Hitting the links
One place that was easy for Goldfarb to make those connections and form relationships was on the golf course. It’s important enough that he encouraged his employees to make time for it, even if it meant setting aside other responsibilities.
“As we often told employees, leave here on a summer day when you’ve got stacks of paper on your desk to go out and play golf with three clients and have lunch and talk to them all day long, stay and have a beer afterwards,” Goldfarb says. “(You) get home at 7 o’clock and have 25 messages, and you’re backed up to the nth degree here and you’ve got to get in at six in the morning. It’s hard work. To a lot of people, the joke is that they think it’s not work, but business golf is work.”
Goldfarb and Bob Littman, an early partner at SS&G and now Northeast Ohio office managing partner at BDO, spent a lot of time with clients on the golf course.
“Mark was fantastic at building relationships,” Littman says. “When you build relationships you build trust, clients get comfortable with you, they invest in our business, they feel comfortable with the other things we have to offer, they refer us to their friends. Mark was great at building relationships and the golf course was just one way that he did it.”
If golf was one of Goldfarb’s relationship building tools, meals were another. Tom Ferkovic acquired a company with SS&G and turned it into SS&G Health Care, which is now Medic Management Group, a standalone company managed by Ferkovic. He remembers some advice Goldfarb gave him about relationship building.
“Mark would say you have 10 lunches and breakfast opportunities to be out meeting with people and talking to them. He’s always been out and about with people and entertaining or being entertained, and developing trust that way with his clients,” Ferkovic says.
On the golf course, in the boardroom
Relationships helped Goldfarb land a spot on Charles Schwab’s board of trustees. Walt Bettinger II was the founder and owner of Hampton Pension Services Inc., which provided pension consulting and record-keeping services to some of Goldfarb’s corporate clients before Bettinger sold the business to Charles Schwab and then moved up the financial firm’s ranks to president and CEO.
Bettinger, seeking members for an outside board, thought of Goldfarb.
“Mark was asked to initially join our board of trustees for the Schwab ETF family of funds for three reasons: first, his experience with startup businesses; second, his deep experience in financial matters; and third, his thoughtful and collaborative approach to problem-solving,” Bettinger says. “He was an exceptionally effective trustee. When a position opened up on the Charles Schwab Corp. board of directors, his name quickly rose to the top of the list of the board’s governance committee.”
He says Goldfarb brings the same unique talents to his role as chairperson of the audit committee of the Charles Schwab corporate board of directors as he does to all business situations — thoughtfulness, deep financial acumen and a collaborative nature.
“Mark is the same on the golf course as he is in the boardroom — humble, thoughtful and a pleasure to be around. Oh, and he is also competitive,” Bettinger says.
Relationships have led him to other unique opportunities. He served as the chairman of a nonprofit, an opportunity that came when a client and close friend of his, Aaron Kranitz, died of the degenerative brain disorder, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Kranitz’s wife, Florence, became involved with a little-known Florida-based nonprofit called CJD Foundation, became the president, moved its headquarters to Akron and asked Goldfarb to be the chairman.
Goldfarb, Florence and other board members organized fundraisers and national conventions, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars that funded research and helped families coping with the devastating disease.
“When we left, we extended to 10 different countries — we had sister organizations that we had nurtured in 10 different countries. The organization was doing good work and growing, and Mark was an integral part of that,” Florence says. “No matter how busy he was, and he was pretty busy, he was never more than a phone call away.”