|Physician Heal Thyself • "Dr" Jerry White|
Rod McQueen, Senior Writer
Saturday, October 12, 1996
Dr. Jerry White says he's on a mission from God to help people who attend his seminars become financially secure. Those who've examined his record and methods wonder who's really in need of some good advice
It's Friday night in suburban Toronto and the hotel meeting room is filled with folks seeking investment information. They have been drawn here by ads promoting Jerry White, writer, broadcaster, consultant and self-described professor. By all appearances, the audience, a middle-class mix of boomers and retirees, needs help. They do not look dressed for success.
After a brief introduction by Ramon Fruittrell, a planner with seminar sponsor Fortune Financial Corp., White launches into a rat-a-tat-tat patter about money and how to make it. His message is simple: governments are wasteful, Canada Savings Bonds and guaranteed income certificates (GICs) are for fools who prefer to stay poor. Real wealth comes from the likes of equity mutual funds and oil and gas royalty partnerships.
White, 50, is a long-time financial commentator whose knowledge is boundless: attribution rules, systematic withdrawal plans, offshore trusts and 127 tax-cutting tips. He also boasts about his successful personal investments in big companies. His shares of Trimark Financial Corp. have climbed 600%, for instance, and the $1,000 he put into Templeton Growth Fund became $400,000.
``Everywhere I go I try to buy great businesses,'' White tells the group. ``I don't believe in buying things to sell them. I buy things to build and to let them build for me. Value investing allows us to accumulate wealth and avoid the tax liability.''
For 90 minutes White delivers his seamless sermon, promising an end to poverty and an eternal life of luxury. According to a video he taped in 1994, he's on a ``mission from God.''
If so, White's more like a sinning Jimmy Swaggart than a soaring Billy Graham. In June 1992, White was petitioned into bankruptcy by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. Eleven other creditors including Royal Bank of Canada, Citibank and Revenue Canada filed proofs of claim, claiming total debts of $1.4 million. White lived in the U.S. and was permitted to earn income during his two years of bankruptcy.
He blames CIBC for its precipitative action, saying that he was prepared to work out a deal with his creditors. Says White: ``Out of the blue, CIBC, bingo, said `Sorry, we don't give a shit, we're screwin' everybody. We're not interested in any payouts, we don't want to deal with this, we just want to clean off the file.' '' White was given an absolute discharge by the courts in May 1994.
For the last five years White has made his living as a hired gun, filling meeting rooms up to 200 times a year for any planner who'd pay the $3,000 speaker's fee (with volume discounts). This May, though, White signed an exclusive marketing deal to do seminars for Toronto-based Fortune Financial, an investment advisory firm with 125,000 clients, more than 300 planners in 67 offices across Canada and $4 billion in assets under administration. (In 1994 Fortune was named one of the Financial Post's 50 Best Managed Private Companies.)
For those who want to work on their tans as well as their finances, there have been week-long Caribbean cruises on Holland America lines, with advertisements claiming that all costs are tax deductible.
Respect, however, is a different matter. In recent months, publications as diverse as Frank magazine and Investment Executive have cast aspersions on White. ``You know,'' said White in an interview, ``it's sort of intriguing, all the years that I have been doing public seminars, everybody in this industry thought I was the cat's pajamas. The moment I joined Fortune Financial I'm an axe murderer and rapist. Now, how did that come about?
``In this entire five-year period I have never been to a mutual fund conference, I have never received promotional considerations, never been to a golf tournament, never been to a dinner,'' said White. ``All I did was stand up, and do a seminar and get a fee. No percentages, no kickbacks, no this, no nothing. That's all I ever did. No one told me what to say, no one told me how to say it, no one told me what to present.''
After resolutely defending his action in an interview on Oct. 1, White sold his interest in Fortune back to the principals two days later. He stepped down as chairman and is returning to hired-gun status. ``I've gone back to being an independent operator,'' said White this week. ``I'm not a slave to anyone.''
Such freedom in the past did not prevent controversy about his seminars. ``People who don't have a lot of financial acumen are attracted to these seminars,'' says Dale Ennis, publisher and editor of Canadian MoneySaver, a personal finance magazine published in Bath, Ont. ``They may not be able to tell the difference between good and bad strategies.''
