Meet Joe Duran

Joe John Duran was 34 years old when he and his partners sold their company to General Electric.

It was an unimaginable outcome considering his childhood.

Joe grew up in war-torn Zimbabwe, in a violent home with no financial stability. He had to work his entire childhood, from selling hot dogs on weekends at 11 years old, to overseeing night production at a clothing factory while attending high school. He was a mediocre student in a tough environment.

At 18, he left Africa to see the world. He wandered the globe completing impressive feats, from running with the bulls in Pamplona — he’s done this 10 times, at least once every decade of his life since 18 — to camping in the mountains of Austria.

After traveling from country to country, he enrolled at Saint Louis University where he served as captain of the rugby team. While studying abroad in Madrid, he met and fell in love with his wife, Jennifer. The two then moved to her hometown of Los Angeles where Joe started his financial career as an intern for a very small investment firm. By his late 20s, Joe grew the firm and his responsibilities to become President of Centurion Capital, by now a national investment advisory firm. It was sold to General Electric in December 2001.

By selling Centurion, Joe had accomplished the American dream: a loving relationship with his wife, precious daughters, financial security and a good job as President of GE Private Asset Management. But bubbling beneath the surface was a realization that money hadn’t taken care of his burning anxiety. Even though Joe built his career growing a company that helped people invest well, he felt it wasn’t taking care of what really mattered — not just for him but for everyone that had entrusted him.

Joe left his position at GE Private Asset Management and decided to spend a two-year sabbatical in graduate school where he received MBAs from both UC Berkeley and Columbia University. At the same time, he interviewed dozens of successful entrepreneurs and wrote a book about the findings in 2002, “Start it, Sell it & Make a Mint, 20 Wealth-Creating Secrets for Business Owners.” Those interviews taught him that he was not alone in the level of anguish he felt when it came to money, even from the most successful people. They had sacrificed too much to get it, they felt like there wasn’t enough of it, they were still anxious. It seemed that no one really felt good about money.

All of this background led to the moment that birthed United Capital. Late one afternoon his mother-in-law called to ask him to recommend an advisor. She had just inherited some money and wanted to know what it would mean for her life. Could she take vacations? Could she buy a second home? Unfortunately though he knew many advisors, Joe couldn’t think of a person or a firm that would answer his mother-in-law’s questions accurately. They would all focus on the money and investing it rather than on her life and what she wanted to accomplish.

Joe woke up in the middle of the night knowing what kind of firm he had to build. It was a firm that would answer the questions everyone has about money, whether they are entrepreneurs or retired widows. Am I OK? Can I live the life I want? These two questions are at the root of all financial concerns.

How about building a company that answers it a dynamic and engaging way? He asked himself, “How about building a company that starts with your life and ends with your investments rather than the other way around?” What would happen if he built a company that helped people live better today rather than some distant future? What if it focused on helping people live rich and without regrets rather than die rich and with regrets? From these questions, emerged United Capital.

In the dozen years since its founding, United Capital has been one of the most staggering success stories in the industry, doubling in size every few years to over $17 billion in assets today. Yet, Joe would be the first to tell you that this success isn’t because of him. It’s because he cares profoundly about building a company of deeply caring, passionately committed people who all share the same vision: to help people improve their lives by bringing truth, understanding and discipline to the choices they make every day.

In addition to running the firm he started, Joe is a bestselling author and frequent speaker and media contributor where his open and candid discussions are appreciated. He still runs with the bulls, but instead of rugby he has been an avid Yogi for two decades. He is the loudest cheerer at his two oldest daughters’ volleyball games and coaches his youngest girl in soccer. He adores his wife and wakes up every day grateful to be a first-generation American and proud to play an active role contributing to the country that gave him everything he cherishes.

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Read Joe’s Feature in REP. Magazine