Andy picks his way to better client connections
Andy Wang started playing guitar just after graduating high school and later joined a punk rock/ska band when he was in college. He started after his father told him, “Why talk about it? Go take a lesson!” Since then, he’s learned to play the Hawaiian slack key guitar and has entertained Christie Brinkley, performed at Staten Island Stadium, the Highline Ballroom, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival, where he was able to perform with his musical heroes.
In this episode, Andy and I talk about how his guitar playing benefited his career in so many ways. He developed a niche by realizing there weren’t many Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar players in New York City. He also learned to take a leap of faith and trust the process — you’ll get better over time. Early in his career, he didn’t share his guitar playing because he didn’t feel that it benefited his career. Now he’s inviting clients to his shows, includes it in his twitter bio and on his page of the firm’s website. Andy said, “When you’re in the business world, there’s always the risk of trying to take yourself too seriously. The fun goes out the window.”
Andy Wang is the Managing Partner at Runnymede Capital Management outside of New York City. He’s been named one of the Top 100 Most Social Financial Advisors.
He graduated from Trinity College-Hartford with a BA, International Studies.
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Welcome to Episode 85 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday I interview a professional known for a hobby or a passion. Just by being themselves, they stand out like a green apple in a stereotypically boring red apple world.
I was talking with someone recently about sharing your “and” because we don’t always do that when people ask us about us. Like this week’s guest, Andy Wang, who’s both an investment adviser and plays the guitar. They’re both really important but it’s the “and” that really strengthens these human connections.
If you’re listening to this and think, “Hey, I’ve got a hobby or passion that I love to talk about.” Please, reach out to me because I’d love to have you on as a guest in the show. Just go to greenapplepodcast.com. Send me a quick message and I’ll get you scheduled right away.
But today, it’s all about Andy Wang, the managing partner of Runnymede Capital Management. We met just a few weeks ago at a conference and he was cool enough to make time to be with me today. So Andy, I’m super excited to have you as part of the Green Apple Podcast.
Andy: Hey, John. It’s so good to be here.
John: I’m excited to have you on the show after meeting you at the FinCon Masters event here in New York City.
Andy: We had a lot of fun.
John: Yeah. It was. It was a lot of fun. I followed you on Twitter and saw your Twitter handle. I was like, “Wow. We’ve got to talk. Your little bio.” I appreciate you making time to be with me today.
Andy: Excited to be here.
John: I guess I gave everyone a little bit of an intro but maybe in your own words, a little bit of where you’re at now and kind of how you got there.
Andy: Sure. Well, I’m a managing partner at Runnymede Capital Management. We’re a family-owned registered investment advisor working with individuals and small businesses with their 401(k) plans in institutions. I’ve been here for 19 years and as you saw on my Twitter bio, I play guitar from time to time.
John: Right. Right. I think that’s so awesome, man. It’s really, really cool and it’s also cool that it’s on your Twitter bio which we’ll talk about in just a bit. But one thing I love to ask everyone is just what made you want to go into finance? I mean I guess family-run business but still.
Andy: Yeah, exactly. For me, it’s a family-run business. Runnymede was founded by my dad. I grew up surrounded by investors and investment talk. Let’s just say that I grew up to dinner conversations that included like, “What’s a company’s return on equity?” or, “Is the ROE trending upward or downward?”
John: Right. “All right kids, gather around, we’re going to bring out the newspaper, the Business Section and we’re going to read stock reports.”
Andy: Yeah. Exactly. I guess in college, I interned at an investment council firm. I spent the summer on the floor of the New York stock exchange which was very cool.
John: Wow. That’s awesome. Yeah.
Andy: Yeah. Then I worked in Boston for about five years in financial services. Then also at a semi-conductor trading company before joining the family business.
John: Wow. Yeah. I mean that’s really, really good to just go get some experience outside and then bring that in for the fold.
Andy: That’s always a good way to go.
