EO Chicago Strategic Alliance Partner Spotlight: Nick Economos
There are so many entrepreneurs in Nick Economos’s family, it is as if starting a business is a genetic trait.
His parents were in real estate and started the first Keller Williams agency in Illinois. Both of his grandfathers, his uncles, cousins, and brother have also run their own businesses. But the most influential of them all is his paternal grandfather.
“My dad’s dad literally walked out of a mountain village and down a goat path, got on a boat, and came to America when he was 13—by himself,” Economos says. “How he got to the boat out of the village is amazing to me, because I’ve been to his village. He came here, didn’t speak the language, lived in the basement of a candy shop owned by somebody who was from his village, swept the floors of the shop and went to kindergarten at age 13.
“He dropped out of school,” he continues, “and got into business for himself. He started in the restaurant business, got into the insurance business, then gas stations, real estate . . . he made a tremendous life for himself, and it’s super awe-inspiring.”
The Start of a Career
When Economos was young, he would regularly visit his grandfather for lunch. It was during these occasions that he learned about the stock market. “He would be watching the local UHF channel, and they would have these Chicago stock market guys come on and talk about what stocks they liked,” Economos remembers. “My grandfather started teaching me about stocks when I was in fifth grade and through middle school. To this day, I can remember things he told me—super good advice.”
Learning about the stock market led to investing money, and before long, Economos’s career path was set.
“I’m one of those rare birds that actually went to school for what he does,” he says.
His school of choice? Purdue University. “At the time, it was one of only three colleges in the country offering a four-year degree in financial counseling and planning,” Economos recalls.
He started practicing while he was in college, doing retirement planning for some of his university professors as well as debt counseling for people in the West Lafayette community.
While in college, he worked for Northwestern Mutual as a college agent, where he learned how to develop a client base. After graduation, he went to a boutique firm that focused on planning for the owners of closely held family businesses.
“I got great training [at these companies], but I always knew I was going to work for myself,” Economos says.
And, in 1999, that’s just what he did. “I went to work on my own, hung up my shingle,” he explains. “My wife was working with me for a few years, and then I took on a partner and starting an accounting practice, as well, providing accounting and tax services to our clients. That was 2003, and it was called State Street Financial Group.”
The “Trifecta of Storms”
In the summer of 2006, Economos was playing outfield in a competitive softball league. Running to catch a fly ball, he collided with the shortstop.
“His kneecap hit three inches above my knee, and it just imploded my femur,” he says. “It was pretty traumatic—they had to piece the bone back together, really, and it broke into the knee joint. I was in the hospital for nine days, bedridden for another 45 days with in-home healthcare, and then it was a pretty long rehabilitation. I had a couple of surgeries and the physical therapy was grueling.
“It was life-changing,” he continues. “That was the first time I experienced depression. When you’re physically broken like that, it’s really hard to see a way out sometimes. And I’m still battling it. I just had three injections in my knee over the past three weeks, so it’s something I’m going to carry with me to my grave, unfortunately.”
Two years after his injury, while he was still rehabilitating his leg, the housing bubble burst. The financial crisis was devastating for State Street Financial, and Economos had several real estate investments at the time, as well, which compounded the difficulties.
Then, in the summer of 2010, after finding and removing a benign mass under his skin, his doctor investigated further and ultimately diagnosed Economos with testicular cancer. Despite catching it at an early stage, he underwent surgery and three months of chemotherapy.
“You get a lot of perspective when you’re sitting in the infusion room getting chemo dripped into your body and watching people who are fighting like hell for their lives,” he says. “So, it’s probably one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life.”
Fortunately, 2012 and the years that have followed have not continued the pattern of devastation Economos experienced every two years from 2006 to 2010. But his “trifecta of storms,” as he likes to call it, provided tremendous personal growth—perhaps having even more positive effect than negative in the grand scheme.
“What I learned from all those experiences is to really focus on what’s important in your life,” he says. “Put things into perspective and practice gratitude. During the pandemic, I think I was able to rely on my perspective from those experiences and really power through. People say death and taxes are the only certainties in life, but I would throw in change and uncertainty. You can’t worry about the stuff that’s out of your control. Things are always going to change, so you just have to be adaptable to that change.”
In 2012, Economos parted amicably from State Street, and started Fiduciary Financial Partners. In short, the firm offers two core services: what Economos calls “personal CFO” services for entrepreneurs, executives ,and retirees, and then a B-to-B consulting service around pension and profit-sharing plans.
As fiduciary advisors, he and his team are required to put the interests of the client first.
“Large financial companies have incentives to sell you product—advisors get paid based on what they sell,” he explains. “The industry is rife with conflicts of interest, so we tried to remove all of that and really just focus on improving the financial lives of our clients. We do that through education, transparency, and a very hands-on, service-oriented approach with a lot of counseling around the emotions and humanistic behavior that occurs around money.”
The company has been going strong for more than eight years, the last four of which Economos has been a member of EO Chicago. “In 2017, we started the process of exiting a partner, and the breakup was really difficult,” he explains. “It prompted me to join EO. I got placed into a forum right away, and it was great to talk through the exit, get people’s feedback, and hear experiences with similar matters.”
He believed in the value of EO so much, he became a strategic alliance partner, too. “I just thought it was a really cool organization, so I jumped in with both feet,” he says. “Today, I’m a member, a strategic alliance partner, and I’m also on the board.”
As evidenced by the recent GameStop saga, it can be easy to get caught up in the newest get-rich-quick craze. But Economos’s financial advice is: skip the media and the hype, and focus instead on your personal values, goals, and controlling the controllable.
“Reflect on your life, find what is ultimately most important to you, and identify what defines that,” he advises. “I facilitate these conversations a lot, and the things I hear people tell me are important to them about money include: freedom, security, providing for family, taking care of loved ones, and giving back to the community.
“Those are the important things,” he continues, “not Apple versus Google stock, or Bitcoin, or any of that stuff. It’s really important to focus on what your values are, establish your goals and set them clearly, and then it’s about getting super organized. Have a process you’re following to make sure you’re not missing any opportunities, you don’t have any gaps, you’re not making any mistakes, and you’re always recalibrating as things constantly change to make sure you’re moving in the direction of realizing your values and achieving your goals.”
Among Economos’s own values is financial freedom—a concept that aligns well with entrepreneurship.
“Starting a business is very foreign for a lot of people, and I think having that exposure—seeing it all the time, hearing my family talking about it—it has just made entrepreneurship very natural for me,” he says. “I always knew I was going to be dependent on myself. Whatever I did, I would make it work.”