Issue: March 2007 Issue
Les Szarka of Szarka Financial Management is in the business of educating people on life after retirement.
Throughout his 38-year career, Tom Bennett always had an eye on retirement. After spending 19 years at The Plain Dealer and 19 years at Painesville’s Lubrizol Corp., respectively, Bennett, 66, was ready to begin planning for retirement.
“We had been planning an early retirement for quite a while,” explains Bennett. He and his wife, Carol, 65, talked to a number of financial advisors and Bennett even attended financial planning seminars conducted at Lubrizol, but nobody seemed knowledgeable enough to suit the Bennetts’ planning needs. Then they met Les Szarka, president and CEO of Szarka Financial Management in North Olmsted. “Les came in [to Lubrizol] and gave a talk on retirement,” says Bennett. “I liked what he said and went in afterward for a consultation. We’ve been with him ever since.”
Szarka’s been advising clients for 24 years, and prides himself on his commitment to educating people on managing their money and making the proper arrangements for retirement.
“We try to provide people with the information they need to make decisions — whether they are in retirement, one year from retirement or 20 years away from retirement,” says Szarka, 49. “Our roots go pretty deep on the education side of it.”
For the past 13 years, Szarka has conducted educational seminars for his clients and businesses that hire him for the employees. “Employers were looking for ways to help people out when they’re ready to retire,” says Szarka. “We do an education program for a company, and then when someone comes in down the line they already have some knowledge. It gives us great exposure, and it gives the person a chance to kick the tires.”
Szarka finds that many people are clueless when it comes to how much money they’ll need for retirement. Instead of taking a “cookie-cutter” approach to helping clients plan, Szarka and his staff of 10 work with each client to plan for individual needs. “What sets us apart is we’re a planning firm, not a sales organization,” he says. “We’re considered more of a boutique firm — it’s a client-by-client basis.” It’s all about getting to know the clients for Szarka. “If you really want to do financial planning right, you really have to get to know the person,” he says. “And then I say, ‘Okay if that’s the goal, you need X amount of dollars.’” That approach is what attracted Bennett to Szarka. Bennett planned to retire at 55, but decided to work for three more years to ensure a comfortable retirement. The Bennetts ultimately retired in 1999 to Fairhope, Ala. “He asked, ‘Do you want to retire for the sake of retirement or do you want a 30-year vacation,’” recalls Bennett. “I thought about it and said, ‘I want a 30-year vacation.’ It’s the best advice I’ve ever had.”
The Bennetts continue to work with Szarka, despite the distance now between them. “He listens to what we say, gives us input,” says Carol Bennett. “He’s really enabled us in the financial area. We think of him as a friend, and he’s really improved our quality of life.” Ironically, Szarka has no plans to retire himself. He loves his job too much. “What I do for a living is pretty much meeting people every day,” he says. “I get to help solve people’s problems, and there’s really not much that can’t be solved. You’d be surprised how many hugs we get.”
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