John: Yeah. That’s awesome, man, very cool and you’ve been there 19 years. That’s impressive.
Andy: Yeah. That’s frightening. Like anything else, the longer you’re at it, the more hesitant you are to tell people because then they’ll expect that you’re going to be really good. Playing guitar or in your day job.
John: Right, no matter what it is.
Andy: Man, you’ve been doing that a really long time.
John: It’s like well, then there’s no one else to do it that’s why I’m still here.
Andy: Yeah. With your comedy, I’m sure it’s like early on, you say, “Oh, I’ve just been doing for six months.” And then people say, “Wow, you’re really good for six months.” But years later, you say, “I’ve been doing this for a really long time.” “Well, we expect you to be good then.”
John: Exactly. There’s a lot pressure there. There certainly is.
John: But yeah, you alluded to the guitar playing which is right there in your Twitter bio which is exactly why I was like, you’re going to be perfect for this. So how did you get into playing guitar?
Andy: That’s a great question. I started playing guitar after high school graduation. It was something that I always wanted to do. It was at that time, I think I had expressed to my dad that I’ve always wanted to play guitar. I think it would be really fun to do. He said, “Just go take a lesson. Why talk about it and think about it? Just go take a lesson and then you can see if you like it or not.” I think that was a really good life lesson.
John: Yeah. Exactly. Just jump in. Just go, man.
Andy: Yeah. That’s one of the themes, right? I play Hawaiian slack-key guitar, not to be confused with the Hawaiian lap steel which is played with a steel bar and you’ll see that in country a lot. Slack-key is a folk tradition that developed in the 1800s when Mexican cowboys brought their instruments to Hawaii.
John: Oh, wow.
Andy: It can be played on any guitar. Most often, it’s played on an acoustic but it’s well known for open tunings and you can get a really full sound all by yourself because you’re playing base notes with your thumb and the melody with your other fingers.
John: Right. It’s not a pick? You’re using your fingers?
Andy: Correct. You can either play with your fingers or your fingernails. Some guys use finger picks too but you’re picking, you’re not strumming with a pick.
John: A plastic thing. Right. Yeah.
John: That’s great. And then so what made you choose the Hawaiian slack-key kind of music?
Andy: I got old.
John: You got old.
Andy: I had to trade in my electric guitar for an acoustic guitar. That was part of it. Because in college, I played in a punk rock, hard core, ska band for a bit.
John: Nice! I love it!
Andy: Then I got old. So I was like, “Oh, man. I better get rid of the amplifier and play quietly in my living room.”
John: Right. That’s awesome man. Ska was the rage, man, in the ‘90s.
Andy: Yeah. Bosstones.
John: Absolutely. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
Andy: Yeah. The other half of it for me is that my wife was born and raised in Hawaii and my mom has cousins there. During visits to Hawaii, I fell in love with the place. The weather, the beaches, the people, the music, food.
John: It’s a tough sell.
Andy: Exactly, right? Compared to New Jersey, especially.
John: Right. Exactly. No one from Hawaii is like, “Oh, I really got to get to New Jersey someday.”
Andy: There’s a little bit of a contrast there.
John: Right. That’s really cool. I know from talking to you earlier that some really, really cool experiences from playing professionally that you’ve gotten to do.
Andy: Yeah. It’s all about the adventures, I think. Tina Fey says, “The fun is on the other side of yes.” I believe that whole heartedly.
John: Yeah. You’re in this podcast. I mean, look at that. Look at that.
Andy: Hey, look. See. Exactly. I mean for a guy who never planned to play outside of his living room, I mean, it’s crazy. I’ve played at people’s weddings or anniversaries, funerals. I’ve played for Daniel Dae Kim of Lost and Hawaii Five-0 fame. I played for Christie Brinkley and her family and friends. It runs the whole gamut. I mean, I’ve played for school kids. Yeah, probably one of the most rewarding things is playing with guys that I consider my musical heroes because I grew up in New Jersey, right?
