Jerry Gray: Macon Star to Arizona Financial Guru, and Everything in Between

His voice does not contain regrets. He talks with the confidence of a man who has discovered the way to live his life. It seems easy for him. He wakes up and makes breakfast for his kids. He runs a successful company, where he fosters great relationships with anyone who walks through the door.

It is hard to believe that there was a time when he did not have his life in order. There was a time when he was toiling in Midwest semi-pro baseball. There was a time when he was figuratively and literally immobile.

Jerry Gray is a financial planner for Gray/Wescott associates in Tempe, AZ. He is in charge of managing money for many different people. Being entrusted with the fortunes of others is a task that requires trust from the clients and expertise from the financial planner. Gray has now owned this company for almost twenty years – a large portion of his life – but how he got to where he is today is an entirely different story.

Jerry Gray was a three-sport star in High School in the small Illinois town of Macon, Illinois. Macon’s football team was immensely popular. The entire town would hang banners and attend every game, and Jerry was one of the star players. He always loved football.

“Football was always my favorite sport. There is a reason I became a football coach in the future,” Jerry says.

Not only was Macon a football town, it was also a farming town. Jerry was not part of a farming family, but he had grown up in the Macon culture.

Jerry told me, “Not many people went to college from Macon. I did not have anyone to tell me that college was good.”

When it came to make a decision on his life after High School, he chose the Macon route. Don’t go to college.

But Jerry did something that most people in Macon didn’t do. He decided to play semi-pro baseball.

“Semi-pro baseball in the Midwest in the ‘70s and the early ‘80s was a lot like a combination of Triple A, Double A, and Single baseball. I played with guys who made it to the majors and guys who could have made it to the majors.”

There are only a few times when Jerry speaks where he shows regret for the way his baseball career turned out. He still believes that he could have been a Major League Baseball player.

“I was a guy who hit line drives all over the field…I did not strike out. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that raw speed or the glove that the league was looking for at that time.”

He may sound bitter, but there is truth about baseball in the ‘80s when it comes to speed and glove work. Good hitting was not emphasized nearly as much as it is today. In the ‘80s, it was about getting your leadoff man on base, having him steal one or two bags, and knocking him with bunts or outs. Of course there were home runs, but the game back then was much different compared to today. One way to categorize this style of play is by calling it “Whitey ball”, named after the famous St. Louis Cardinals manager, Whitey Herzog.

The stolen base was revered in the MLB in the 80’s. During the three years Jerry played semi-pro baseball (1981-83), the stolen base leader had totals of 71, 130, and 108 swipes. The past three years (2009-11)? Try 70, 68, and 61 swipes. If Jerry had been playing today, he might have had a better shot to make it to the show.

“I played with guys who made it purely based off of speed on the bases or connections in the organization. It was frustrating at the time,” he says with a sigh.

So, Jerry quit baseball at age 20 and decided to play what most people in Macon considered the best sport: football.

Now, going to college was not something people in Macon did very often, but if it was for football, that made a lot more sense. Jerry was doing what people wanted him to do. Don’t mess with baseball; go to school and play football, Jerry!

Jerry had no guidance with any of his decisions after High School. His parents were not around to help with his decisions; they had packed up and moved to Arizona after he graduated. Jerry was alone as he headed to Southeast Missouri State to play football, and he hoped to make the people in his life proud because he was doing what they believed he should do.

Football is a violent sport (I know, what a bold statement), and the violence took its toll on Jerry in a big way. A knee surgery during his freshman year cost him valuable time, and just as he was about to make an impact during his sophomore season, he ruptured a disc in his back. Little did Jerry know that he wouldn’t be playing football after his back injury.

“I was bed-ridden for thirty days in a row. It was the lowest point in my life. I had done something that everyone had wanted me to do, and now I could not even physically move,” he says.

Goodbye, football career.

Jerry had hit a nadir. After working so hard to play football, he was now immobile for an entire month. Without being able to walk or run or focus on sports, all he could do was think.

As Jerry speaks now, his tone isn’t somber and downtrodden. He says that the back injury was a blessing in disguise.

“The back injury made me think about my life,” Jerry says.

