Tom McCullough spends his days helping entrepreneurs with their personal financial matters, but his work supporting business people doesn’t stop when he leaves the office. He is also active in a charitable organization that helps entrepreneurs in Third World countries.

At his day job, McCullough is CEO of Toronto-based Northwood Stephens Private Counsel Inc. and runs a multi-family practice, in which he co-ordinates financial and a wide range of other matters for wealthy clients. He co-founded the firm four years ago with partner Scott Hayman, after spending 20 years as a managing director at RBC Dominion Securities Inc. and RBC Wealth Management.

Northwood Step-hens is one of a new breed of advisory businesses in Canada that cater to families that have a net asset value between $5 million and several hundred million. The firm helps wealthy clients manage everything from investments and taxes to estate and financial planning, legal matters, insurance, real estate issues, family business succession planning and philanthropy. The focus is on giving advice and support; the firm does not sell investment products.

McCullough, 48, was inspired to start the firm when he began seeking help for his own family.

“I was looking for this holistic service for my family, and I couldn’t find it,” McCullough says. He admits to a lingering frustration with the financial services industry’s emphasis on pitching products.

The cheerful and upbeat McCul-lough has about 20 clients who have an average age of 50 and an average net worth of about $15 million. More than half are entrepreneurs, some of whom have recently sold their businesses and found themselves flush with cash. Other clients include people who need help because a sudden “life event” such as a divorce or death of a spouse has changed their financial status, and a number are high-income earners in the financial services industry.

Why would someone working in financial services need to hire McCullough for advice?

“It’s very hard to cut your own hair or do your own teeth,” he points out.

As one client told him: “My personal affairs never make it to the top of my ‘in’ basket.”

Northwood Stephens’ four experts have a wide range of financial planning, investment and accounting designations. McCullough, for example, has an MBA and is a certified investment manager, while Hayman is a chartered accountant and a certified financial planner. The team offers a wide range of services, including structuring trusts and advising on their use; helping a client launch a new business; helping a young adult child move across the ocean; dealing with the death of a parent; and advising on building a vacation home.

“We get things done for [clients],” McCullough says. “Because we’re not family, we can deal with things more dispassionately than the client can.”

From the client’s point of view, the advantage of having one firm co-ordinate such a wide range of issues is that, over time, the firm builds up an “institutional memory” for the family. The family doesn’t have to start from scratch each time it hires a new professional. “Some other professionals tend to be very event-oriented,” McCullough says.

While Northwood Stephens doesn’t sell products, McCullough seeks investment managers that specialize in advising high net-worth clients, foundations or pension funds. “We like to find smaller, niche managers that are somewhat undiscovered,” he says.

McCullough’s fees vary, but usually range from 25 to 75 basis points of the client’s net worth, plus the fees charged by the outside investment manager, which are typically available to clients at institutional rates much lower than retail rates.

McCullough insists his firm’s fees are low compared with those charged by similar firms in the U.S., where this type of service is more prevalent. He also believes it is money well spent. Hayman once saved a client $250,000 in capital gains taxes by suggesting the fiscal yearend of a personal holding company be deferred when the family sold its business.

“We have often saved clients much more in taxes than they pay us,” Hayman says.

Northwood Stephens does no advertising, but gets new business through referrals from existing clients and professionals with which it does business, such as mid-tier mergers-and-acquisitions firms, lawyers and family business consultants. Northwood Stephens hosts networking events at a downtown restaurant for “friends of the firm.”

@page_break@“We try to be helpful to people generally. We work through the centres of influence,” McCullough says. “Our clients tell us we help them improve results, reduce their headaches and let them sleep at night.”

McCullough has a passion for ethics and integrity. He once turned down a client worth $20 million because McCullough felt the person’s values weren’t a good fit for Northwood Stephens.

When McCullough isn’t helping wealthy Canadians, he is helping entrepreneurs in the developing world. He volunteers with Opportunity International, a charitable organization that fights poverty by providing small loans to impoverished people in developing countries who plan to start or expand a business. McCullough has served as chairman of the charity’s board for seven years.

The one million people in the developing world who benefit from this volunteer work get an average business start-up loan of $180. About 85% of these clients are women.

“The best way to help a child out of poverty is to get their mother a job,” McCullough says with conviction. “They are clients, not recipients of aid. They love to tell you about their businesses.”

When McCullough needs downtime, he heads to his cottage on Lake Joseph in the Muskokas, north of Toronto, with his wife and two children, ages 17 and 14. IE