So I really have no business playing Hawaiian music. To be accepted by musicians that I look up to and to have opportunities to either be an opening act when they’re coming to New York or New Jersey and to perform with them, that blows my mind.
John: Yeah. That’s so cool man. It’s also cool just to see that they’re just regular people. I mean, I’ve had similar experiences too. You meet like Jay Leno or Louie Anderson, people like that that I’ve worked with and come across and hung out with. They’re just regular dudes. I mean, they’re just regular normal people just like me.
Andy: That’s good to hear. You’re in the big leagues man. I mean, I think in Hawaiian music, my idols are far more accessible because it’s not like I’m calling Eric Clapton or something.
John: Yeah. But still, they don’t have to take your call. They could be not approachable. It’s neat to see that your heroes are cool people that you want to be around.
Andy: Totally. They don’t have to be so inclusive or inviting or supportive. I found that certainly, they are that way. Like a year ago, I played like three cities with the Hawaiian Slack-Key Guitar Festival when they came to the East Coast, and that was wild for me because that festival is something I have attended as a fan in Hawaiian going back like 15 or 16 years ago. And back then, I was pretty awful. To appear on that bill shows that I made progress. I’m a little less terrible now.
John: That’s super impressive, man. But then again, you came into it with some experience having played for many years. But still, that’s impressive to go from fan to the stage.
Andy: Yeah. That’s always crazy. That’s a process.
John: It didn’t even involve like the Make-A-Wish Foundation, you just straight did it. You did it. That’s awesome.
Andy: Yeah. Slowly but yeah. You make progress over time.
John: That’s very cool. I’m inspired. That’s very cool.
Has playing guitar, do you feel that there’s a unique skill set to that that translates to your work there at Runnymede?
Andy: Yeah. Big time. I think that, like I said, I never planned to play outside my living room. I honestly had the worst stage fright. My heart would raise, my hand would shake, and I feel sick to my stomach. That’s not a fun hobby to have, right?
John: No. It’s like, “Why am I doing this? It’s crazy.”
Andy: Yeah, but I found that because only a handful of people are playing Hawaiian music in the New York area or I had opportunities to play at private parties, or corporate events, weddings. I learned to get over that fear. I think like you said earlier in the conversation, you learn to take the leap and to trust the process. I think that performing is a fantastic metaphor for business in that way because I believe that my hobby supports and feeds my profession and vice versa.
John: That’s fantastic. Just like kind of one hand feeds the other and probably just gives you a lot of energy. That’s what recharges your batteries, I imagine.
Andy: Well, I think it’s a relatively safe way to cut loose and relieve some pressure on the weekend and stay out of trouble.
John: Yeah. That’s so true. It is something that I think a lot of people, they just feel like oh, well, the hobby or whatever is just kind of a throwaway or it’s something to do or whatever. No, it’s actually really important for your brain and your body and your health. Just to get away and come back refreshed.
Andy: Yeah. That is definitely part of it. I mean, you need to have that balance. I think the other part is that you do learn to trust the process. Business is sort of like that too because so many of the things that we do in the office, you don’t learn in college, right? College is great for theory. Well, like in my case, you study supply and demand curves, but too often, you’re not taught how to run a business or build a practice. So like an instrument, you stink at the beginning and you make a lot of bad sounds, but over time, you get better.
John: Yeah. I mean I think a lot of people when they graduate college and then they get into corporate America, they don’t understand that they’re going to make bad sounds and they’re going to be terrible. They think that they have to be this maestro. It’s like no, no, no, I think we all feel that pressure.
Andy: Yeah, that and I think when you’re in the business world, there’s the risk of trying to take yourself too seriously. You feel like, “Oh, I’m a professional now. If I’m wearing a tie, I need to act appropriately.” The fun goes out the window and it’s being too serious all the time.
