor in any way possible.

    That, combined with the fact that AP CEO Lon T. Dolber still has his finger very much on the pulse of company workings and the level of engagement from employees within the firm, were the deciding factors for Hartman and his team when moving forward with AP as their broker/dealer. For him, the commitment to independence, and the culture of family and friendship instilled in AP, are reminiscent of what he and Sansone were looking to build with iTP. “I came from a very, very, very large firm, so to hear directly from Lon and see him speak to the future of the company, and everyone believing it—that was huge. Even more, the employees at AP have true engagement in the firm and what it stands for, a sort of ownership, and it shows. We have the same philosophy.”

    In February 2014, Hartman picked his family up one last time to relocate back to Jacksonville, the place they all felt most at home, and started his one-manshop with just himself and an assistant. iTP Partners, LLC—which stands for I Trust Planning—was officially born … and it wasn’t always easy. “Believe me, after handling much of the southern region for AXA, starting over with just one assistant and myself in a small office, there were days at the beginning where I was wondering, ‘What in the world did you do?’ But my family is my No. 1 priority—I swore I would never miss another game, practice or school function. As tough as it was, being there for everything is what got me through.”

    Six years later, success has truly been realized, and Hartman takes little, if any, credit for it. “It has nothing to do with me. I have a small practice and book of business, so I’m in there, but it’s all the guys. We’re so fortunate to have a really good team where everyone is working hard and having fun. Once you get that good culture and that good team concept, you’re only going to continue to see growth. My main job is to stay out of everyone else’s way.”

    This is in keeping with the philosophy that all colleagues at iTP Partners live by, where a mentality of “me” is not acceptable. Says Hartman, “We want to do a great job by our clients, work as a team and have a little fun while we’re at it. I mean, we even have the Pop-A-Shot [arcade basketball] in the office!” According to the men of iTP, there’s nothing better than to come together in the afternoon to blow off some steam when eyes are beginning to cross from looking at numbers for hours on end … even though it can get a bit competitive.

    Much like Hartman was mentored throughout his career, he and Sansone focus on that same mentality of building future generations of advisors. For him, he holds a deep-seated belief that everything happens for a reason. Even as he admits that there are things in his past that didn’t go the way he hoped or as he thought they should go, he doesn’t regret any of it because he learned from those lessons and they brought him to where he is today. And, for him, that’s key— learning from the mistakes. That concept is something he tries to impress upon those he works with: learn from the past, embrace the future and recognize that, in this independent space, a client is truly theirs; not the branch’s or the company’s, but theirs, and that relationship should be treated with the respect it deserves.

    iTP Partners has stayed true to its commitment to culture and its vision to grow. With 11 advisors in Jacksonville and 12 in the Pittsford/Rochester area, other iTP advisors operate in Orlando, Tallahassee, Atlanta, Charleston, S.C., Michigan, Virginia and Cape Cod, Mass. With no ultimate goal in mind, they continue to look towards the future, building relationships and serving clients who they truly care about. “If we only recruit two advisors a year, ok; if it’s 10, that’s great … as long as they fit with our culture, we just care that they’re the right people.”

    For Hartman, a large part of the future of iTP rests in always striving to improve. “You can never settle. We need to identify what we don’t do well and make sure that we improve upon those things. I think you’ve always got to be willing to get better, even when you think you’re really good at something; realize that there are many things you can do to go from good to great.”

    Hartman wonders how he got so lucky to do a job he loves and looks forward to going to each and every day … one that affords him a family life for which he’s present. For iTP Partners as a whole, the OSJ is in no way slowing down. Hartman is excited about what the future holds and loves the fact that there’s a whole group of people out there who don’t even know about them—yet. In fact, after the next game of Pop-A-Shot, they’re right back to it, looking to keep and grow in their status as a top manager for AP, and enjoying life with those who matter most: family, partners and clients that are more friend than associate.

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