Financial advisor Steven Tonkinson uses his quick intelligence to solve investment problems and build portfolios for clients. But outside of the office, he uses his hands and his instincts to help relieve crises in places that have been struck by environmental disasters. Most recently, he traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to distribute emergency tents and related supplies amid the damage and lawlessness that afflicted the impoverished nation following its 7.0-magnitude earthquake last year. The mission was organized by ShelterBox, an England-based non-profit that sends quick-response teams around the world when natural disasters leave people homeless. Haiti was his second deployment; he worked on providing shelters for victims of Hurricane Jimena in Mexico in September of 2009. Tonkinson, 31, signed up as a volunteer with the group two years ago.
“Making a big difference on the ground, with my hands, was the biggest attraction,” says Tonkinson. “Every deployment's different. They need problem-solvers and go-getters and people who will get the job done.” Being an Eagle Scout helps, he believes. Tonkinson also can handle the physical pressure that accompanies such assignments; he's completed an Ironman triathlon — a 26.2-mile marathon, plus 112 miles of biking and 2.4-miles of swimming — and four half-triathlons.
Still, the experience in Haiti was grueling. He was sent down on three separate occasions for a total of about 30 days. By day the temperature hit 100 degrees, with 90 percent humidity. At night the air choked with the stench of burning garbage. And despite a hefty supply of the antibiotic Cipro, he and his colleagues struggled with intestinal bugs. “Everybody got sick. It was unavoidable, but you do the best you can,” Tonkinson says.
ShelterBox worked closely with the UN and other non-governmental organizations as it distributed its 20-man tents throughout neighborhoods in and around the capital city. Tonkinson learned something new every day — how to deal with a corrupt customs agent demanding a bribe to expedite the release of lifesaving supplies, or how to ensure that the tents were delivered to the neediest people. In a city with roving groups of men armed with shanks and shotguns, the outcomes weren't always perfect. “You always have to have your guard up, even though you want to think people are at their best,” Tonkinson says.
Firm: Rick Tonkinson & Associates/Securities America
City: Coral Gables, Fla.
Years as rep: 8
Years with current firm: 8
AUM: $200 million (team-wide)
Product mix: Insurance 60%; managed accounts 40%
Designations, licenses: Series 6, 7, 24, 63, 66; CFP, CFS