John: Right. Do you ever weave in the guitar or do you talk about it at work or is that your way of cutting loose and bring in some play to work, if you will?
Andy: Yeah. It’s interesting. I think in the early days, I wouldn’t bring it up. I would keep it very separate. I don’t know. Part of that is because maybe I’m insecure about my music playing too. It’s not worth sharing but on the other hand, the last time I performed at Highline Ballroom in New York, we actually invited a few clients there. I was up on stage talking about music and investing and how I had clients in the audience. It was great and anything that helps us to connect with clients, ultimately that benefits our business.
John: Right, yeah. Especially in the business that you have where it’s so personal. Just humanizing yourself has to make you just a lot more approachable to everyone, really, which is really cool.
Do you find that there are any clients you have that also play guitar or are in performing arts or things like that?
Andy: The answer’s yes. I mean I think that we tend to have a pretty diverse client base. It’s like different individuals. There are some businesses. Even though we don’t have a huge number of clients, I think there’s diversity there. But it’s funny that you ask because we do count among our clients like an actor, a screenwriter. We have an opera singer or a teacher of opera. The other thing is that the actor who we have as a client, the first meeting that my brother and I had at his apartment with him and his wife at New York, at the end of the meeting, he pulled out an ukulele.
Andy: Because he’s like, “Oh, I heard that you play. Can you play something for me?”
John: There you go. I’m calling your bluff.
Andy: I started playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. There’s a guy Israel Kamakawiwo’ole who passed away really young but he’s super famous for his Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Wonderful World. He’s appeared in T.V., movies, all over the place. I played that and that’s how we concluded the meeting. I went back to my office and he sent an email saying, “Hey, guys. I had a great meeting. What other meeting do you go over your investments and then have your investment adviser sing a song to you on the ukulele.” He’s like, “That was great.”
John: That was great. That’s awesome. That’s super cool man. He’s got to really appreciate that and you’re sticky to him. Yeah, what other investment adviser could do that? Probably none or very few anyway. I mean, most of them are just coming in with their charts and, “All right. Here’s the money, and blah, blah, blah and then I’m out.”
Andy: Yeah. It can get pretty dry. Maybe I need to bring my ukulele to all client meetings.
John: That’ll be your thing man.
Andy: Tiny Tim, you know. He made a whole career out of it.
John: Which song did Andy play for you?
Andy: I better keep practicing.
John: That’s super awesome, man. But going back in your early days, wanting to keep it separate, I think that’s really important because I think that’s where a lot of people are. I know I certainly was at first and then it just accidently came out. Someone was like, “What did you do this weekend?” I was like, “Oh, well, I did a comedy show.” And they’re like, “Wait, what?” That type of thing. It certainly wasn’t my idea to promote it but the dividend since have been huge. I guess, why do you think that is? I guess one of the reason you listen — we’re not as confident in what we’re doing so we don’t really want to share it.
John: Yeah. I think that’s what it comes down to. The biggest fear about sharing anything is probably fear of failure or what people will say or think.
John: Right, yeah.
Andy: I don’t know, over time, it seems like — and maybe it comes with age. You start realizing or maybe you start caring less about what people think and you say, “Maybe I just should say yes and put it out there.” You just dive head first and see what happens. Hopefully, you get positive feedback and not negative feedback. But there’s only one way to find out.
John: That’s true. That’s exactly it. When you did put it out there, what did you find?
Andy: Well, in the case where you play ukulele after a client meeting, that was positive. I invited clients to the show at Highline Ballroom and that was positive. I think largely, all good. Certainly in my case, I haven’t had clients tell me to stop talking about it. I haven’t gone overboard yet.
John: Right. They’ll tell you when.
John: I mean, that’s the thing. I think most of that is in our own head. I really do. I loved how you put that. It’s that fear of failure and that fear of what other people are going to say or think and judge you. But on the flipside, it’s like, “Well, what are you doing? You’ve got nothing. At least, I’ve got this guitar thing. Even if I’m not good at it, I’m at least doing something.”
