Getting Personal: Andy Harden

Getting Personal: Andy Harden

Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, 57-year-old Urbana resident ANDY HARDEN, a former director of Deutsche Bank who returned to the area for his family and is now a financial adviser for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, chats with staff writer Paul Wood. Harden says he's a player of all sports and a master of none.

What interests you the most right now?

Careerwise, I am always thinking about that next great investment idea. That's the challenge: What should I buy today that beats the market?

You originally came from Urbana. Do you have a favorite childhood memory?

I went all the way through the Urbana public schools in the '60s and '70s. I was very lucky to spend my childhood growing up with a great bunch of kids. Because of the university and demographics of Urbana at the time, our classrooms were the greatest melting pot of various races, religions, economic strata and ideals that you could ever find in one place. We grew up diverse before anybody even knew what that meant, but we all got along and have remained friends to this day. At our 35th high school reunion, we had 125 classmates from 34 different states in attendance for our three-day celebration. You don't get that kind of turnout unless it's an extraordinary group of people returning to see each other and visit their special hometown.

Which high school did you go to? Did you play sports?

Urbana High School Class of 1979. I would have loved to play football, but I think I weighed about 115 pounds at the time, so my survival rate would have been about 25 seconds. So, I swam, ran track and cross-country and golfed ... none of them very well.

You graduated from the University of Illinois in 1983 with a degree in agricultural economics. Did you know you'd go into trading?

At Illinois, I started out in engineering. But the combination of physics, computer science, my fraternity and Kam's didn't mix. So I transferred into agricultural economics. I love economics, since those numbers always made sense to me — unlike the math of engineering. During my sophomore year, I also took a class called Futures and Options Trading, and we took a field trip to visit the Chicago Board of Trade. Once I saw the complete chaos of the trading floor filled with 5,000 people in multicolored jackets all running around, flailing their arms, screaming at each other and trading millions of dollars in commodities, I knew that is what I wanted to do for a living.

What do you love about your job?

In the old days, I could make some Greenwich, Conn., hedge fund $30 million dollars on a trade and I might get a thank-you and bottle of wine at Christmas. Today, as a local financial adviser with 30 years of investment experience, I can make a big difference in real people's lives. When you show that single mom that she will be able to afford to send her son to college or you show that small business how to save some tax dollars, plus give their employees retirement benefits, or you set up a portfolio for that retired couple so that they can rest easy with the knowledge that their children will be provided for and that they can also leave a lasting legacy to their alma mater, it's a pretty satisfying job.

After years of work on the trading floors of the Chicago Board of Trade and Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and all over the world, what made you come back to Urbana in 2008?

After too many 18-hour days, I retired in 2006 so I could spend more time with my kids before they grew up. We lived in Barrington Hills, a suburb of Chicago. My oldest daughter came home one day and announced her friend got a new Porsche for her 16th birthday. That was it ... I didn't want my kids growing up in that type of unrealistic environment, and I sure wasn't going to buy any of them a Porsche. So we looked at a lot of locations and then decided to move back to Urbana. My wife is also a UI graduate, and my parents were still living in the house I grew up in, so it was wasn't a tough decision. After you have lived in a lot of places, you realize the C-U area is a great place to raise a family. The people are friendly and very intelligent, the cost of living and crime rate are low and there is always a lot going on. You have all of the advantages that go along with a major university town from the multiple sports teams, the world-class entertainment of Krannert and the Virginia Theatre, the arboretum, the marathon, the multitude of great restaurants and bars. And if you take Windsor Road, you can still get almost anywhere in less than 10 minutes.

You sound like a family man, with a wife of 27 years and three children in various stages of their college educations. What do you like to do as a family?

Currently, we all sit around, and I write a lot of checks to colleges and universities, and sororities and apartment buildings. When the kids were young, we always did the Disney World trips and Key West. As they got older, we all went skiing. This summer, we have a family trip planned to visit the Mayan ruins and beaches of Tulum, Mexico.

Were you an Eagle Scout? If so, what was your proudest achievement?