Education is the purported reason for these free seminars, but they wouldn't exist if financial planners didn't get names of prospects. The founding father of the business is Brian Costello, who has been conducting seminars for more than a decade. Other popular speakers include Paul Rockel, chairman of Regal Capital Planners, and broadcaster Garth Turner of Baton Broadcasting Inc. They both urge borrowing to invest, whereas White advises individuals not to leverage themselves. White does, however, tell people they need an independent planner, something that David Chilton, author of The Wealthy Barber, has resolutely avoided during his half-dozen years on the circuit.
``The best financial planner in town is your public library,'' Chilton tells audiences. ``No one cares as much about your money as you do.'' Chilton, whose book has sold 1.5 million copies, says that from what he's seen on the U.S. circuit, White is pushier than American speakers.
``I find his style is somewhat aggressive for my taste. I don't want to share a platform with him,'' says Gordon Pape, a personal investment author who has conducted seminars for Fortune Financial and other firms. ``He comes down very hard on certain types of conservative investments [like CSBs and GICs]. There's nothing wrong with these types of investments but people can overdo it.''
``There are a lot of critics out there, but I think Jerry White's fine,'' says Jim O'Donnell, president of O'Donnell Investment Management Corp., of Toronto, a mutual funds company with assets of $700 million. ``He's extremely intelligent, very entertaining and is a real showman.
``It's absolutely incredible the number of people that are drawn to him,'' says O'Donnell, who has twice this year appeared on panels assembled by White. ``An awful lot of people in this country find him of real value.''
To financial planners, however, White's value is mostly in the number of seminar seats he can fill. He's like an airline measuring load factor, although in his case, the destination is the dream of wealth and independence.
His media profile heads hopeful passengers his way. Commentaries and phone-ins on Toronto AM station CFRB, plus twice-weekly appearances with Peter Kent on Global TV, add to his credibility.
(Not every one can pull crowds. This journalist, for example, was hired to conduct two seminars for Fortune in January 1995, but the usual ads drummed up precious little audience interest. There were no seminars, but it took nine months and a trip to small claims court before Fortune president David Singh finally paid the agreed-upon $4,000 cancellation fee.)
Global's two-year arrangement with White ended in mid-September. Reg Thomas, the network's executive producer of news and information, says White's tie to Fortune at the time was not the catalyst but admits, ``There was concern about what this might mean to his independence and being able to give independent advice.''
``We go to great lengths to ensure Jerry White doesn't use his spots to promote his services,'' says Gary Slaight, president of Standard Radio Inc., owners of CFRB. ``His commentary on business and finance has to be non-biased. We monitor content.''
White's manner and methods have long haunted employers and associates. For two decades, Dr. Jerry White -- as he prefers to call himself -- has been hounded by allegations that he inflated his resume, plagiarized the work of others, issued bad cheques and burned some of the people with whom he's dealt.
In 1976, when White was hired by Macmillan of Canada to head its college publishing division, he arrived claiming a PhD from the University of Toronto. ``When we thought to check his references, we found that his doctorate did not stand up,'' says Doug Gibson, who was Macmillan's editorial director at the time and is now publisher at McClelland & Stewart Inc.
``There were other accusations being made involving unusual practices such as signing contracts with himself,'' says Gibson. ``The editor who was working on a book for which [White] was the co-author was appalled to find disturbing word-for-word similarities between that text and the text of another well-known book in the area.'' White was fired in 1978.
In 1982, White, by then national director at accounting firm Thorne Riddell, was a regular contributor to Canadian Business magazine. Betty Lee, the senior editor at CB who dealt with White, says the magazine assigned a freelancer to write about a survey on female entrepreneurs that White said Thorne Riddell had conducted. White supplied statistics, but when readers asked for more information, there was none. Lee says CB discovered Thorne Riddell had done no such survey; White had fabricated the results.
``I was taken in. We all were by this guy,'' says Lee. CB also became suspicious about White's monthly column on small business and shortly thereafter ended the relationship. ``He was cribbing this stuff,'' says Lee.
