Firm: Merrill Lynch

Age: 48

Location: Greenwich, Conn.

Years with firm: 25

Years in the business: 25

Business specialty: Senior executives, wealthy families

As a Merrill Lynch advisor just two years out of college, Jeff Erdmann watched the great crash unfold on Black Monday in 1987 and couldn't understand why others in his office filed out after 4 o'clock when the shattered market finally closed. Erdmann recalled picking up the telephone and was on the line with his 22 clients until 9 that night. “Win when it counts,” is something he likes to tell his team of 17 today in Greenwich, Conn., where they manage $2.46 billion in assets; when crisis strikes, clients need access to their advisors around the clock. “There just is no substitute for hard work and focus. There is no secret sauce.”

Erdmann's work ethic hasn't changed: He talked with a reporter at 7 a.m. local time while vacationing with his family at his ranch in Colorado (“I have an office over my barn,” he says.) His niche today is personal money management for high-level business executives, a job that requires close client attention; about 85 percent of his fee-based business involves families with liquid assets of $10 million or more. Sometimes his clients ask if he can assist an in-law or a family friend with lower net worth. “We're not going to say, ‘Oh, we're too big for them, we don't take care of them,’” Erdmann says. Five of the advisors on his team manage families with $500,000 to $5 million in assets.

It was easier to be a sole practitioner 25 years ago, Erdmann says, but the wirehouse life suits him better today. “If a client says they need help with restricted stock or 401(k)s, in my early years I might have tried to go solve that problem for them. What I've learned over time is to go find someone who's best at that service and put them in front of your client, because you owe that to your client.

“When you start in the business at a young age, it very much revolves around survival,” he says. “My first 10 years, we were opening a lot of different accounts in different professions. But you ultimately want to be able to focus on a group of people, that you understand their needs and can make a difference for them.”