For more than 200 years, the United States of America has been viewed as the land of opportunity - a nation where almost anyone who is willing to work hard can become successful, regardless of how they start out.
This is especially true for entrepreneurs - many new businesses are started in the U.S. every year. Almost anyone who has a great idea, passion, a commitment to delivering quality and great service and a hard work ethic has a chance of succeeding in business.
David Lerner, the founder and president of David Lerner Associates, Inc., is a perfect example of this. Born during the depths of the Great Depression, Lerner overcame early setbacks in his life to become the leader of a successful financial investment firm that employs about 400 people in six offices in the New York area and Florida.
Overcoming early hardships
When he was 14 years old, David Lerner was diagnosed with polio and hospitalized for a month. Afterward, he progressed from a wheelchair to a full and then half leg brace, learning how to adapt his active lifestyle (he remained involved in all kinds of sports) to his disability. After eventual surgery, he regained full use of his legs and the ability to walk normally without braces.
Lerner believes that overcoming these difficulties early in his life gave him the strength and perseverance that would later help him become a successful entrepreneur. He worked several after-school and weekend jobs as a teenager and decided to become the first person in his family to go to college.
Inspired by a college history professor, Lerner became a high-school history teacher in 1960. After getting married, however, he realized that he needed to earn more money to support his family, so he started teaching English to immigrants as a side job.
A meeting his wife had with a man who worked at a mutual fund company turned out to be fortuitous: He told her that Lerner should come see him if he wanted to earn extra money. Skeptical at first, Lerner was sold on the value of mutual funds by the end of his meeting with the man - and on his ability to sell them. He got training and licensing and started selling investments at night while teaching during the day.
Going full time
Eventually, Lerner decided to leave teaching and put all his effort into his investment business. He founded David Lerner Associates in early 1976 with $2,500 borrowed from a credit union and immediately started recruiting investment counselors.
Soon after starting the business, David Lerner adopted the investment philosophy that has guided the firm ever since: "You don't gamble with your rent or grocery money." Market conditions in the late 1970s led him to re-assess the appropriateness of building portfolios based on the stock market. David Lerner Associates now believes in what Lerner calls a "sensible, middle-ground investing strategy. Somewhere between locking one's money in a safe and the craps table in Las Vegas lies a sensible middle ground."
Lerner attributes his firm's success in large part to the pride ethos that all David Lerner Associates employees have in their work - from entry-level workers right up to the man with his name on the sign. "I put my name and reputation on the line every day, and I'm very proud of this firm and the work we do," he says.