InMarket: Meeting Luther King

With J. Luther King Jr. at the helm, Luther King Capital Management has been a big player in Fort Worth since its founding in 1979, though it has stayed well under the radar. I’ll never forget talking to someone who had been around Fort Worth his whole life and seemed to be in the know but gave me a full-on blank stare when I mentioned Luther King. King is no T. Boone Pickens – he’s far more soft-spoken and he’s never been on the Tonight Show – but he and his company remain key assets to the city.

LKCM provides investment advisory services to high net-worth individuals, foundations, endowments, investment companies, pension and profit-sharing plans, trusts and estates, and other organizations. The firm began, as King noted when speaking at his beloved Texas Christian University on April 23, with one client. That client happened to have the last name of Bass and since then LKCM has grown until it now boasts $14.8 billion in assets under management. Not bad for a kid who graduated from Polytechnic High School and who says about attending TCU: “When I crossed I-35, I considered that I was going away to school.”

King is currently a trustee of the school and is former chairman of the TCU Board of Trustees. So that you can get to know King a little better, here are some excerpts from his talk with O. Homer Erekson, TCU’s Neeley School of Business dean, during the April 23 installment of the school’s quarterly Executive Speaker Series.

• About clients: “If you take care of the client, the client takes care of you. You have to put the client first. If you think about how much money you’ll make, you’re headed down the wrong path.” • Interns: “When we started the internship program, it was hard for kids to get interviewed in New York … Now it’s much, much easier. In fact, we get some complaints from some of the big New York firms that we can’t supply them with enough. That was a slow, slow endeavor.” • Mentors: “If you do a good job, you don’t have to seek one, they’ll find you. That’s probably more important that you trying to find them … If you do a good job, a mentor will come along and be invaluable.” • Stamps: “The postal machine can do a lot of things, but if you’ve got a letter to Ms. So-and-So, it might be better to have a stamp on it.” • Phone calls: “The most important phone call to make is the hardest.”

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• Networking: “Networking is important, I just don’t like the way it sounds. I don’t want to take away the importance of having a network. Here’s what I think: You grow up in business with a class – not the same as the class you graduated with from college or high school, but a class of associates that are of similar age and similar interests … When you’re in your 40s, your class consists of people in the high 30s and low 50s …. If you’re going to work with Procter & Gamble, your class will have a lot to do with whether you make it to the home office or not.” • What keeps you up at night? “Not a comfortable answer for me because it’s somewhat revealing, but the fear of failure. When you have an organization driven by referrals and you have an organization that people have made successful by giving referrals, the fear of failure can be important. I would say that watching the volatility in the markets and having a fear of making an analytical mistake and the fear of not meeting the expectations the client has set for you – that’s a hard driver. When the firm has your name on it that exacerbates that fear. When you go to a cocktail party and you have four or five people standing around that you work for, you want to be damn sure you’ve done a good job.” • What do you tell young people? “Give compliments graciously and very liberally. Take credit very sparingly. Don’t take anybody’s legs out. If you take someone’s legs out, you’ve got to beat them to the top because they’ll block you.”