My grandfather was one of the very first Eagle Scouts in America. He was a registered Scout leader for more than 60 years. He was awarded the Silver Beaver Award for service, which is a pretty big deal. When I received my Eagle Award, he was the one who presented it to me and also gave the keynote speech. So I am glad we were both able to share that together. My son is also an Eagle Scout, so when he received his award, that was a special moment for me as well.

You have a lot of interests — downhill skiing, playing golf and fly-fishing. Where do you go to do these sports? And how do you find the time?

You will never have the time, the money and the health all at once to do all things you want to do, so at some point, you just have go for it, no matter what your stage in life. Golf is the easy one. I live on Stone Creek Golf Course, so I get to play in my backyard anytime I want. Fly-fishing, you can do that anywhere, but if you can fish the flats off the Florida Keys or the rivers of Rockies, that is even better. Downhill skiing is a little tough in central Illinois. The hill at Orchard Downs isn't quite enough. I have been lucky to have skied all over North America and in Switzerland. I just got back from an amazing ski trip to Banff, Alberta, which summer or winter, I would recommend for everyone's bucket list.

Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?

It drives my wife crazy, but I am addicted to junk food, and I must have a Big Mac and large fries at least once a week.Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

I would love to try and climb Everest just to see if I could do it or even better just relax in a hammock in one of those grass huts built over a lagoon in Bora Bora.

What's your favorite sports team?

1967 St. Louis Cardinals, '85 Bears, '89 Flyin' Illini. I was on Wall Street in 1989, and of course, those knuckleheads in NYC don't even know where Illinois is, so I took all the action I could on that basketball team and cleaned up. I-L-L. ...

What would you order for your last meal?

I would go to Morton's on State Street in Chicago, the original one, not any of those knock-off copies. Grey Goose martini, straight up with blue cheese olives. Lobster bisque, bone-in-ribeye medium rare, baked potato with butter and sour cream, creamed spinach, escargots, their homemade bread and grand marnier soufflé for dessert.

Who are your favorite musicians and why?

The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin. I like it pretty loud. And the early guys like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and The King.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

Getting married and being there when your children are born healthy, you wouldn't trade that for anything. Otherwise, too many happy memories to count, but I do remember a Christmas morning we were in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and my wife and kids wanted to sleep in because it was Christmas, but I wanted to ski. So I went to the hill alone and caught the first lift up the mountain. It was bright Colorado sunshine, but it had snowed about 8 inches the night before. There wasn't a single skier on top of the mountain yet, and not a gust of wind or even a sound and I had this perfect blanket of fresh untracked snow and the whole mountain almost all to myself for a couple of hours.

What personality trait do you most hate in other people? Most hate in yourself?

I will always respect someone's right to their own beliefs and opinions, but I can't tolerate being around hypocrites: that minister who preaches family values but cheats on his wife. The politicians who cut health care and Social Security while voting themselves a gold-plated retirement plan. The celebrity that flies around the globe alone in his private jet to lecture the world on the dangers of climate change. The Wall Street Banker that needs a taxpayer bailout to save his mismanaged company while installing a million dollar bathroom in his office. I am trying to get better, but I still regret I have very little patience. That should have been done a lot faster and better, yesterday.

What's your best piece of advice?

Never add to a loser.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

My first job after graduating from the UI was on the Chicago Board of Trade as a runner for the Continental Grain Company. I started at minimum wage for $3 an hour, and after four months, I got a raise to $3.50. I think I made $8,500 my first year out of school while my accountant and engineering friends were making $25,000 to $30,000. But after a few years of paying my dues, learning to trade and eating a lot of macaroni and cheese, my income had risen to a level where those same "friends" always passed me the restaurant check.

What was a pivotal decision in your career, and how did you arrive at that decision?

After four years, I had moved up to a pretty good position in Chicago, but in 1987, I quit my job and moved to New York City. I took out some student loans to attend New York University and earned my MBA in finance. I guess it worked. I paid off the loans after two years, and with my new knowledge and degree, my career really took off after that. A great education is always worth the cost.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

What stress? The sun came up and you are breathing, sounds like you have been given another opportunity to do something positive and have a great day. Stress — that's the other guy's problem.

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