Joe Duran profile picture

Joe Duran

CEO, United Capital Financial Partners

What’s the background to the business?
I started with a small Registered Investment Advisory firm in 1992, which we grew to multi-billion dollars in assets. We sold that company to GE Financial when I was 34 in an all-cash, nine figure transaction. After that I had a two year non-compete so I wrote my second book – “Start It, Sell It & Make A Mint.” I didn’t want to retire – I’m passionate about making a difference in people’s lives so I started United Capital 6 years ago with the mission of helping people achieve a genuine empowerment over their entire financial lives.

We are consistently one of the fastest growing financial services firms and have grown to 300 employees in six years. We are approaching $100 million in revenue and over $15 billion in assets under advisement.

We raised $36 million in outside capital from Grail Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners. Our goal is to double revenues every couple of years. We have private equity investors and also give stock to our employees – we are 60% owned by employees and 40% by outside investors.


Business goal for the next 12 months: To invest very heavily in building the first billion dollar brand in our space. We have hired new senior level executives who are transforming how our team works. We work in 18-month increments so we plan to be busy for the next year, continuing to grow and taking our firm to the next level. With our group, we believe that every 24-36 months we need a fundamental change to keep us cutting-edge, so we are always innovating.

Advice you wish you had received: That you cannot succeed happily if you do not understand yourself. Success happened when I became an honest student of myself and I learned to apply more humility to my life. My first business was an ego-driven enterprise but this time I have spent more time trying to understand my own weaknesses. I believe that I have become better as a CEO and that we are better as a company because of it. I wish that early on I had had the same level of humility and introspection.

Best business decision: I think it would have to be that I have never lived a day doing something I’m not proud of. I think the best specific decision I have made is always around hiring decisions. Because we are in the service business, every time I’ve hired someone better than me, I have never regretted it. When I see the amazing people around me it is a constant reminder that I need to hire people better than me.

Toughest business decision: In 2008-09 we cut the management team’s pay to the bare bones in order not to have to terminate people. It was extremely hard for me to look at people who had entrusted their lives to me and to tell them they would have a hard year personally. We all knew that if we didn’t do that we wouldn’t be a thriving business at the end of the year, but it wasn’t easy.

Person most admired: Nelson Mandela. He changed the world with humility, responsibility and a loyalty to fairness and to people that never wavered.

Like most about job: I love the fact that I can make a positive impact. My singular mission in life is to improve the lives of the people I touch. I believe that I have helped to build a company that is making a difference. Every year, we ask our clients and employees if we have improved their lives and made it easier, which is a measureable goal. Our goal this year is to positively impact 100,000 lives; right now we’re around 50,000 lives and I’m feeling positive that we’ll hit it. We like to pick a number that is a huge reach, so even if we fall short, it’s still a big number.

Like least about job: The stress. It’s a huge burden to know that decisions I make can have serious implications. It’s not always easy for me to find ways to be comfortable with the notion that I’ve done everything I can do and that I can’t do any more. I think the second thing would be that, as you get bigger, people feel more comfortable saying negative things about you that aren’t necessarily true and that is emotionally hard; it hurts deeply.

Dream job: I live it! I am on this planet doing what I want to do! I love running a company. I have written three books. My most recent book came out in January 2013. I’m surrounded by creative people I love, which gives me energy. I can’t imagine doing anything else and my wife says I’ll be doing it until I’m 100 years old. That said, I’m a huge believer in balance and make sure that I’m always home to cook dinner for our kids every day.


Birthplace: I was born in Barcelona but grew up in Zimbabwe. I moved to the U.S. in the late 80’s – I was traveling the world and ended up in California. I grew up with the American dream – watching “Dallas” I wanted to be like JR Ewing (in a good way!) and be a successful businessman. When I was 14 I told my mom I was going to be business superstar in America and she wished me luck, not really believing I would do it. I travelled the world working odd jobs and started school in the U.S., meeting my wife of 20 years in Madrid while we were both studying there. We moved back to California to work in a start up business.

Education: My undergraduate degree is from Saint Louis University. I hold the Chartered Financial Analyst designation and I earned MBA degrees from both UC Berkeley and Columbia University. I put myself through school. I think it is this experience that has made me so passionate about education.

Favorite book: I have several really good books. I love “The Power of Full Engagement” by Tony Schwartz as a work manual. Personally, I love “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coehlo. In fact, my new book “The Money Code” is modeled on his philosophy. I like the idea that anything is possible if you are willing not to constrain yourself or imprison your thinking. 99.99% of the world believes that things are a certain way because they have put themselves in that mindset, not because it is true. Anything is possible but we often put ourselves in needless prisons to feel safe which, in reality, are just self made prisons.

Favorite movie: “The Hangover.” Once in a while you just have to laugh. I love laughing till I cry.

Outside of work: I either do yoga, stair run or swim a mile every day. We live by the ocean so I also love to paddle board. My wife and I have a huge appreciation for nature and love to get outdoors.

I’m obsessive about balance and speak to entrepreneurs around the world about maintaining balance in their lives. It is impossible to be on all the time. Balance is the key to remaining intensely engaged. When I sold my first company, in many ways it felt like a loss of identity; I realized that I had become a reflection of the company rather than the other way around. With United Capital I have taken more of a step back. This doesn’t mean I’m not 100% dedicated to what I do, but my life is not this company.

Community: I do a lot of speeches and love to write books, the profits of which go towards charitable causes. For me, I believe the only way to improve life is to improve the way you make decisions, so I support causes that help people without means to make better decisions. I’m a citizen of the world – from building playgrounds in Mongolia to building desks in a Kenyan orphanage.

Family: We live in Laguna Beach and my wife and I are blessed with 3 precious daughters.

Joe’s latest book, “The Money Code: Improve Your Entire Financial Life Right Now,” published by Greenleaf Book Group Press, came out in January 2013.