The Transition

1978 - Paul Weiner and Bob Greenberg

1978 – Paul Weiner and Bob Greenberg

…just how does an ol’ coach go from 20 years in academia, athletics and education go to the world of high finance? This is a story that has its beginnings in 1966 at the Covina Hofbrau Restaurant.

The Back Story

…I arrived in Southern California to continue my formal education and teaching/coaching career. I was 24 years old and had just been hired to teach physical education and coach gymnastics at South Hills High School in Covina, CA. I loved my new life…not that the old one was bad, but this was what I really wanted. For the first time ever, I had disposable income which really meant a little more INcome than OUTgo. My teaching contract called for an annual salary of $6,700 per year with an additional $250.00 coaching stipend. I felt pretty damn fat. I needed $100 per month for my share of the rent, $60 for my car and $22 for my share of that “grub stake” loan. That’s a total of $182 and the rest…gravy. I now had a little financial wiggle room which was a new and different experience…and NO… I did not start investing money toward retirement at that time…are you crazy? I spent the extra dough on living pretty well and having some fun in the ‘night league’ which is exactly what 24 year olds should do. If you thought I was going to take you to that place where one might admire my discipline and forethought about being financially prudent….WRONG! It took another 10 years before any of that ‘right thing to do with money stuff’ actually happened.

My first Mercedes and the Olympic Jacket!!

My first Mercedes and the Olympic Jacket!!

My classes at the high school ended at 3:00 PM. Because the CIF (California’s high school governing athletics body) prevented coaches from starting official practice until three weeks prior to season’s opening, we had to use ‘unofficial’ means to train our gymnasts. All the local gymnastics coaches practiced at their respective community colleges’ recreation programs in the evenings so that their athletes had year-round access. Our local college was Mt. San Antonio (Mt. Sac) and their gym was available for gymnastics each weeknight from 600- 10:00 PM. I lived in South Pasadena which was about a 35-40 minute drive to the location of both the college and high school. It did not make sense for me to finish at the high school, go home, and then come back. I just stayed at South Hills until it was time to grab a bite before practice.

The Covina Hofbrau

I am a ‘foody.’ I will drive any distance and spend any amount of money or time for something good to eat. It doesn’t have to be fancy… just good. I missed my corned beef sandwiches and pickles from those great kosher delis in Philly and there were none in Oklahoma…or at least none that any self respecting New York, Chicago or Philly boy would dignify by calling them a deli. And there it was…a Hofbrau in Covina which MIGHT…I said MIGHT, have a semblance of a corned beef sandwich. As I walked into the restaurant, I saw this huge, bald headed man standing behind the deli counter wearing black horn rimmed glasses which rested on the top his head. Think of a bigger version of Telly Savalas. He wore a warm, welcoming smile and he looked like every other fiftysomething Jewish guy I had ever seen back home. I just knew he was a New Yorker. He immediately knew I was not from Covina but was, no doubt, of similar ethnicity and geographical location. I looked directly at him and jokingly asked, “can I get a corned beef sandwich in here that is not on white bread and without lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise?” He broke into loud laughter and responds with, “not only can you get a corned beef sandwich but you have to eat it with me at my table.” That was the beginning of a wonderful, warm and very close friendship that lasted 22 years until his death. That man was Paul Weiner who became somewhat of a surrogate dad to me (with all due respect to my great dad and his two wonderful sons). Paul was from the lower east side of Manhattan and had relocated to Covina with his family about a decade earlier.

As he and I were engaged in lively conversation about who we were and from whence we came, a guy walked in… didn’t say a word; went behind the counter like he owned the joint and poured himself a cup of coffee. He then walked to our table, pulled up a chair, and with that chin up east coast salutory greeting directed at Paul asked, “who’s the kid?” …and without ever looking at me, Paul replied with, “ Al, say hello to Joey Valacorsa.” I stood, extended my hand and greeted him as ‘Mr. Valacorsa’ to which he replied in a loud, definitive, two syllable declarative, “Joey!” Joe was a North Jersey Sicilian of similar vintage as Paul who was in the property/casualty insurance business and apparently a regular at the Hofbrau.

