Director, Credit Suisse Private Banking, Los Angeles
Education: B.A. political science, UCLA
Team Assets: $3.8 billion
Typical Account: $10 million-$250 million
Years in Business: 20
Quote: "I enjoy competition; you have to in this business, but integrity is paramount. You have to treat people with absolute honesty, candor and respect. This is all about relationships and taking care of people."
Steven Levine has always been competitive, especially when it comes to numbers. He and his childhood best friend used to race to see who could get farther ahead in their grade school math workbooks.
"Not a lot of people like math that much, so it's a pretty good indicator that I'm in the right field," laughed Levine, a Beverly Hills native. "My friend became a CFO, so it held true for him, too."
One of L.A.'s top 10 money managers, Levine has been at Credit Suisse for more than five years, over which time he has added to his already substantial a client roster of the ultra wealthy, including several billionaires.
Levine's strategy is to make sure his very rich clients stay that way by preserving wealth through a cautious strategy of diversifying investments to minimize risk.
He manages a portfolio of $4 billion for about 85 high net worth clients with more than $5 million in assets, some of whom have more than $1 billion managed by Levine alone.
"The people I work with already have extremely large net worth," Levine said. "My job is to continue to grow the assets but in a way that's less risky, less volatile than in the past."
Recently, Levine said he has funneled money into international equities because of their faster economic growth and favorable currencies. He also makes investments in alternative assets a class that includes private equity and hedge funds and prefers large-cap growth stocks over small caps, which he feels are valued relatively high.
One of the things that sets him apart, Levine said, is the relationship he has with his clientele, and he is selective in whom he works with. If a potential client prefers risky behavior, such as trading in individual stocks, Levine will recommend the prospective client go to another money manager.
"I have absolutely turned people away because working with them would be too difficult, and I am lucky enough to be in a position when I am interviewing them as much as they are interviewing me," Levine said. "It's very important to be a fit on both ends, and to be in your comfort zone."
Levine has put in his time in the field, doing stints at Lehman Bros., Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley over the 15 years before he landed at Credit Suisse, a firm where he feels at home.
"Being at a boutique firm that focuses only on the high net worth marketplace is a unique advantage," Levine said. "Here I am one of only 300 advisers with incredible resources at my disposal. Access to those resources executives, analysts, information is much greater than if I was one of 15,000 like at Merrill Lynch."
Despite his notable success, Levine has endured some challenges along the way. In 1987, two weeks after he was licensed, the stock market crashed. Another challenge was the bear market that began in 2000.
"It was a difficult time, but in hindsight not knowing any better, it was actually a great time to start," he said.
Levine said a big reason for his success is that he works intensely at this job, and makes himself readily available to his clients. "I am constantly on my BlackBerry, and I've been told I'm the fastest responder to e-mail out there," Levine said, laughing. "During my waking hours I try to be as responsive as possible."
It's not all work for Levine, though; family comes first. He starts his day at the office at 6 a.m. and leaves in the afternoon to spend time with his three sons, even coaching their sports teams.
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