Employee Spotlight – Interview with Jim McBride

James McBride

Written by Ken Burke

Winter 2017

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Jim McBride, Founder and Former President and CEO of High Falls Advisors, to discuss his reflections on his 50+ years in the financial industry.  Jim retired as CEO of High Falls effective December 31, 2016, however like many entrepreneurs he isn’t trading his briefcase for a fishing pole – not yet, anyway. Jim will continue to work with his clients and with High Falls but in a way that affords him more flexibility for other interests as well.

By way of background, Jim was raised in northern Maine on a potato farm. Early on in life, Jim became very familiar with working hard and personal responsibility. It is evident that these two life lessons have never left Jim. After college, Jim began his working career selling life insurance for Connecticut Life Insurance Company. He then joined the Trust Department at Lincoln First Bank and became one of the youngest Trust Officers on their team. The experience Jim gained as a Trust Officer serving some of Rochester’s wealthiest families were formative and eventually led to the founding of High Falls Advisors.

Jim’s tried and true service motto from his years as a Trust Officer of “OAR,” (Organize, Analyze, and Recommend) still stands and has become a colorful way of describing exactly what we do for our clients today.

On the eve of Jim’s retirement as President and CEO, we thought it would be insightful and entertaining to get his take on a variety of subjects and share his thoughts with you here.

KB: What are the major changes you have noted over the course of your career?
JM: In relationship to investing, I’ve noticed a shift in how individuals view investments. Years ago, when an investor purchased stocks they considered it like buying a piece of a business. They held on to the shares because they liked owning a piece of the business and were in it for the long haul. There was a connection. Now I see more trading than investing. The expansion of information is dramatic and it has become hard for individual investors to associate and discern what is actionable.

KB: How do you define retirement?
JM: Retirement is a word that everyone understands but has different meaning. In simple terms, it is the end of one thing and the beginning of another.

KB: What are your future plans?
JM: I plan on spending more time with my wife, Linda, and continue working with my clients. We spend the summer months in Maine and look forward to visits from family and friends.

*Side note: For the record, Jim has not shared the address of his Maine home with me. I’m beginning to wonder why?

KB: What recommendation would you have for a client entering into retirement today?
JM: Set your focus on the future and not the past and take advantage of this new opportunity. If you look at it that way then finances won’t become the main focus. If you have to find part-time work, fine, do that, but remember to live your life in retirement.

KB: What is your definition of success?
JM: Success to me is not the end result but the daily accomplishments necessary to be successful. To use a sports analogy it is how you played each plan during the game and not the final score. Success and winning seems to find you when you do the small things well.

KB: What are you most proud of?
JM: High Falls Advisors. I am very proud of the growth and employees of High Falls. Jim and I have hired people based on their sincerity and dedication to our clients.  We remain committed to always putting our clients’ needs above our own.

My family and local community. I have lived and raised my family in Hilton and I’m fortunate to have a wonderful wife, children and grandchildren. I am a member of a local church in Hilton and I’m proud to participate and support their local efforts in the community.

Entrepreneurial Spirit. Many times in my life I have changed course because my initial assumptions were incorrect. I made a decision to leave the Lincoln First Bank, move to Albany and join Key Bank. Within a short period of time, I realized this move wasn’t going to work out so I moved back to Rochester and had the courage to start over again. I formed the Upper Falls Company to function as a private trust company but was not successful in obtaining the approval from the regulators. The Upper Falls Company became High Falls Advisors and grew into what we are today.

KB: Have you ever met anyone famous?

JM: I was in Las Vegas for a banking conference and a group of us decided to catch a show after dinner.  I was sitting there minding my own business when Suzanne Somers pulls me up on stage for about 20 minutes. I had my fleeting moment of fame while walking back to my hotel when a limo pulled up next to me, the window rolled down and an elderly women pointed to a jumbotron and said “That’s You!” There up on the screen was the picture of Suzanne and me entertaining the crowd.

KB: What is one interesting fact people don’t know about you?

JM: I am an introvert. If I’m in a room with people I don’t know I generally remain quiet. When I am around people I know I am a totally different person.

KB: What is your view on community responsibility?
JM: I grew up on a potato farm in Northern Maine and my parents taught us to share with those who had less. It was great to see the reaction on people’s faces when we would drop something off for them. My father always gave to others and he did it in such a way that it made people feel like it wasn’t charity. When we would deliver potatoes, my Father would say we had a good harvest and would like you to have them so they don’t go to waste.

When I began working as a trust officer, community involvement was a requirement and that became part of my working and social life. If you have become successful in a community you have an obligation to give something back. Nobody does it alone.

I don’t want to miss the chance to make a difference. If God has blessed me with ability and resources I believe I should share them. It is finding the way you can make a difference that counts. It could be time or resources or both.

KB: How did you meet your wife Linda?
JM: My twin sister dated a fellow from Rochester who was going to school in Maine. Eventually, they got married and I met Linda at their wedding. It turns out Linda was my new brother-in-law’s sister. It became interesting when they divorced because Linda still had my sister as a sister-in-law and I still had her brother as a brother-in-law after all was said and done.

The Lightning Round

Borrowing a segment from the CNBC show, Jim Cramer’s Mad Money, I thought it would be fun to fire off a few quick questions to Jim for some final thoughts.

1.     If you could go to Hogwarts or Harvard, where would you go?  JM: Hogwarts!

2.     Mustard or Mayo?  JM: Mustard

3.     Yankees or Red Sox?  JM: Red Sox

4.     Bills or Patriots?  JM: Bills

5.     Dividend or Growth Investing?  JM: Dividend

6.     Coke or Pepsi?  JM: Pepsi

7.     In terms of your leadership style, would you rather be feared or loved?  JM: Both, I want people to be fearful of how much they love me!

Jim has been a selfless leader at High Falls and as with all great leaders they eventually move on to the next big challenge in life. We are pleased that Jim has decided to continue working with his clients at High Falls and we can rely on his sage advice and counsel for years to come. Congratulations and best wishes, Jim!


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