Miguel earned his bachelor’s degree from Drew University in 2001. While there, he participated in the Wall Street Semester program, later choosing to spend a semester abroad in Russia where he worked for the World Bank in Moscow. In 2000, he interned for a financial advisor at ING Financial Advisers which began his career and passion for financial planning.
While holding financial advisor positions with Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan Chase, Miguel earned an Executive MBA from the Columbia Business School in 2012. It was during his tenure at Columbia that he was chosen to provide financial advice and strategic consulting for the ABC hit show “Shark Tank” as Barbara Corcoran’s Chief Investment Officer.
Currently, Miguel is the managing partner at Cortburg Retirement Advisors, a comprehensive wealth management and retirement planning firm in NYC. As a Certified Retirement Counselor, he has over 19 years of proven success in retirement income planning, overseeing the investment of funds and designing retirement plans for families and small businesses.
Miguel is an active member of the Estate Planning Council of New York City and the New York State Society of CPAs. He is a regular speaker for the Drew University Wall Street Semester for students interested in the financial services industry.
Miguel lives in North Bergen, NJ with his college sweetheart and wife, Elisa Gonzalez and their son Daniel. He enjoys traveling, wine and playing sports.
THE VALUE OF DREW
Miguel was born in the Dominican Republic, moved to Puerto Rico, shortly thereafter, and at 7 years old, moved to NJ. He went to a large high school and was looking for a smaller college experience. Drew checked all the boxes because it was a small liberal arts college with a beautiful campus, had a strong Russian program, and as an added bonus he received financial assistance from the Equal Opportunities Scholar program (EOS).
Miguel was involved in assisting others in financial planning since he was in high school. His mother was one of 18 children and Miguel would often assist his aunts, uncles, and cousins with their taxes and other financial decisions. As the oldest in his family, in a single parent household, he took on many responsibilities, such as managing household finances, doing the laundry, and making sure all his siblings went to college. Business and finance came naturally to him and he enjoyed helping people so he decided to major in Economics with finance as a career goal. He added Russian as a major since he had taken Russian all 4 years in high school, including a Russian exchange program.
He said about his interest in finance, “My father had inherited a lot of money from his father who was a wealthy farmer in Puerto Rico. It could have been an easy road for me if I wanted to move to Puerto Rico and take advantage of my father’s well connected network, but I wanted to create my own footprint. I knew being in finance was a great way to make a lot of money.”
He had some challenges at Drew coming from a high school that was not academically rigorous, so he knew he needed to buckle down and study more. He also had to find a way to manage his newfound freedom and all of Drew’s extracurricular activities, that included socializing, sports, etc. He said, “There were many things driving me in many directions. I had to work hard and I knew I had to plan better and create a schedule. Drew helped me to be disciplined and organized with time management.”
He also credits the EOS program for helping him transition to college, with its summer session that helps students get acquainted with the university, and the way the program provides help when their students need it. He cites Prof. George-Harold Jennings, in particular, who was there for him to help with his adjustment to college. Miguel said, “We could talk about anything that was bothering us, including the challenges of being the first in your family to go to college, which involved competing with those who had more money and were better connected, and the pressure on myself not to screw it up. Prof. Jennings really helped me by allowing me to talk about these things.”
While at Drew, Miguel also served as a mentor to students from Newark through the 10,0000 Mentor program. He said, “I would tell them it’s not what’s behind you, it’s what you do going forward.”
Miguel did the Wall Street Semester program and also did a Study abroad in Russia. Drew and Arizona State University had a partnership, so he not only studied in Russia but worked for the World Bank in Moscow in his senior year. He also did intermural basketball. For the most part, he was focused on doing well in his classes. He was the first in his family to go to college and he very much wanted to do well academically.
Outside of the internship at World Bank in Moscow, Miguel was hired to do an internship with one of the top financial advisors in the country, and this turned into a full time job after graduating Drew. He credits the Career Center for helping him snag this internship because he was always stopping by the Center to inquire about opportunities. This top financial advisor was looking for someone to help her with her wealth management firm. This internship also paid well; He made $50 an hour in his junior year. At first he helped organize the business, but before long he started meeting clients, handling phone calls, going on appointments, and business started funneling through Miguel. He continued to help run the business after graduation in the role of Vice President from 2000 to 2004 when he left this company to go to Merrill Lynch.
One of Miguel’s best memories of Drew includes, the Wall Street Semester. He said, “I was able to see what my life and my job was going to look like, commuting into Manhattan, and meeting professionals in finance. It solidified what I wanted to do. Also, another great memory is that I met my wife at Drew. We were both living in Holloway. We became best friends, then started dating after we graduated in 2004. We married in 2011 and had our son Daniel in 2013. Drew has given me a lot.”
MOVING FROM INTERNSHIP TO FULL TIME VICE PRESIDENT AT ING FINANCIAL ADVISORS
Can you talk about your promotion from intern to Vice President at ING Financial Advisers?
Starting as an intern, I moved into a full time role after graduation. I obtained my licensing and learned every part of the business. I moved up pretty quickly and we branded the name of the company. My brother, a graphic designer, designed the logo. I did sales and managed the company retirement plans as Vice President. We set up a retirement plan for the 911 Foundation, and met with then Mayor of NYC, Rudy Giuliani. We also managed retirement plans for Bloomburg and many NFL players and coaches. Overall, I was managing retirement plans for business, not for profits, and hospitals.
What inspired the moves from ING to Merrill Lynch to JP Morgan?
