In a world where the age-old question of whether entrepreneurs are born or made is difficult to decode, John Kauth, CEO and Co-Founder of Intercontinental Wealth Advisors, is a living example that the skills required to be a successful entrepreneur can not only be acquired, but in fact can be learned much later in life.
Many believe that there is always a life-changing event or a burning passion that leads people on the path of entrepreneurship, but John shares that for him, it was a series of events – none of which were his doing – that fell into place, and he got lucky. Thus, he calls himself an ‘Accidental Entrepreneur’.
From Assistant Controller to Entrepreneur
John graduated from Texas A&M University in 1977 and went to work at First National Bank of San Antonio as an assistant controller. John reminisces, “I did not know a single person in San Antonio and everything I owned was in the trunk of my car. At the bank, I met my wife, Melissa, of 41 years and my business partner, Isidoro, of 40 years.”
For the first few years, in addition to this job, he also taught Money and Banking at San Antonio Community College, which he perceived as an opportunity to learn public speaking. He also managed to study and pass the Certified Public Accountant Exam while he was working at the bank. Soon after, with his partner, John founded Intercontinental Financial Services Corp., the first of several financial services companies in the Intercontinental family. In 2021, Intercontinental celebrates its 40th Anniversary of being in business and serving clients.
The Journey of Intercontinental Wealth Advisors
The services offered at the family of Intercontinental companies have dramatically evolved over the past 40 years. John and his partner first started doing EX-IM Bank lending into Latin America. In 1982, soon after they started, all of Latin America’s economies collapsed, as did their business plan. However, John’s partner and co-founder, Isidoro Korngold, was born and raised in Peru, and he accurately foresaw that a huge amount of capital would flee the region. They quickly figured out how to capture the capital. At first, they only offered FSLIC insured deposits. Next, they opened their broker-dealer (Intercontinental Asset Management Group Ltd.) to offer stocks and bonds. John points out that they were one of the first retail brokers to offer emerging market investments. They then formed their investment advisory firm (Intercontinental Wealth Advisors LLC), and lastly their insurance agency (Intercontinental Insurance Agency).
Today, Intercontinental Wealth Advisors offers a highly personalized list of services to its high-net-worth clients that includes financial planning, portfolio construction, investment advisory, estate tax and inheritance planning, 401(k) and charitable organization investment advice, insurance services, and any other concierge service needed to satisfy clients.
Dealing with Competition
As competition continues to grow in the Financial Advisory industry, John reports that every day, major investment firms and other advisors solicit Intercontinental’s prize clients. So, every day, Intercontinental must out think, out hustle, and out service their competitors. Because the competition solicits their clients, they are acutely aware of their competitors and can react quickly.
Further, the employees and management team at Intercontinental Wealth Advisors work 24/7 trying to learn from other successful businesses in terms of how they deliver value. John states, “A business either grows or shrinks. Change must happen on a continuous basis.”
Success is Measured By Who Shows Up at Your Funeral
According to John, a full life is one that touches people, and he believes success in life is measured by who shows up at your funeral. “People attend funerals because they care about the deceased. The greater the funeral attendance, the more people that were touched,” he says.
John believes that success in business is building a firm that the employees and clients are proud to be associated with. Being in business for quite a few decades, he says it brings him great satisfaction to see talented employees working shoulder to shoulder to make the company better each and every day.
Intercontinental’s clients have a million options today. Yet they not only stay with the company, but also they have enough trust to refer it to their friends and family. John gives an example saying, “One of our relationships included a husband and wife, all three of their adult children, the husband’s mother, the wife’s sister, and the husband’s ex-wife! We are very proud when we can serve an entire family like that.”
John sees the company’s employees as its biggest asset. They have a few employees that have been with Intercontinental for over 37 years, and even more for over 25 years. Moreover, they have never had a formal client complaint in the last 40 years. John sees these as the biggest achievements for his company.
Setbacks are a part of every growing business, but John considers the company lucky to never have faced a major setback – “just a thousand small ones.” However, Intercontinental has used each setback as a learning experience.
Author, CEO, Husband, and Golfer
John has authored numerous articles on international investment for state and national business publications. He also enjoys speaking as an expert on international economic matters, particularly at his beloved alma mater, Texas A&M University.
John treats his employees with respect while giving them space and opportunities. He never hesitates to appreciate. John truly believes in building up people who in turn build up their company. He says that he has the easiest job as a CEO in the world thanks to the quality of his employees.
As for his personal life, John says, “Not having kids but having an amazing wife makes finding balance a bit easier.” John and his wife love to travel together. As an avid golfer, he believes the golf course to be a great way to meet clients and observe people. He also co-founded UTSA24, an organization that provides significant support for the men’s and women’s golf teams at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
When looking towards the future, John believes that Intercontinental will continue to evolve similar to private family offices. In addition to the services it already provides, its offering will expand to tax preparation, more legal services over and above estate tax planning, insurance offerings including not only life but property, casualty, and risk mitigation planning, art advisory services, and more. The company would like to offer a one-stop bespoke financial package, even more so than they do now, continuing to evolve and further develop these departments in-house as needs in the marketplace shift and grow.
John also believes that the roadmap for Intercontinental will entail the grooming of the next generation of senior executives. A greater focus will be placed on capturing and serving younger clients and children of the company’s clients, focusing on the next generation in terms of both clients and staff. Intercontinental is already significantly global, as a large number of its clients are non-US citizens, but it will continue to focus on being a truly global wealth advisory firm. The company will also continue to focus on technology to enhance its client experience.
John shares that he has no plans to retire any time soon – even he cannot play golf 5 days a week. He believes his role at Intercontinental will continue to evolve, making room for younger and smarter employees. But for now, John looks back on the last 40 years of growing the Intercontinental family of companies with extreme pride and gratitude for everyone involved along the way.