1978 - Max Berger

1978 – Max Berger

Two or three minutes later, in came another. This guy also meandered behind the counter like it was his province and grabbed a bottle of coke, opened it then walked to the table. He sat, then looked at Paul with that same inquisitive chin up gesture as if to ask, “Who’s the kid?”…but never said a word. Paul then said, “Al, say hello to “Jerry the Shirt” who was …you guessed it, a Jewish haberdasher from Queens who spent a fair amount of time on Rykers Island. The four of us were engaged in this animated and fun conversation and in came Al Schupack… a Jewish pickle salesman also of similar vintage. He hailed from the Bronx. Next was Sammy Goldstein, a produce guy from Brooklyn, then came Staten Island Max Berger, ‘the entrepreneur,’ followed by Chicago’s Bob Greenberg who was responsible for three “Jewish fires” and lastly, the ‘Golden Guinea’, Henry J. Costanzo, who was a tax man from Hoboken, NJ.

Hank Costanzo

Hank Costanzo

Hank, as he was known, was also Sicilian and regarded other Italians as Germans if their roots were north of Rome. He was very quick to point out that Sinatra was also a native son of Hoboken where “’Ol Blue Eyes” enjoyed Pope like status. This collection of Damon Runyun characters assembled within 15 minutes from start to finish. It felt like home. Each of these guys could have been my uncles… on both sides of my family. It was a fraternity of east coasters who were either WOPS or HEBES and they found each other in Never Never Land though one would hardly consider Paul’s Covina Hofbrau as such. It was a veritable clubhouse for middle age guys who missed home but felt the need to leave in search of something else. I got it! I was them but for a generation removed. Once discovered, I visited that emporium almost every weekday afternoon. There was a real sense of belonging, so much so, that if you didn’t show up for two or three days, someone would call to inquire about your absence. They took roll! There is a small part of me that still believes someone anonymously called central casting to assemble these guys for my personal entertainment and enlightenment. How thoughtful!!

Paul and his wonderful wife Selma hosted Sunday brunch at their home regularly, and the “Covina Rat Pack” and families always showed. John and I were invited often and attended when we could. It all depended upon how much Saturday night we had. They treated us as though we were celebrated guests because of our education and youth but were regarded as extended family because of our cultural and geographical origins. John and I were older than their kids but way younger than the pack. I would bet not one of those guys completed high school. Their stories were hilarious and their style was colorful and all too familiar. My sides usually hurt by the time I departed the Weiners’ home. They were great Sundays which often ran through the dinner hour. Of all these guys, the “Golden Guinea”, Hank was in a virtual tie with Paul as the funniest of the bunch. They kidded about going on the road as a comedy team not unlike Martin and Lewis, but Hank said they couldn’t agree upon top billing, hence the endeavor never left the station. While it was Paul who inadvertently provided the venue for Hank and me to meet, I don’t think any one of us could have predicted the eventual outcome of that relationship and where it would take us.

Hank became my tax preparer in 1967 and 10 years later my investment adviser when he convinced me it was time to start building a portfolio. He was a slight, good lookin’, suave, self made guy who wore the required pinky ring as all Italians did and still do. Check out the Sopranos. My guess is that Hank had little formal education but served well during WWll as an aerial photographer with the Army Air Corps. After the war, Hank and Betty married and relocated to Southern California where he sold household appliances for Sears in East LA. He then earned a life insurance license and went to work for The Prudential. During that time, Hank found that income tax preparation would assist his insurance sales production…a discovery which led him to becoming an EA (enrolled agent). That designation permitted him to practice before the IRS. Now thrust into the tax and insurance world, Hank earned a securities license and went to work with Diversified Securities, Inc. as a financial adviser and tax preparer. The honorable H.J. Costanzo (aka “the hamster”) would be the first to admit that he came a very long way from a very humble origin.

Pas Deux

1988 - DSI founder Joe Conway and Vic Schneider

1988 – DSI founder Joe Conway and Vic Schneider

Over the years, I grew professionally and became a university professor, coach and administrator holding a UCLA doctorate. Hank suggested that I consider changing careers and come to work at Diversified (DSI) as a financial adviser. That idea was remote and never crossed my mind. I was a teacher/coach who followed a calling and loved my profession…NO WAY! Hank ‘dripped’ on me for the better part of 18years. Influenced by his persistence, I began to take more interest in the financial world and capital markets. I was approaching my forties and was becoming increasing dissatisfied with the politics at Cal State LA. A telling sign that change was in the air was found in my regular act of reaching for the business section before the sports page of the LA Times. But, when I began reading the “Journal” before “SI,” that’s when I really knew something was up.