I was at ING for 4 years and I realized I wasn’t growing within my field. We went to a conference in Connecticut and I lacked knowledge about the most basic a/b and c shares for mutual fund investments. I knew Merrill Lynch had an 18-month training program that I knew would provide the expertise I needed. I wanted to grow and be part of a bigger wealth management firm so I left ING and moved to Merrill Lynch.
I am good at seeing where things are moving. When I was at Merrill Lynch I saw that people were investing where they banked. The reasons people gave were that it was convenient to invest in the same bank where they had their mortgage, car payments, credit cards, etc. I reached out to J.P. Morgan and got hired as a financial advisor at their Rockefeller Center office. I grew from being a small financial advisor to managing celebrities with massive amounts of money. It was a turning point in life where I experienced significant growth in this field.
You were doing well in finance, why did you pursue an M.B.A. from Columbia University?
That is a key question. I was managing money I had never seen before. Many of my clients, who were around my same age of 29, were making millions of dollars. One was making $7.4 million, another $8 million, etc. I was earning excellent money but I wasn’t making millions. I asked these clients how I could earn millions and they said I needed to get into hedge funds and to break into this field I needed an MBA from an Ivy League School. I felt burnt out at J.P. Morgan, because of the late nights and weekends, so I applied to Columbia’s MBA program and got accepted. Going to business school gave me new energy and I met a whole new group of people. It reaffirmed that I didn’t want to work at a hedge fund, or at a consulting firm. I wanted to continue to do what I was doing but on my own. The Columbia MBA led me to realize I didn’t need a J.P. Morgan, or a Merrill Lynch, because I had created a name for myself in the industry and I could now hang up my own shingle.
CORTBURG RETIREMENT ADVISORS, INC.
How did you come up with the name Cortburg for your business and what services do you provide?
My wife came up with the name. I started the company in 2012 after I graduated Columbia. We were married in 2011 and had honeymooned in Burgundy, France. We loved the Cortun region because it had the highest caliber wines. The Burg came from Burgundy. She combined the Cort with the Burg. I googled Cortburg and didn’t find anything online. I trademarked the name for finance, investments, and consulting. No one in the U.S. or Internationally can have anything named Cortburg for those activities.
We mainly focus on retirement planning. Everything you do in life leads to retirement. We focus on where you are now, whether you just started working your first job in your 20’s or in your raising a family in your 30’s, or going through a divorce in your 40’s, or planning for retirement in your 50’s. We help you set up your 401K at your first job, help you create a retirement nest egg, etc. When you have children you should be putting away for their education. When you’re going through divorce, you should not deplete your assets. We also advise on when to retire. I have a video podcasts on YouTube on retirement. My company focuses on that end goal and it’s different for everyone. Retirement is about preserving your money and making the right decisions. When you hit your 50’s there’s no room for error. This is where it counts.
How did Covid-19 affect your business?
It’s been a positive impact. Staying connected to my clients is key. These clients then recommend me to their friends. Also, now I’m doing interviews, for example, one on wine tasting, that expands my reach. Lately I have ventured into having more of a social media presence, doing eBooks, newsletters, YouTube, and podcasts.
ADVICE FOR STUDENTS
What advice would you give students interested in pursuing a career in finance?
I have interns from Drew every year. The financial industry is large and yet small. Make sure that you work on your brand and maintain a good reputation. Also make sure you know if you want to do the analytical or sales road in finance. In the analytical road you’re working with a team, you’re paid a base salary and bonus, and you’re on the back end, you don’t sell, you create products and the processes for the people who sell. In the sales role you “eat what you kill.” You can get paid a lot of money or very little. You are a lone wolf, selling trying to gather assets. Those two roads do not meet. It’s difficult to switch over. They require different licenses and different certifications. For example, the CFA is a Certified Financial Analyst on the analytical side, the CFP, the Certified Financial Planner, is on the sales side. I tell students, to consider if they see themselves as a hunter, a sales person, meet as many people as possible and have your compensation be as big as your hard work, or if they want to be part of a team, knowing they will get paid the same salary every week. Once you figure that out then you will know what firms and jobs are the best fit for you.
What advice would you give students who are first-generation?
Nothing is impossible in this country with education. You’re more than half way through. Don’t give up. When I applied to Columbia Business School, my SAT scores were not that good, but I pushed hard and got in. When I was at Columbia, they said they needed one person to work on the Shark Tank show and 116 people applied and I was one of them. Some of the other students had famous names but I got the job. I ended up doing consulting for the show.
So the lesson is never accept no for an answer, and always go to the top. When I was interested in working at JP Morgan, I googled who the VP was and he asked to meet me for a drink and I got the job. I also reached out to someone at Merrill lynch. I wrote a letter telling them, my father was a Vietnam Vet, I was a first-generation student, etc. and I got the job. I recommend you straight to the top and anything is possible.
What do you think is the key to your success in your field?
Working harder than my competition and creating my own success and luck. Also, I do my research. Before I went for the interview with Barbara Corcoran at Shark Tank, I read her Shark Tales book. In it she mentioned that she likes the person who pushes back so during the interview for the position, when she said I seemed like a “Yes” man, I said, “With all due respect….” and fought back a bit. I got the job as her Chief Investment Officer.
If you could try any career other than your own what would it be?
I would be in the wine business, maybe a wine distributor. It goes with my father and grandfather’s farming background.
If you could travel anywhere in the world tomorrow where would it be?
I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt. I want to see the wonders of the world, the Pyramids, etc.
Fun facts or hobbies you’d like to share?
Being part of Shark Tank was a great experience. I’m also a very involved father, enjoy playing sports, and have participated in Triathlons.
Miguel Gonzalez, MBA, AIF®, CPFA®, CRC®
Cortburg Retirement Advisors, Inc.
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