After more than 25 years of advising wealthy families as an investment manager and human capital consultant, Ellen Perry ’82, a Philadelphia University alumna, has seen that financial success doesn’t always lead to a happy and flourishing family life.
Perry, founder and managing partner of Wealthbridge Partners, a firm that helps large, multi-generational families manage their wealth and family dynamics, recently published A Wealth of Possibilities, a book drawn from her years of experience in the field.
The book is a practical guide for families with advice on dealing with family tension, raising children to do what is right and helping to ensure that future generations lead grounded, meaningful lives. More information about the book can be found on Perry’s website, ellenmperry.com.
Perry recently participated in a question and answer session about her career path, advice for families and her time at PhilaU.
Q: Tell us about yourself. Describe your professional background.
For the past 25 years I worked as an advisor to large, complex, multi-generational wealthy families — often those who have a family-owned business. I have done this work in a couple of ways. I founded and ran an investment firm focused on these kinds of families — now called GenSpring Family Offices — from 1989 until 2000.
At GenSpring we advised our clients on investment strategies and implementation, estate and tax planning, family dynamics and education. We were one of the very first firms to take this holistic approach to wealth management.
We then sold that firm to SunTrust and I founded Wealthbridge Partners in 2000. We have focused primarily on what are called the human capital issues (as opposed to financial capital), such as leadership development, succession planning and governance planning for family businesses, education for the next generation and philanthropic consulting.
How and why did you choose your career path?
I fell into this work! After graduation I had decided to move to Boston and was looking for a job there — a classmate introduced me, through her father, to an executive at a finance firm in Boston, who hired me. This was of great shock to my family, who didn’t think that I could even manage my bank account!
I remained in Boston then moved to New York City and was a trader for a Wall Street firm for a couple of years. These two positions really helped me understand the way in which financial markets worked, though I was still searching for a better “fit” professionally. After that, my positions all helped me understand private wealth management and the issues that wealthy families have.
Why did you choose Philadelphia University for your college education?
I’d love to tell you that I knew how valuable it would be, or that I was wise enough to understand all the skills and new ways of problem-solving that I would obtain, but honestly that’s not true—I was just plain lucky! I had a hunch that it was a good fit for me.
What was the most valuable part of your PhilaU education? Did your PhilaU education influence your career path?
The most valuable part of my education was certainly the training in design or systems thinking. In my work and in my life I bring a multi-disciplined approach to everything. At Wealthbridge, we advise families using external experts across many disciplines — all working together to design long-term, sustainable solutions.
What inspired you to write this book?
I have been thinking about this book for several years. Having advised some of the country’s wealthiest families for more than 20 years, I began to see clear patterns of action that separated the families who thrived from those who languished. It was clear to me that the ability to create a fortune does not translate into an ability to grow a great family — one in which the family members were connected to one another and flourishing personally. So I wrote about what I saw that made a difference.
What are the guiding principles you feel have helped you succeed in your career?
I would say that my guiding principles in life also translate to my work, and there are three. First, live your life so that it reflects your core values. It is the secret to happiness, resilience and fulfillment, and it’s a waste of time to do otherwise — life is just too short. Secondly, really connect with others as much as you can. It makes work and life meaningful. And lastly, cultivate joy through as many ways as you can, including through gratitude. There is so much to say about each of those — too much for this page—but that’s a start!
Tell us a little about your life outside of work. How do you balance work and life?
I care a great deal about life balance. I have a family — husband, daughter and four stepchildren — and I am very involved in the life of our family. Of course, there are trade-offs, always. However, my profession allows me an extraordinary amount of control over my time — I decide in any given year how many clients/projects with which to engage. In addition to my clients, I sit on a few boards and am involved in my daughter’s school a bit. The bottom line for me is this: if my own family is not thriving then I cannot help any of my clients.
Please share any advice you may have for your fellow alumni and current students.
Pay close attention to the notion of design thinking — it will be relevant in every single part of your life, not just your work. It is a BIG construct that can enliven everything you do, how you relate ideas and how you embrace difference and how you compose a life!