The best way to describe my circumstances at that time is to relate the subject to sex…which I believe is our lowest common denominator. We men (a synonym for pigs and dogs) basically understand that arena. Think of the adage, “a woman is never sexier to a man than when he learns she has interest.” The sexy part for me lies in the fact that my best days at Cal State LA were well behind me and Diversified Securities, Inc. wanted me. I desperately needed ‘the love’ and DSI was the sexy beast.

At the conclusion of Spring Quarter in ’83, Nancy, Danielle and I traveled through England and Europe for three weeks. Fall quarter at the university would not start until early October and we returned from our trip in early July. I literally had 10 weeks to myself without any professional or personal commitments. I was 41 years old and stuck in a professional ‘dead zone’ at the university. During the time we were away, I gave serious thought to Hank’s offer about a career change and decided to discuss this opportunity with him upon our return. The big question…was I willing to leave behind my 20 years of experience in education along with three university degrees and embark on a totally unrelated profession? A real toughy! Hank was now the manager of the West Covina branch of DSI. He had the authority and responsibility to hire, train and supervise all the financial advisers in his charge. In our initial meeting, he introduced me to Vic Schneider who was the founding manager of that branch and was a quasi retiree in his late seventies who would prepare me for licensing with the NASD (now FINRA), the SEC and the CA. Dept. of Insurance…all regulatory agencies. Vic was a hardened but brilliant Wall St. vet with a Columbia law degree who never practiced because it was a ‘disgraceful and immoral’ way to earn a living…his words. He was uncompromising but effective as a task master comparable to one of those ol’ coaches who would find a way to extract your best. Often, athletes will do for a coach that which they may not do for themselves…same deal!


Vic Schneider

Vic Schneider

I arrived at the DSI suite weekdays (Monday thru Thursday) at 8:30 AM wearing a coat and tie (very Wall St.); poured myself a cup of coffee; said good morning to everyone then retired to a small, vacant office where I began study. Around 10:30 AM, Mr. Schneider would arrive and check on me. He would quiz me on my last study assignment and it was pretty easy to tell if you met with his favor…if not, there was no question about his displeasure. I broke for lunch at 12:30 and returned by 1:30 to continue with my preparation until 3:00. I would take a short break then resume at 3:15 until 5:00 PM. Highly disciplined! From there it was two hours of racquetball at the gym and evenings were mine to spend with family. This routine persisted for most of July, all of August and September until the beginning of fall quarter in mid October. During those summer months, Vic and I became very close. Not only did I have great respect for his intellect and experience, but I really liked him. He was an old fashioned and principled guy with no tolerance for morons, slackers or bad behavior. I got him!

At the start of Fall Quarter in October of ‘83, I arrived on campus about 8:30 every morning and left about 4:00PM for my two hours of racquetball. I was home by 6:30 or so, had a bite to eat then retired to our den where I would study for about three hours including a short break. I followed this routine Monday though Thursday evenings with Fridays off. I then devoted a full eight hour day to study on either Saturday or Sunday…never both. Again, highly disciplined! During these months, Hank and I would touch base occasionally, and while he inquired about my progress, Vic Schneider was my trainer and ‘go to’ guy. Over time, I became comfortable with the subject matter and was getting ready to sit for my Series 7 Exam…the big one. I was scoring well on all practice exams and both Vic and Hank felt I was ready. This exam is to financial advisers what the state bar exam is to lawyers. The fail rate is high and I did not want to make this licensing process into a repeatable event. Essentially, I was preparing for a ‘one and done’ experience. I scheduled my exam date for the end of the third week of December in ’83 (after fall quarter’s end) but enrolled in a seven day prep course the week prior. Neither Vic nor Hank believed it was necessary, but remember, that ‘ol coach thing where success is all about preparation? If I was to go down, it would not be for lack of such. The cost was $600.00 for the class and you had to pass an entrance exam prior to participating in order to receive a guarantee from the corporate entity (Test Passers, Inc.) providing the training. That guarantee permitted you to repeat the class unlimited times at no cost if not successful in passing the Series 7 exam. I scored very well on that screening exam and was now ready to receive the wisdom.

