Top financial adviser in country heads local firm

Dalal Maria Salomon comes from a modest, frugal working-class family that immigrated to Flint, Mich., from Honduras when she was 5, the youngest of five children.

She is now ranked among the top women financial advisers in the United States.

Salomon, 59, has made Barron’s Top 1,200 Wealth Advisors in the United States — and No. 1 in the Richmond area — every year since 2004.

She is among the weekly financial newspaper’s Top 100 Women Financial Advisors in the U.S., making that list every year since it was created in 2005.

The rankings reflect the volume of assets overseen by advisers and their teams, revenue generated for the firms and the quality of the advisers’ practices.

Salomon is the CEO and founding partner of Salomon & Ludwin LLC in Henrico County, an independent brokerage practice affiliated with Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network.

“She’s been very successful and has quietly earned tremendous respect and a lot of recognition in what for years has been a male-dominated industry,” said Tony Mattera, a spokesman for Wells Fargo Advisors. “She has an extremely loyal clientele and has developed a very innovative approach to investing.”

According to last year’s Barron’s Top 100 Women ranking, the most recent, she was the 23rd highest-ranking woman adviser in the country. She had $736 million of assets under management. Her typical account was $3 million, and the typical net worth of her clients was $4 million.

She attributes her entrepreneurship to her “business-savvy” mother and father, who ran a small grocery store in Michigan. The family lived on the second floor above the store.

Salomon started her first business in college, a consignment shop for jewelry and artwork, and paid her way through Michigan State University running the business, working as a waitress and painting college dorm rooms in the summer. She earned a bachelor of science degree in 1977.

Today, her three brothers and sister run their own businesses. Salomon was the only one in the family to leave Michigan.

She was recruited in her early 20s as a trainee for a financial planning firm in Bethesda, Md. “I got 99 percent of my education working with a group of elderly men — men who were probably my age now. They took me under their wing and shared their wisdom.”

She came to Richmond in 1984 to work for Wheat First Securities in the private client group, working directly with clients, and stayed with the firm, which became Wachovia Securities and later Wells Fargo Advisors.

She and Daniel B. Ludwin left Wells Fargo Advisors in 2009 to form Salomon & Ludwin, an independent advisory that now employs 10 people, including four financial advisers. They operate in a former bank branch on Gaskins Road.

“The financial world was in the midst of a total meltdown,” Salomon said about the timing of forming a private practice. “We wanted the independence and autonomy to stand on our own but still have one of the large financial companies behind us. The move allowed us to be more entrepreneurial.”

The company does financial planning as well as estate, business and retirement planning. “I like them all,” Salomon said. “I like making an impact on people’s lives … getting people on the right financial road.”

All four financial advisers know each client, she said. The firm has $800 million under management and works with 570 families. The firm charges fees, not commissions.

“A lot of people used to buy good stock and hold on to it forever,” Salomon said. “But the world has changed dramatically. You can buy and sell a whole portfolio on an iPhone now. … Markets are unpredictable. If you buy stock in a good global company and something bad happens in Greece, the company stock can fall dramatically.”

She and Ludwin have patents on a proprietary system that monitors market conditions and triggers when to buy or sell stock. It mitigates risks when markets move down and takes profits off the table when markets move up.

Markets have been volatile since the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, Salomon said. A significant market correction is a time to buy back into the market — “a recipe for buy low, sell high.”

“Some things we’re doing in little Richmond, Virginia, are cutting-edge,” she said about the patents.

Instead of buying individual stocks, “which can go to zero” — think Enron, Circuit City, Salomon said — they use exchange-traded funds, a security that tracks an index, a commodity, bonds or a basket of assets. Unlike mutual funds, an ETF trades like a common stock on a stock exchange.

“We buy into markets. We love our strategy because it is so logical. Our strategies react to what is actually happening in the markets. Why it’s happening doesn’t interest us.”

Ludwin, president and founding partner, leads the team with his vision for creating portfolio strategies. “Dan is brilliant,” Salomon said about her business partner. “Our strengths are different. He’s extremely analytical. He can take a complicated thing and make it easy to understand.”

Salomon said her strength is connecting with people.

“We ethically and philosophically align, but we come at ethics and philosophy from different angles,” said Ludwin, 45. “Her approach is from empathy and understanding the client’s needs, fears and interest. My approach is unemotional and pragmatic.

“The two approaches blend perfectly — an unemotional strategy in terms of investments but tailored to meet the needs and fears of clients,” said Ludwin, a self-described computer geek.

Not all cold and analytic, he chose a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson for his page on the company website about winning the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, about leaving the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child or a garden patch … “to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.”

Salomon and Ludwin have worked together for 15 years. “Women are very unique in this business, and she is a very unique woman,” Ludwin said about his business partner.

“She is very driven, focused and knows what she wants. But the thing I most admire about her is she has been in this business 30 years and yet she is willing and able to listen to other people and will go in a direction that perhaps wasn’t her idea.”

She also was willing to take on a partner and give up some of her compensation for a better life for her and a better business for her clients, Ludwin said. “Most advisers are not that way.”

The firm’s retention level is 99 percent, Salomon said. “We rarely lose a client.”

Salomon & Ludwin looks at trend lines for its customized investment portfolios and that includes such commodities as gold, silver and real estate.

“If a trend flattens out, we will get out of it,” said Salomon, adding that the firm has owned stock in health care companies for the past three years and the industry is still trending up. It has not owned gold or stock in emerging and international markets for several years.

Advisers go the extra distance and pull together what they call “a life planning box,” a box of important documents related not only to financial planning but also to life events, such as lists of doctors, medications, allergies, insurance policies, medical power of attorneys or directives, names of estate executors or trustees.

“We’re doing things that maybe no one else in the country is doing,” Salomon said. “When you work with people for 30 years, it isn’t always about what the S&P 500 index is doing. It’s about making sure the kids and spouse will be OK. We invest in accordance with the investment plan.”

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