Jerry had 30 days to ponder. His sports career seemed over. He had defined his entire life by playing sports. Now that this was gone, what did he have left? The answer he discovered was his emphasis on hard work. Jerry had nobody, yet again, to tell him exactly what to do with his life, but he decided to make his own decisions without the influence of his town or anybody else. In a way, the injury that caused him physical pain and immobility resulted in a release of emotional baggage; he was now more mobile than at any point in his life.

I asked Jerry about his favorite memories of baseball, and without hesitation he answered the connections he made with his teammates.

Jerry says, “I still keep in touch with some of my teammates from semi-pro ball. We get together every year to go on a ski trip.”

Connections helped Jerry get a job as a coach at Southeast Missouri as a football coach as well. He could not play anymore, but by his junior year he was already clocking 50-hour weeks as a football coach and scout.

“The back injury ended up being really good for me. I could now stop focusing on what I needed to do and what others wanted me to do athletically.”

Jerry left the football program after a successful two and a half years and eventually made his way to Arizona in the late 80’s. Athletics were now a part of his past, and that was that.

Jerry looked to carve out a new career in Arizona. He went his own way, of course, as he had tried to do with baseball, and as he had learned to do after his nadir, the back injury. He called a friend from college and told him to come out to Arizona and live with him.

“He basically told me to grab a suit and come out to Arizona,” says Al Lorenzi.

Al Lorenzi went to college with Jerry. He knew about Jerry’s tough-luck football career and his coaching skills. What he didn’t know was the American southwest. Nevertheless, he packed up his things and made a fresh start in Arizona with his friend.

Al started getting interested in the stock market through a connection he had made in Arizona as well. Although Jerry’s college degree was not in finance, Al helped him become extremely interested in stocks and money management.  It turns out that the move to Arizona would help both Al and Jerry stabilize their futures. They both, amazingly, are in the same line of work today.

“Jerry probably has a more commercial niche,” says Al about their businesses, “But we are in same line of work.”

One invitation to Arizona certainly paid dividends for the two, and they still remain in touch to this day.

“Jerry is a great guy,” says Al.

Jerry had to build his business from the ground up, but the new enjoyment he had from the stock market and financial planning hasn’t wavered over the years.

“I always have done things I have enjoyed. It makes it so much easier,” Jerry says.

“I loved [working on building the company], so it wasn’t as difficult at the office. The hard part was being away from my son so often. In order to build the company, I had to drop him off at daycare every day because his mom was not really in a good position at that point,” says Jerry.

You could hear the sincerity in his voice when he talked about his son and the conflict with his work. All Jerry could do was work hard and try to carve a life for himself and his son. Luckily, the stock market boomed in the late 90’s, and the company has not looked back ever since. The values at the company are based off of great relationships, which is not surprising, considering this is what he valued most throughout his life at all the stops on the way.

His son is now finishing his freshman year in college, which is something Jerry is very proud of, considering the effort he made during a divorce, the development of the company and a new marriage.

His son, Matt, says, “He is the nicest person I have ever met, he has never told a lie to anyone that I know. Because of that he has long lasting friends whom he will have till the day he dies”

Matt says, “I can achieve my greatest goals with the hard work and dedication that he has shown me throughout my life.”

Not many sons can speak of their dads in such a reverent manner. In Matt’s case, he does so without thinking twice.

Jerry talks about his plans for the future of his company with amazing passion. For a man that had nobody to guide him through his years as a young adult, he does a lot of thinking about the future of his company, his employees and his family.

Jerry wants to merge the company with another successful business in order to expand the operation. He knows he wants to retire in a reasonable amount of time, but he wants to make sure the company is in a position that will be able to maintain its values.

“If you treat others right; whether they be clients, friends or family, good things will come,” Jerry says.

Athletics helped him see the importance of compassion and fair business. They allowed him to reflect on his life and develop his own decision-making skills. Most of all, athletics taught him the importance of good relationships.

Athletics may not have treated Jerry in the right way initially, but it turns out this was for the better in the future. The lack of regret in his voice makes sense. He has discovered the way to live his life.

  1. May 21st, 2012

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