The class was conducted at a hotel in North Orange County…a first for me. I thought all formal teaching/learning occurred in academic settings like schools or colleges. And, I believed all classroom teachers should dress appropriately…like, with ties for men. The meeting room accommodated about 50 students arranged theatre style. There was a portable white board at the front and students were anxiously awaiting the professor’s entrance. The buzz was frenetic…lots of nervous energy. In strolled a very non-descript guy in his fifties wearing casual slacks, soft sole loafers and a golf type pull over long sleeved shirt. He walked over to a white board; picked up a marker and wrote, “Bob.” He then turned to the class and in a low, soft tone said, “Hi, I’m Bob. How many of you are here because you believe I am going to teach you how to become an effective financial adviser?” Of the 50 or so students, two or three raised their hands and in a quiet but definitive manner, Bob said, “OUT” as he pointed to the door. “Your firm is responsible for that. I’m here for one reason, and one reason only, and that is to teach you how to pass the NASD Series 7 exam. Got it?” I was awestruck. I never heard a teacher/professor say anything even remotely close to that, but, I got it… and liked it. He then drew three big capital letters on the white board. They were, “RFQ” and he asked… “does anyone know what these letters mean?” The silence was deafening. No one dared answer for fear of being wrong and we remembered how he dealt with the last answer he didn’t like. Bob continued with, “consider this our mantra for the next seven days because you will hear it from me a lot.” “It means, Read the Fuckin’ Question!” I gasped…literally. And, I loved it. This guy was great and throughout the course he must have reminded us to RFQ about 10,000 times. Bob’s quirky and unorthodox style made the entire experience fun and well worth the time and cost.

New Life

1983 - Just passed Series 7 exam

1983 – Just passed Series 7 exam

I sat for the exam the following Saturday in Salazar Hall on the campus at Cal State LA. How ironic was that? I was uncomfortable with that university as the test site only because that was the place where I was still GIVING exams…not TAKING them. The queue forming at that facility was long and we had to go through a series of checks prior to gaining entrance. The first part of the exam was three hours in duration followed by a one hour lunch break. The second and concluding part was also three hours. The Series 7 exam was and still is difficult, comprehensive and tricky due to many double and triple negatives. Results would not be known for up to two weeks (prior to computer testing). I felt pretty good about my performance but one never knows. That evening I was on a plane bound for Philly to assist my mother and brother with my dad’s care. Hank would call once he received my score from the NASD. Pop was on the backend of a lengthy fight with a host of health issues and he was failing. We were on Christmas break and I was not due back on campus until the first week of January so I had the time to be with him and my family. The day before Christmas, I received THE call from Hank while at my parents’ home and he informed me that I passed with a very good score. While I was more than pleased with that news it was somewhat muted due to dad’s condition. My mother insisted that I return to California to spend Christmas with Nancy, Danielle and Nancy’s family and I did so without argument. Dad passed away the day after Christmas and I immediately returned to Philly that same evening. It was a long and difficult flight.

The first week of January, ’84, I returned to campus ready to start the Winter Quarter albeit with a heavy heart and there was a letter from one of our VPs informing me that my position was going to be ‘reclassified’ from full professor to assistant professor at the conclusion of Spring Quarter,’84…and my current contract would not be renewed. This is like being busted from a full bird colonel to a second lieutenant. I was invited to reapply for the new position. It was ‘their’ way of getting to me since they could not attack my performance which was considered ‘exemplary’ as noted in my personnel file. In academia, the game is to go after the position if you cannot get to the individual. What the university did not know was that I became a licensed financial adviser with DSI anticipating ‘their move.’ I was then relegated to lame duck status as a professor and administrator, but never missed a day, lecture or meeting. I gave them all I had until the very end. As stated in a previous story, “they paid for my services, but I willingly gave my soul.” When asked by Gloria Allred (a prominent LA attorney whom I sort of knew from Philly) if I wanted my job back, my response was unequivocally, NO! My contract called for annual reappointment at the pleasure of the president and it was his right to not reappoint. While I did not agree with that action, I respected it and never asked for an audience with the president. By that time, I just wanted to turn the page, embark on my new career and pursue it with the same energy and enthusiasm as I did my first career. It was a bittersweet time…bitter because of the circumstances upon which I was leaving but sweet because the misery was about to end.


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2 Responses to The Transition

  1. Bull

    Regarding RFQ
    Way more important than many people will ever realize.

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