Andy: It comes down to the stage fright that I talked about earlier. I have teachers who would tell me, they’re like, “No one’s going to die. What do you have to lose? Just go out there. Just keep doing it because the more you do it, the less scary it gets.” And then with client relationships and things like that, I think that it just goes to prove that as individuals, we’re not one dimensional. Being multidimensional, it’s doesn’t just make us better professionals, it makes us humans. That’s how you develop better relationships. It’s human to human. It goes back to basics.
John: Absolutely. That’s exactly what it is. I think just from all of our education and our training and all the technical stuff, just layer on layer on layer on top of our humanness, if you will, so we’re reluctant to let that out because we want to rely on the smarts, if you will, and all that training. It’s like well, but that’s not the stuff that people are really grasping for.
Andy: Yeah, because at the end of the day, and it doesn’t matter if you are in financial services or an accountant or selling any product. Ultimately, you’re trying to develop a trust with the people that you’re working with. Along with that trust, there are a lot of intangibles in there and it’s not concrete. It’s not a straight line.
John: That’s exactly right. I guess how much do you think — I mean, there at Runnymede, I guess maybe you guys are a little bit smaller, so you probably know about each other’s hobbies, passions, things of that nature, I imagine?
Andy: Yeah. Plus, a lot of us are family members.
John: Yeah, that’s true too. You can’t even hide it.
Andy: So everybody knows.
John: Your brother’s like, “Wait, you play guitar? Where did you come from?” “Shut up, man.” I guess maybe when you worked in Boston or in the companies before you got to Runnymede, how much do you think it is on the organization to create a culture to share or how much is it on that individual to just kind of just step up and dive in head first, like you said?
Andy: Yeah. I forget. I was listening to one of your other podcast interviews, it must’ve been — who’s the guy who was doing the — I don’t remember who’s the Fantasy Football.
John: Oh, yeah. Bob Lung.
Andy: Yeah. Somebody was saying that it comes from the top down. If you take yourself super seriously at work and you’re not letting your hair down and telling people about what else is going on in your life, maybe it comes down to leadership. At our firm, I guess that will be an ongoing experiment. I mean, if I am open about what I do at work and what I do outside of work, I just think it’s a matter of genuinely being yourself. I think that that will ultimately help me to be a better leader and to be a better advisor working with my clients too.
John: Right. It helps both inside and outside the office.
Andy: Yeah. I mean just being genuinely yourself should be a good thing.
John: Right. It’s so perplexing that that’s so hard or it’s not the natural state that a lot of people go to which is I guess understandable but also a little bit confusing. Once you make that leap then it’s like, “I don’t understand why it was so hard before,” type of thing.
Andy: Yeah. Times are changing, I think now. I mean maybe it’s because of technology, I’m not sure. But certainly, I think that a lot of people feel a pressure to like, “How do you stand out among so many other professionals?” Some of that gets applied to social media too. It’s like how do you stand out among millions of people? It seems like standing out requires finding the courage to be yourself and celebrating the unique things that defines you. So why hide your interest or things that you’re passionate about?
John: That’s exactly it. You should be running this podcast. What the heck is going on?
John: Like, hello? I mean, that’s exactly it. Because I mean, a lot of people just go to the default though of, “Well, to stand out, I’ll just go get another certification or I’ll study more or I’ll memorize whatever codes or whatever it is, the rules of my job.” Not really. Unless you’re some kind of crazy outlier, Kreskin sort of whatever, then yeah, maybe then you’ll stand out but otherwise, people will be like, “Well, yeah. I mean we all sort of –” once you have this baseline level of technical skills, then yeah, we all sort of do that.
Andy; Well, I think, unless your Michael Jordan and you can dunk from the foul line and just awe everybody, then you got to find other ways.
John: Exactly. That’s exactly it.
