JVS Honors Marshall S. Geller with Lifetime Achievement Award

With more than 250 people in attendance at the SLS Hotel, JVS honored Marshall Geller, the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of St. Cloud Capital, with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

Presenting the award was business leader, motivational speaker and best-selling author Chris Gardner. Gardner overcame homelessness and the challenges of being a single parent to chase his dream of being a stockbroker. Geller, the senior managing director of Bear Stearns & Co. at the time, gave Gardner one of his first shots at success in the world of finance.

Gardner chronicled his story in 2006 autobiography “The Pursuit of Happyness,” which inspired the box office hit starring Will Smith.  In introducing Geller, Gardner said that his own achievements would not have been possible had Geller not opened a door for him.

“Because I got the opportunity to work in this magical place called Bear Stearns given to me by you, it didn’t just change my life, it changed the lives of my children,” Gardner said.  “There’s a health clinic being built in small village in Ghana right now that will service 30,000 people because you gave me the opportunity 25 years ago. Marshall, I could never thank you enough.”

Gardner’s story resonates particularly strongly with JVS where the agency assists more than 30,000 clients per year – many of them long-term unemployed who are facing substantial barriers – to improve their lives.

During his acceptance remarks, Geller acknowledged the work of JVS and stressed the importance of supporting the agency. He cited a Chinese proverb which states that the key to a lifetime of happiness is in helping people.

“I had heard about the wonderful work JVS and I ultimately had the chance to visit one of their WorkSource Centers and met some of their clients,” Geller said. “That’s when I really saw first-hand the impact of their efforts.”

“I would implore you to set up a meeting and visit with a JVS staff person at the WorkSource Centers,” he continued.  “Trust me, you will see some wonderful things and I think you will want to be more involved with the agency.”

The event, hosted by frequent “Tonight Show” guest Tom Dreesen, also included a screening of the JVS video “Finding Hope: JVS in Action.” Ibrahim Brewer, a former U.S. Marine who received assistance through JV’S Veterans First program, was a featured speaker.

A native of Los Angeles, Marshall Geller was in his early teens when his uncle Jack Bayer suggested he consider a career as a stockbroker. Geller attended Cal State Los Angeles, taking classes in the morning and working a retail job during the afternoons and evenings. Geller signed on with Merrill Lynch after graduating college.

After six months at Merrill Lynch, Geller left the world of finance, borrowed $5,000 from a local bank and created an import company that conducted business across the Far East. Despite his insistence that he was happy and thriving in his new career, Geller was recruited by a long-time colleague, Larry Friend, to join the firm of Kleiner, Bell. Because, as Friend insisted, “You’re a stockbroker.”

A dubious Geller insisted that he had quit the field of finance, but was willing to listen to the offer.  

After Friend wooed Geller for two months, including a recruiting trip to New York, Geller went back to Wall Street. Less than a month into his tenure at Kleiner, Bell, the firm shut down, leaving Geller and Friend out of work.

More breaks were in store. Feeling responsible for the situation they were both in, Friend insisted Geller accompany him to interviews in New York. Geller found himself in discussion with Bear Stearns CEO Alan Greenberg. Geller believed that Friend was the target hire, but Greenberg convinced him that he was an important recruit as well. The firm, Greenberg explained, didn’t hire PhDs. Instead they looked for “PSDs” -- individuals who were poor, smart and had a deep desire to become successful.

Greenberg considered Geller a prime PSD and hired him. Many years later, as a top executive at Bear Stearns, Geller would recognize the same PSD qualities in Chris Gardner.

“Every time I see Chris, I’m overwhelmed by his accomplishments in the world, both in business and as a humanitarian,” Geller said. “All Chris was asking for all those years ago was a chance to work. Now multiply his story and his personal impact on the world by the 82 years JVS has been helping people in need. Multiply that effect by the tens of thousands of lives JVS has changed since 1931.”

During his more than 45 years in corporate finance and investment banking, Geller oversaw Bear Stearns’ offices in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Chicago and the Far East. He was a director of Shun Loong-Bear Stearns Far East and Sun Hung Kai-Bear Stearns, Chinese-owned investment banking businesses in Japan, Hong Kong and China.

Geller is a former partner in the Phoenix Suns and Chicago Bulls basketball teams and serves on the boards of numerous publicly and privately held corporations and charitable organizations. Among them, he serves on the board at Cedars Sinai Medical Center and is a director of GP Strategies Corporation, UCLA Health System and COR Capital, LLC. He was the head of a Special Committee for California Pizza Kitchen and directed the sale of the company to private equity investors. He is the former Chairman of the Investment Committee for ValueVision and the former Interim President and CEO of Players Club International, which was sold to Harrah’s. He was also co-chairman of the board of Hexcel Corporation and served on the Little Hoover Commission for the State of California.

Marshall Geller holds a BS in Business Administration from CSULA and serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the College of Business and Economics at California State University. He received the University’s Distinguished Alumnus Award for the College of Business and Economics and has also been named by the Los Angeles Business Journal as one of a handful of the city’s top “Roadkill Warriors” responsible for revitalizing businesses during the dot-com meltdown. 

All this for a man who insists he is “no rocket scientist.”

“I think a person has to really know himself,” Geller said. “I remember going to New York and there were these brilliant guys sitting there figuring out all these complicated financial strategies. That was not my area of expertise. But I knew how to sell it. I knew how to take it and run with it. You have to know your weaknesses and your strengths.”

About JVS Los Angeles (Jewish Vocational Service):  Longtime leaders in the workforce development field and advocates for the underserved since 1931, JVS helps people of all faiths and backgrounds overcome barriers to employment so they can achieve self-sufficiency. From the long term unemployed to veterans, foster and probation youth, people with disabilities and those moving from welfare to work, our goal is to provide individuals with the tools, resources and guidance they need through job training, mentoring, expert career coaching, job placement and retention support. JVS serves nearly 30,000 Angelenos annually and in 2013 received Charity Navigator’s top 4-star rating for the sixth consecutive year. To learn more, please visit www.jvsla.org.

November 12, 2013