William Walker's work rebuilding an investment division for another bank eventually led to the creation of Legacy Trust. Photo by Johnny Quirin
William Walker founded wealth management firm Legacy Trust in Grand Rapids at a time when many small financial institutions had already been devoured by larger regional or national franchises and more were soon to follow.
He said it was important to him to maintain a locally owned and locally managed firm.
“Our expectation and plan was not to sell the business. We were to grow it and maintain a local, independent business,” he said. “That’s where the name Legacy Trust came from.”
Walker had spent two decades in the financial industry when he decided in 2002 he was ready to strike out on his own.
He said his time with Old Kent Bank was especially impactful on his future decision.
Walker came to Grand Rapids from Springfield, Illinois, where he’d worked since graduating from college, to join Old Kent Bank as a portfolio manager.
He hadn’t heard of the city before but was sold on making the community his new home after noticing the number of golf courses within a 10-minute drive.
His visit to Grand Rapids also left a positive impression.
“People on the street were saying ‘hi’ and greeting me,” he said. “The city made a very favorable impression on me.”
Walker said within six months, however, he thought he’d made a big mistake as he watched a number of members of his department resign.
“I was that close to picking up the phone and heading back to my former employer,” he said.
But he waited it out and was quickly rewarded with what turned out to be one of the biggest opportunities of his career.
“Eight months later, a new chief investment officer was hired, and he said ‘I need a senior portfolio manager,’” Walker explained. “He wanted to rebuild the investment division.
“So at 29 years old, I was out meeting with the board of directors at Steelcase, talking to them about their major account at Old Kent Bank. It turned into a huge opportunity.
“Eventually I had six people underneath me as portfolio manager, and I had the bank’s largest individual and corporate accounts assigned to me.”
His next big opportunity came when Old Kent Bank decided to focus on specialized service for its highest-net-worth clients.
Walker and Bob Prevette, who was also working at Old Kent Bank, were tapped to lead the new division.
“They put us in a corner office and said ‘here’s a handful of accounts, go figure out what they need,’” Walker said.
Walker said that was his first taste from the “entrepreneurial apple.”
Walker said he and Prevette rapidly grew the new business, making it a success for the bank.
After 12 years at Old Kent Bank, Walker took a position at Grand Bank, which was a local bank in Grand Rapids.
He led the investment operation of Grand Bank’s trust division for four years, leaving just before Grand Bank was absorbed into Macatawa Bank.
He said it was at that point that he decided he was ready to launch Legacy Financial Advisors.
But with just himself and an assistant, he couldn’t get the business off the ground.
Not ready to give up, Walker recruited his old colleague, Bob Prevette.
“I thought together we could have more success, but we were still getting the same answer.”
Walker and Prevette regrouped.
“Our background was with clients of $1 million or more in manageable assets, so we elected to institutionalize the business, rather than the two-person partnership operation.
“We took off our business development hats temporarily and put on our fundraising hats and went out and raised $3.5 million in capital from the local community.”
He said Legacy Trust was launched in 2004 with the help of 40 individuals who “bought into our vision and helped us seed this operation.”
“We started with $0, and now we are north of $550 million, with about 175 different clients, predominantly in West Michigan,” Walker said.
The business has also grown from five initial employees to 18.
Walker said what sets Legacy Trust apart is its commitment to exceptional client service.
“Everyone has products. It’s about the relationship and serving the clients and building good long-term loyalty, because you’ve added value above and beyond the products you’ve brought to the clients,” he said.
Walker said Legacy Trust’s customer service focus begins with a client service experience document.
“It sets the service expectations of our advisors to execute so that everyone should be receiving a consistent service delivery,” he said.
Walker said he is confident Legacy Trust has never lost a client due to service.
Legacy Trust is not the only venture Walker can count as a success.
In 2009, he launched the Legacy Trust Award Collection, an annual art competition for artists with disabilities.
Each year winners are selected during the spring and provided with assistance in getting their artwork registered and matched with a venue for the fall’s ArtPrize competition. They also receive $500 each in prize money.
Walker said he was inspired by the success of ArtPrize and wanted to ensure artists with disabilities had the opportunity to compete. He also is a parent of a child with special needs.
“I was on the board of the Very Special Arts (now Artists Creating Together) at the time,” he said. “(Legacy Trust) began collaborating with VSA to allow artists with disabilities to demonstrate their art talent through a competition.”
The initial competition drew 20 submissions and selected three winners; this year there were 102 entries and four winners selected.
The LTAC board added the fourth award as a tribute to Walker’s daughter, Lillian.
This year’s LTAC entries will be on display at DeVos Place.
“I am awestruck every year by the size and the artistic talent that is on display,” Walker said. “And what is becoming more important to me is connecting with the artists and hearing their stories.”
Walker said the LTAC board is now looking at an educational component to help artists learn about selling their work and managing their profits.
Walker said because the artists receive disability benefits, they have to make sure money from prizes or the sale of their work doesn’t disqualify them from their benefits.
Many LTAC pieces are on display within the Legacy Trust office, and Walker has one of his favorite pieces on his office wall.
He said having the artwork on display creates additional opportunities to engage people in conversations about disability and to showcase the talents of many people whose work might otherwise be overlooked.