Andy: At the end of the day, nobody wants to be friends with somebody who has no life.
John: Right! Totally. Even the other person with no life doesn’t want to hang out with you because there’s this competition of who’s got more memorized.
Andy: Yeah. Right. Who’s more pathetic?
John: Right. There you go. That’s awesome. I mean, yeah. It’s always amazing to me that that’s the default for everybody and it’s encouraging to hear that you’re making that leap. Do you have any words of encouragement to people that are where you were earlier on?
Andy: I think that words of encouragement are just to get over your fears so that you can say yes and dive head first into whatever it is that you want to do.
John: I mean that’s exactly it. Just jump in. Just go, man.
Andy: That’s always a good way to go.
John: Yeah. But before I come over and take a guitar lesson, I do have my 17 rapid fire questions I would like to run you through, Andy.
Andy: Well, all right.
John: Let me fire up this thing. Here we go. Super easy first one. Favorite color?
Andy: Favorite color. Purple.
John: Purple, wow. How about a least favorite color?
Andy: Least favorite color? Brown.
John: Brown. That’s a solid answer. Do you have a least favorite vegetable?
Andy: I don’t really know. Not really.
John: You like all of them. Good for you, man. How about more suite and tie or jeans and a t-shirt?
Andy: Definitely jeans and a t-shirt.
John: Okay. All right. How about when it comes to computers, more PC or Mac?
Andy: It depends if I’m at home or at work. At work, it’s the PC. At home, it’s a Mac.
John: There you go. I got it. I got it. How about when you’re at work, on your mouse, more right-click or left-click?
Andy: Left-click. That’s where the action is.
John: Yeah. There you go. How about more Star Wars or Star Trek?
Andy: Definitely Star Wars. Although I did get to meet George Takei.
John: Very cool, man. How about do you have a favorite sports team?
Andy: Favorite sports team? Not really. But for the record, I will state the Mets.
John: Okay. How about more Sudoku or crossword puzzles?
John: Sudoku? Yeah. How about in your New York area, you’ve got to ask, favorite toppings on a pizza?
Andy: That’s a good question. I usually go to spinach and garlic and tomatoes.
John: Wow. All right. Yeah, that’s not a usual combination.
Andy: It’s a triple threat.
John: That is a triple threat. That’s for sure. Since you’re a finance guy, I’m going to ask you more mutual funds or stocks?
Andy: We’re definitely stocks.
John: Oh, individual.
Andy: Yeah. We do a lot of research on companies. So individual stocks.
John: There you go. All right. Do you have a movie that makes you cry?
Andy: A movie that makes me cry? No, not really.
John: All right. I totally get it. Do you have a favorite number?
Andy: Favorite number is 39.
John: Why is that?
Andy: For some reason that number comes up frequently for me.
John: Okay. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Andy: Favorite actor or actress. No, not really.
John: That’s cool. How about a favorite comedian?
Andy: Eddie Murphy.
John: That’s a great answer. Absolutely man. Three more. More Kindle or real books?
Andy: Neither, really.
John: Okay. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?
Andy: Definitely more of a night owl.
John: Okay. The last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Andy: My composite acoustic guitar that is made out of graphite. I’ve been consistently playing this guitar for quite a while. I guess that’s a pretty favorite thing that I own.
John: Yeah. That’s great, man. Well, thank you so much Andy for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast. This was fantastic.
Andy: It was a lot of fun.
John: That was really, really fun. I particularly loved how Andy said when you’re in the business world, there’s always the risk of trying to take yourself too seriously and that’s when fun goes out the window. This couldn’t be more true. Don’t let professionalism suffocate your personality.
If you’d like to see some pictures of Andy on stage and even posing with Christie Brinkley and connect with him on social media, go to greenapplepodcast.com. If you’re listening on iTunes or Stitcher, please just take a minute and give us a five-star rating and leave a comment so others can learn about the show. Thank you so much for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread which is to go out and be a green apple.