In 1993, Leon LaBrecque and his wife Anne rushed their baby boy to the emergency room. Suffering from a severe fever, the newborn’s heart rate had soared to 400 beats per minute. When the doctors couldn’t lower the baby’s heart rate, they transferred him to Children’s Hospital of Michigan. A priest administered last rites.
At the time, LaBrecque was struggling to build his financial planning practice. For the next few weeks, he managed “two 10-hour-a-day jobs,” he recalls — maintaining his business while monitoring his son’s condition at the hospital.
Diagnosed with tachycardia — a rapid heart rate — the baby, Alexander, followed a drug regimen for two years. During that time, he could not speak.
“The cardiologist told me he’d change after two years when he’d go off the meds,” says LaBrecque, chief executive of LJPR Financial Advisors in Troy, Mich. “He said we’ll see if he talks then.”
As it turns out, two-year-old Alexander responded well to the treatment and started talking within 24 hours after discontinuing his medication. Today, he’s a 25-year-old Ph.D. candidate in marketing and big data at Michigan State University who played on his college lacrosse team.
The harrowing experience taught the elder LaBrecque valuable lessons. For starters, he gained empathy for others who undergo similar hardship. When clients face serious health issues, he refrains from saying, “It’ll be okay. You have to be tough. Suck it up.”
Instead, he opens up. “Something like what you’re going through happened to me,” he’ll say. “In my case, it turned out okay. I can’t know what will happen in your case, but I know what it felt like to go through something similar.”
Thanks to the calm, compassionate approach of his son’s cardiologist, LaBrecque also learned the importance of reassuring clients about his role as their financial adviser. LaBrecque remembers meeting the cardiologist for the first time. Carrying a large catalog case, the doctor walked into the room and told the panicked parents, “Don’t worry. Something in here will fix your son’s heart.”
“‘Don’t worry. Something in here will fix your son’s heart.’”
“Then he opened the case and started pulling out all these tools,” LaBrecque recalled. “He had a catheter, some ablation devices, some meds. I felt a sense of confidence he’d know how to fix things. I was still distraught, but I felt like I was in good hands.”
LaBrecque, 62, has adopted a similar strategy to build trust with anxious clients. Over the years, he has followed a four-step process:
1. Declare his intent to help clients improve their financial health.
2. Review a menu of options on how they might proceed.
3. Discuss his “toolbox” — the mix of financial products and instruments he’ll use to help them.
4. Identify potential solutions. Promise that if one tool doesn’t work, another will.
“I find that these steps work better than jamming something down their throat,” he says. “It’s important to offer options, ask questions and educate along the way.”
LaBrecque also admired how the cardiologist set clear expectations from the outset. Rather than overpromise or engender false hope, he leveled with the parents and translated technical concepts into plain English.
For example, the doctor drew a diagram on a clipboard to illustrate Alexander’s heart rhythm. He noted that adults cannot survive at a heart rate of 400 beats per minute, but babies can.
“It’s like a hummingbird,” the doctor said. LaBrecque and his wife appreciated his easy-to-understand explanation.
LaBrecque also came away from the experience with a heightened respect for professional expertise. He felt lucky to have such a highly qualified pediatric cardiologist by his side, so he dedicated his career to building his knowledge as well.
He’s a lawyer, a CPA, a certified financial planner, and a chartered financial analyst. But he positions himself as a resource rather than a know-it-all. When wrapping up introductory chats with prospective clients, he likes to say, “I enjoyed meeting you. I hope this was helpful to you. I’d be honored to work with you, but even if we don’t work together, please do not hesitate to call me if you need me for anything.”
Adds LaBrecque: “I leave it open. It amazes people that I don’t try to close [and secure them as clients]. It’s like that cardiologist: It comes from a deep place of wanting to help people.”
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