Growing up, one of my friends was obsessed with Jimmy Buffett’s silly song, Cheeseburger in Paradise. On the way to school, we played it on the car radio, clapping and belting out “I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and french fried potato”. Buffett’s laid-back tropical rock tunes have been a constant backdrop in my life. But it wasn’t until I attended his concert at Madison Square Garden in the early 2000s that I understood the magnitude of his brand and empire.
Right off the bat, I noticed that this wouldn’t be a run-of-the-mill concert. The fans were all dressed alike in tropical beach shirts with feather boas. This was quite a sight on the street outside the venue, where suit-adorned, zombie-like office workers descended into the train station to return to Long Island. When we got inside, we noticed that everyone was drinking a beer called LandShark, which we soon realized was Jimmy’s brand. And then the music started.
There were choreographed hand movements, dances, and chants they all knew. This community of Parrot Heads (as Buffett fans affectionately self-identify) had come to commune and to perform together. During Fins, they all slapped their hands together above their heads like a shark fin, leaning to the left and right as Jimmy sang the lyrics. We soon joined in on the dance. I’ll never listen to Margaritaville again without the “Salt, Salt, Salt” chant the Parrot Heads repeat when Jimmy sings about losing that salt shaker.
I am sure we could find earlier examples, but it struck me this weekend that Jimmy Buffett was the first person to create a business out of a personal brand. He turned a way of life – beach bumming, rum drinking, carefree sailing – into a $1 Billion empire. His wealth spread well beyond his musical career into a restaurant group, casinos, merchandise, and brand deals. Fans can spend their last years at one of his Margaritaville retirement communities. That sounds like a great retirement plan if I’m honest.
Behind the scenes, Jimmy was a hard-charging businessman, but the authenticity of his brand is what made it famous. He worked hard but also lived a version of the tropical island dream he sang about. I chuckled when I learned he died at his home in Sag Harbor, NY, one of the Hamptons. I, too, would choose those lovely white sandy beaches in August over the hot ones we have in the Florida panhandle near where Jimmy grew up.
This concept of the synergy of life and work resonates with me. I am lucky that I found a way to live an authentic life as a financial advisor when so many in the industry suffer under stifling corporate policies. The financial advice industry is slow to change and, in many ways, is stuck in the mid-20th century. I know countless young and talented people suffering in jobs that limit their creativity and freedom of expression. One look at my former brokerage firm colleagues’ “compliance approved” social media posts is all you need to know. I hope that change is finally on the horizon.
That’s why I am so excited about Future Proof Festival next week in southern California. Last year’s inaugural event left all attendees suntanned and smiling. We mingled, shared ideas, listened to engaging speakers, and let our hair down. After several years of canceled industry events, it was a breath of fresh air, and we escaped the cold hotel ballrooms.
This year’s event is almost doubled in size in every way – registrations, speakers, events, speakers, and sponsors. The festival is the perfect antidote to everything stodgy and conservative in the wealth management industry. The attendees are young. I’ve even heard from students in undergraduate Financial Planning programs who will be in attendance. We’ve got Method Man and Red Man playing a set. Need I say more? Maybe next year, the music will lean more toward the island rock vibe of Jimmy Buffett.
It’s time to pull the financial advice industry’s stick out of the mud and build something that matches the times. In honor of Jimmy Buffett, I’m calling for a permanent change in attitude. After all, “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”