Shirl Penney

Shirl Penneyage 38

Founder, president and CEO, Dynasty Financial Partners

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Shirl Penney started at the bottom. Now, he’s here.

Here is the 32nd floor of a gleaming tower of glass in Manhattan that peaks at Mr. Penney’s Midtown apartment — and Central Park. It’s a far climb from the makeshift office in his garage where he built Dynasty Financial Partners, and an even greater ascent from his beginnings.

Mr. Penney, whose clients cater to the wealthiest of the wealthy, said he lived on food stamps and was raised by a step-grandfather, whose schooling stopped after the fourth grade.

“I can’t settle because if I settled I’d be letting him down,” Mr. Penney said.

He describes his business as what Levi Strauss was to the Gold Rush. His unique firm outfits businesses in a market segment — registered investment advisers — that seems to have struck gold, taking market share from the largest wealth managers.

Already a veteran at 38, Mr. Penney worked for Salomon Smith Barney Inc. and Citigroup Inc., where he ran the VIP meetings they held between uber-wealthy clients and the firm’s senior executives, such as Sanford I. “Sandy” Weill. Those meetings still resonate: They were proof-positive that true wealth comes from running your own business.

“The only thing, broadly, that they all had in common was that their success had come from equity,” he said. “It’s difficult to get that wealth from being a W-2 employee.”

Building robust infrastructure for the advisers they serve — and educating them on what Dynasty does — was a challenge.

“In any new business, you’re going to have battle scars and you’re going to make mistakes,” he said. “The amount of innovation in the last five years is greater than the 50 before that,” Mr. Penney said.

— Trevor Hunnicutt

Fast Facts

  • First job was working at an aquaculture farm that raised Atlantic salmon
  • Owns a thoroughbred breeding and racing stable
  • Guilty pleasure is eating ice cream with his two daughters
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