Brooke’s Note: Before journeying to see Ric Edelman speak live in Berkeley, I’d never met him in person before — except, unplanned, the on the day before. He had been attending the Tiburon CEO Summit, at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco. The fact that he could wrap up two days of learning from big-time execs early in the day and shift gears to two hours of speaking shows that he’s not exactly resting on his Barron’s #1 laurels — and he’s awfully efficient with his scheduling.

When I first arrived to hear Ric Edelman speak, I was about 45 minutes early and I was just checking in to make sure I knew where I was going. A few people were straggling in and about 20 of the 200 seats had been occupied.

What I hadn’t expected was to see Edelman himself but I was wrong. The Barron’s #1 rated advisor was holding court at the entry to the big conference room of the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley – a meticulously renovated all-white historical structure that overlooks the University of California campus and out over the Bay.

Boston radio

I arrived with my mother, Carol, and in fact she was the biggest reason I was there. She was visiting me in California from her home in Maine. One of the big radio stations up there is Boston-based WBZ and she faithfully listens to The Ric Edelman Show. Recently he had mentioned on his show that he’d be speaking in Berkeley and she realized it coincided with her trip.

I was eager to go because Edelman is both [with about $5 billion of AUM] the biggest – and by Barron’s reckoning – best advisor in America. He is also at the heart of a plan by Sanders Morris to create a national RIA firm. Sanders Morris Harris Group, serious competitor to the big roll-ups, launches bid from Texas

Here is how Barron’s loosely describes its criteria for rating advisors:

“Factors included in the rankings: assets under management, revenue produced for the firm, regulatory record, quality of practice and philanthropic work.”

As a writer at RIABiz, I wanted to see how someone with those qualifications conducts himself with clients, prospective clients and financial advisors who use his services. All of those constituents attended his seminar.

As we wandered the hotel, there were big cardboard signs with a picture of Edelman at every turn and an arrow making sure you were headed in the right direction. In the byzantine layout of the old hotel, they were assiduously followed.

By the time the speech started the seats were entirely filled. There were sodas and water available along one wall and people handing out an Edelman book at the door.

Sitting next to me was an East Indian man in his 30’s [or maybe 40] who said he was there to learn more about how to select a financial planner. He was the exception in his youth and manner. About 80% of the crowd appeared to be of retirement age or older.

Last minute planning

Edelman addressed this generational issue early in his talk and polled the audience to see if there was anyone younger than 20. None. Younger than 30. None. Younger than 40. A tiny handful. Edelman finally located the youngest attendee, a woman in the back who was 33 and he gamely said to her: “And I bet someone dragged you here.” The woman agreed that her older husband had brought her.

Edelman added that a man had told him on the way through the door that he was two days from retirement. Chiding the fellow [but not pointing him out] he said: “You came just in time!” A laugh erupted from the crowd.

In general, Edelman addressed the crowd as if it was a group of people and not consumers of financial information. He talked a lot about the emotions involved in being dragged down an unnecessary financial crisis – anger, fear and confusion. “The dominant feeling is anger,” he said.

The talk was set out for two hours with a promise that there would be lots of time for questions. Edelman spoke for most of it. The one criticism leveled by my mother was that he makes the same promise on his radio show and that, in fact, little time gets left for questions.

Buffett and Cramer

Throughout his speech, Edelman consistently took shots at the media — and its pundits. “Warren Buffett says an investor might have 11 truly good ideas in a lifetime. Jim Cramer has three every night,” he said to a round of laughs.

The theme of Edelman’s talk was simple: At this point in the market cycle there is tremendous risk in not being invested in stocks – and also a great risk of being too eager about owning bonds.

He also – with the use of multiple graphs, stories and exhortations – explained just how poor an investment choice that cash is.

Of course, with any good sales and marketing, there’s the point where the presenter asks for the order. After [I checked my watch] 80 minutes of talking, Edelman gave his pitch to invest in the Edelman Managed Account Program.

This pitch was less interesting than the rest of the rollicking talk. Yet, in the end, I was impressed, entertained, educated about investments and better understood how an advisor can connect with investors.

Advisors spend thousands or tens of thousands and make transnational flights to learn how to market and build their businesses. For $25, they can, with any luck, go hear Ric Edelman — a case study in success — speak at a nice local hotel in their neighborhood. I think they should.

See: Encouraged by early success in New York, Edelman ramps up office openings