Following the road less traveled came naturally for business alumnus Jeff George, MACY ’10. By taking the advice of poet Robert Frost, George has been able to find fulfillment both professionally in the field of finance and academically while he was a student in the Carlos Alvarez College of Business at UTSA.
As the founder of Tao Financial, a financial advisory firm in Orlando, George’s career has been defined by his staunch ethical beliefs as well as his passion for helping entrepreneurs.
Before launching his own firm, George felt that his ethical values were being eroded little by little. “Every firm I worked for focused on the bottom line, but not the bottom line of their clients. The pandemic presented a unique opportunity for me to build my own firm,” he said. “I’m running a firm that I’m extremely proud of—it is an incredible feeling. It is easier to do the job when you know you are doing the right thing.”
His firm, which he opened in 2020, specializes in financial planning, investment management, group retirement plan design and investment advisory services for small business owners. Understanding that there was a gap in how business owners were serviced by the financial advice industry, George leverages his extensive background in accounting to help owners take the next steps in growing their business and managing its value while making sure their most important priorities aren’t being overlooked. To accomplish this, he formed a second company, Tao Consulting LLC, where he serves as a part-time CFO for business owners who need help making important financial decisions, but can’t afford an in-house expert.
“I saw the difference between the services that institutional clients and retail clients received when it came to investing their money,” he said. “And that gap was even more massive between big corporations and small- to medium-sized entrepreneurs.”
George’s passion for helping small business owners was fueled by personal experience. He saw the frustrations that his dad faced managing his dental practice, and he knew that small businesses should have access to the same high-quality services that are provided to larger corporate clients.
“I’d like to see a lot more small businesses prospering,” he said. “It was apparent to me that we as an industry could be doing more to support small businesses. Given the skill set that I had I knew that I could make a difference.”
Working toward that premise, George holistically works with small businesses so they can achieve their goals while also allowing their employees to thrive.
Ironically, business was not his first love. A San Antonio native, he dreamed of studying philosophy, but made a practical choice to pursue accounting. Completing both his undergraduate and graduate degree in accounting in four years, he forged a unique academic path that allowed him to create a degree plan that gave him the foundational skills that have made him successful today.
“I found that after taking a couple of courses in accounting that I happened to be quite good at it, and it came quite naturally,” said George, who was active with Beta Alpha Psi and ALPFA. “I had an amazing roster of accounting professors. It has provided a foundation for me to build on all sorts of financial knowledge.”
While he was an accounting student, George challenged himself academically by focusing his electives on financial topics such as modeling and business valuation and pursuing independent study coursework with faculty members Jeff Boone and Ron Sweet.
“Linda Vaello had a big influence on me,” said George, who also worked as her teaching assistant. “I had her for both of my Principles of Accounting classes as well as my ethics course. She was fabulous.” George also notes that Rudy Sandoval’s business law class was one of his most challenging courses, and he learned about financial statement analysis from Ted Skekel.
“There is no way I would have gotten a better education going anywhere else,” he said. “You get this belief that if you go to an Ivy League or private school that you’ll receive a better education. The program matters far less than the people managing it do. The faculty at UTSA were wonderful. I don’t think I ever had a door shut in my face at UTSA, and I’m a pretty unconventional guy.”
Participating in a national accounting case competition while a student, George had the opportunity to interview with JPMorgan Investment Bank. Realizing that the traditional accounting paths weren’t something that he wanted to pursue, he accepted an offer with the firm as an investment banking analyst in Philadelphia.
“Being a southern boy, the whole experience was a culture shock,” said George. “While moving to a new place was challenging, it was an extraordinary growth opportunity. The job experience was great, but grueling working 70-80 hours a week.”
After completing their two-and-a-half-year analyst development program, he chose to follow his girlfriend (now wife) to Florida to continue his investment career.
During that time, George completed the exams to become a CFA Charterholder and worked for one of the largest institutional investment consulting firms in Central Florida. He specialized in managing investments for executive deferred compensation, 401(k) and defined benefit pension plans.
“It was a great experience, and the knowledge I accumulated made it clear how much was being left on the table when it came to offering quality investment advice and retirement savings strategies for small business owners,” he said.
After eight years with the company, he had developed over 100 corporate relationships and was managing over $2 billion in assets. Between leaving and opening his own firm, George also worked with a financial advisory firm that focused on extensive financial planning for individuals.
“We had different priorities, and it was clear we wouldn’t be a good fit long term, but I’m very glad I spent the time learning how to provide those services in a holistic way. Thorough financial planning is probably one of the most value-added services you can offer a client,” he said.
George encourages students to complete internships at both large and small firms, so they can get a feel for the differences in culture and learn what works best for them. He noted that not everyone is a good fit for corporate America, himself included.
“The greater one’s aspirations, the more you have to be willing to sacrifice,” said George. “Am I okay with having a safe life or taking a chance to achieve the life that I want to live? The greatest resource we have is our time. It may take you longer to build your own business brick by brick, but when you are done, it is yours.”
George has done just that as he boldly pursues his passions while remaining true to himself.