Robert W. Burghart, MBA, CIMA, is the senior vice president of investments and complex manager at the Scottsdale, Ariz., offices of Raymond James & Associates. A Chicago native, hot rod enthusiast and former law enforcement officer, he brings a unique perspective to the F&I products segment. P&A sat down with Burghart to discuss his circuitous path to the automotive industry.
P&A: Robert, where are you from, and what brought you to Arizona?
Burghart: I was born in Chicago. I grew up there and came to Arizona for a previous career.
P&A: What part of Chicago?
Burghart: I was in the northwest suburbs. It’s great. Definitely a blue-collar area, a very close but very large community. Playing in the streets, your neighbors become your extended family. The friendships you create as a child are strong your whole life. My mom was a nurse and I grew up with her and my stepdad, who was a shipping coordinator for a screw and nut company.
P&A: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Burghart: I wanted to be in law enforcement ever since I was a kid. I worked on race cars with my dad, and I remember him telling me, when I was about 8 years old, that if I want to drive fast, I should become a cop.
P&A: Did you go to the police academy?
Burghart: I actually started with the Chicago Transit Authority as a K-9 handler and worked the Blue Line at night. I decided I wanted to learn how to train the dogs, so I went to The Canine Center in Austin, Texas. I became a narcotics dog trainer and Foo-Foo trainer.
P&A: Foo-Foo trainer?
Burghart: You know, like Grandma’s Maltese.
P&A: Got it! And you then went from Texas to Arizona?
Burghart: I had the opportunity to come out to Arizona and work for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office.
P&A: Isn’t that the famous Sheriff Joe Arpaio?
Burghart: I actually started with Arpaio in the jail system. And I volunteered to work with the K-9 units, basically as an attack dummy. Ultimately, my specialty changed from K-9 to gang intelligence. I was there for a little over four years as an employee and then left in 1999 to come into this industry. But I have remained a volunteer since. I’m now a captain in the Advisory Posse. My main roles are fundraising and assisting fallen officers’ families, but I still work patrol shifts and special assignments from time to time.
Along the way, I finished my undergraduate degree in business administration at University of Phoenix. I became a Certified Investment Management Analyst professional through the executive education program at the Wharton business school. After I completed that, I got my MBA at the W.P. Carey school at Arizona State — all while working full-time.
P&A: That’s a heavy workload.
Burghart: I’m the type of person who has to have a lot going on. I didn’t know the meaning of the word “relax” sometimes. But I did it for a reason. I was able to apply my education and test it more quickly, and I was able to share that feedback in class.
P&A: What advice would you give to someone considering a career in law enforcement?
Burghart: Do it for the right reasons. By that I mean there are two types of people who go into law enforcement: those who want to help other people and those who want to be the tough guys. The tough guys don’t make it. The soft skills are as important as the hard skills. You never know what you’re going to experience.
P&A: How did you enter the finance industry?
Burghart: It’s funny, it started with a job fair at graduation. The pitch I got was, “If you want to help people in a different way, this is the way to do it. And they’re going to pay you to help them.” The idea of using a little more intellect and having an impact on people seemed like a good thing.
P&A: What was your first job?
Burghart: I started with Prudential Securities in 1999, which was the height of the stock market in the last 20 years. By 2000, we had peaked. No matter what we did for a client, it would go down. That caused me to realize I didn’t know everything. So I had to turn back to academics.
When I first started in ’99, I was cold-calling, trying to find new clients. One Friday afternoon, after 4 o’clock, the phone rang. It was a vehicle service contract company looking for someone to handle controlled foreign corporations. I realized very quickly I was banging my head against the wall and CFCs were a better market — especially when I found out it was related to automotive, being a gearhead at heart.
So I ended up working with that service contract company, developing reinsurance programs and investments. It was the company’s first reinsurance company account, so they were new and so was I. They knew I would do whatever it took to service their clients.
Prudential merged with Wachovia in 2003 and then Wachovia was purchased by Wells Fargo in 2008, during the financial crisis. And I left Wells Fargo in September 2015 to form the group we have now. We felt we could better serve our clients at Raymond James.
P&A: Did that represent a big risk?
Burghart: It represented a tremendous risk. We had to leave all our clients and try to convince them to join us at Raymond James. But we’ve had good success. We’re only nine months in, but we’re confident we will get the majority of our clients back and find new opportunities.
P&A: What is your day-to-day like now?
Burghart: Every day is different. The markets have a huge impact on what we do. Much of my workload depends on what happens with interest rates and other economic indicators. I spend a good portion of my day doing market research and reviewing individual accounts. Then we have our weekly status meetings, and the rest of my time is split between serving clients’ needs and identifying new opportunities. The days are different and the weeks are different too. I could be traveling with agents to meet with dealers. I was able to go to Agent Summit this year. But everything changes on a daily and weekly basis.
P&A: What is your home life like?
Burghart: You would have to ask my daughter, Taylor, about that. She’s 5, and she’s in charge of the house. My wife, Julie, works for Wells Fargo as a project manager. We met there — at Wachovia, actually — at a groundbreaking event. Taylor tells Mommy and Daddy what to do. She just graduated pre-K, causing me to leave Agent Summit early. She has inherited the gearhead gene. She likes working on and riding in race cars, and she’s the loveliest and sweetest little girl you could every meet.
P&A: What’s in your garage right now?
Burghart: I’m building a 1965 Cobra kit car. I also have a ’64 Ford Falcon and a couple of Mustangs. I’m a homegrown guy. The imports are impressive, but there’s something about the types of cars I worked on with my father. He grew up in the ’60s and everyone was hot-rodding in Chicago back then.
P&A: So you’re a car guy and an investment guy. From your perspective, what is the key to success in the F&I products industry?
Burghart: There are a few things I would throw in there. First, I would tell providers the agent is the key to the relationship. I think that’s where our success has come from. We support the agents and administrators. Our client is not just the dealer.
Second, the main thing we do in the investment world is set expectations. We determine what’s realistic as far as expectations and risk so we are not trying to clean up a situation later. It is too easy to set unrealistic expectations based on history. For example, many people are aware that, when interest rates go down, the prices of bonds go up. The inverse is also true. In the last 15 years, we have only seen interest rates go down, so they will go up at some point in the future. We need to manage these investments actively.
So setting the right expectations is as important as providing good service. That’s the key. And the other piece of advice I would offer — as you can tell by my having gone back to school — is to constantly work on business development as well as personal development. If you’re not spending time honing your craft, someone’s going to pass you by. Whether it’s technology, service levels or price, if you’re not constantly reviewing your practices, your competitors will.
P&A: And it’s easy to get complacent when times are good.
Burghart: It is, always.
P&A: And business is booming. So how long will the good times last?
Burghart: Probably until my daughter starts dating. So about 20 years.