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Alumnus Profile: James Veldheer

Success is often born as the fruit of knowledge, faith, and a commitment to hard work. Whether in the classroom or the boardroom, the court or the podium, these qualities can coalesce to form great leaders and community innovators. Aquinas alumnus James Veldheer ’83 is one such leader. In 2014, he was named to The Financial Times’ Top 400 Financial Advisors for a second consecutive year for his distinguished service.

An education major, Veldheer was drawn to Aquinas by its reputable athletics and teacher prep program. “Aquinas is really a hidden gem in West Michigan. I wanted to be a teacher,” he said, “and I was very aware of Aquinas College and the programs that they had. I decided that, if I wanted to teach, I had to go to a school with a strong teaching program, and Aquinas College had a very strong program!”

While at Aquinas, Veldheer played basketball under Terry Bocian. Looking back, he was struck by the faculty, “how approachable they were, how they worked with students. I know that they gave my wife (Mary Veldheer, BA ‘83) and I the fundamentals to succeed,” he said.

Graduating in 1983, Veldheer went on to Catholic Central High School to teach business and coach for five years. Although teaching was his initial passion, he decided to apply his talents to the financial services sector where he has thrived for the past 25 years. Veldheer holds a Certified Investment Management Analyst® (CIMA®) designation, sponsored by the Investment Management Consultants Association (IMCA) at the Wharton School and a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC) designation through the College of Financial Planning.

“Really, it all comes down to those same skills I learned at Aquinas,” he said. “Knowing how to educate our clients on investment markets, how to measure risk and performance, how to look at the big picture when planning - so much of this I drew from my time at Aquinas. And, as a coach, I had to motivate my players to do their best. It’s the same thing now - I need to educate my clients, while motivating them to do the right thing when investing for the long term.”

In addition to The Financial Times list, Veldheer was also named to the Barron’s Top 1000 Financial Advisors in 2010. He believes that his career has grown from a variety of sources. “In our business, you need to have three main qualities to succeed,” Veldheer said. “You need to understand behavioral finance, have a strong work ethic, and you need to communicate well with people; if you can do that, you’ll be successful. As in teaching or coaching, we have a plan for our clients. Clients have different objectives, so we develop a unique game plan for each, we make tactical adjustments to that plan, and then we stick with strategic plan for the long term.”

Veldheer also stressed the importance and value of teamwork to success. “It’s not just me,” he said, “it’s our West Michigan-based team. It’s a value (teamwork) that was really reinforced at Aquinas, and we now have one of the largest and most successful teams - not just at Merrill Lynch, but across the country and the entire investment management industry.”

Reflecting on his time at Aquinas, his time in the marketplace, and what advice he might give to the incoming student, Veldheer said, “To be successful, you need to seek knowledge, to work hard. You need to focus on your goals, to surround yourself with people who will help you be a better student, those who, like you, are committed to being successful. Finally, go to Church every week, and make the most of the blessings the Lord has given you.”