In his 1994 book, The Power of Money, White compliments Ennis of Canadian MoneySaver and urges people to subscribe, then reproduces without any credit a chart from the publication as if it were his own. In an April 6, 1995, letter to contributing editors, Ennis wrote: ``A most incredible use of plagiarism is evident in Jerry White's latest title, Power of Money. MoneySaver material has been excerpted.''
Just as allegations of plagiarism plague White, so does resume inflation. In 1988, White joined the University of Toronto as adjunct associate professor, ``adjunct'' designating the role's short-term nature. White signed two successive one-year contracts followed by a six-month contract in a relationship that ended Dec. 31, 1990.
In contrast, White's 1994, 1995 and 1996 listings in Canadian Who's Who each show his time at U of T as 1988-92 and his title as professor. (Who's Who publishes information as supplied; there is no fact-checking.)
Indeed, after White departed, U of T complained to him about his continued use of the university affiliation. Roger Wolff, dean during White's term, ordered a letter be sent to White saying that use of the title, with its implied ongoing relationship, was inappropriate.
``The sort of business he was in, in terms of his advisory role, the books he was writing, etc., it was probably to his advantage to be associated with the university,'' says Wolff, now dean of the faculty of business at the University of Victoria.
``Jerry's teaching was acceptable enough. If there hadn't been a number of other factors we may have kept him on in some capacity as a part-time instructor but putting the whole thing together [I] just thought it was better to end the relationship.''
Wolff says those ``other factors'' included concerns about White's academic credentials. White obtained his MBA from U of T in 1970 and then studied for his doctorate, but never completed the necessary written thesis. Others in that situation often use the letters ABD -- all but dissertation -- to describe the stage they reached.
White did not. Even while he was lecturing at U of T his PhD studies were described in his resume in such a way that outsiders could assume he had a doctorate. Wolff instructed White not to imply he had a degree that he didn't. ``I viewed it as carelessness more than anything,'' says Wolff.
There were also questions raised by White's colleagues about a post graduate degree that White did possess, a D. Litt. obtained in 1983 from International Management Centres (IMC) in England, an institution with which no one on faculty was familiar. Wolff asked a retired colleague living in England to investigate. The report said that the Buckingham-based IMC, unlike most doctoral programs, accepts past work for newly minted degrees.
White agrees that IMC accepted his U of T coursework from the 70s, but argues that the three-year process at IMC was rigorous and included a thesis on entrepreneurship.
It is this degree that White employs to call himself ``Dr.'' in his seminar advertising.
White claims another, current academic association that appears tenuous. In the 1996 Who's Who, White is listed as holding since 1992 the title of professor at the College of Human Services in New York. In fact, White taught there for only one semester, in the fall of 1993.
After being petitioned into bankruptcy, White revealed other gaps -- this time in his personal finances. In the official receiver's examination into his own penurious state -- sworn and dated Jan., 28, 1993 -- White gives handwritten responses to questions. Asked what caused the situation, White cites three reasons: ``My investment in 1986. Bad advice from my accountant . . . [and] My own errors.''
(The 1986 investment is a reference to a $250,000 holding he had -- other partners had equal stakes -- in a leveraged buyout of Mother's Restaurants Ltd. White also served as president and chief operating officer of Mother's until early 1988. Later that year, the company was placed in receivership by its bankers.)
Asked to describe his assets as of April 1991, White writes: ``I can't recall. Whatever I had wasn't much.'' As for delivering a financial statement to the bankruptcy trustee, White responded: ``I have never prepared a financial statement yet.''
White eventually received an absolute discharge on May 20, 1994. ``There was no way I could tell'' if assets were seized and realized by creditors, says White. ``There were no assets necessarily personally.''
According to Murray Page, the Toronto lawyer who handled the matter for White, the presiding judge ``found there was the equivalent of a no-fault bankruptcy through a lot of, call it unfortuitous circumstances. If he gets his discharge and walks away clean, that's what he's after. He's like a new--born baby, reborn, those are the words they use in the [Bankruptcy] Act.''
White's womb during those two embattled years was a brownstone on New York's Upper East Side. He was not without sustenance. ``There were family assets,'' says White. ``We were also residents of the United States. We were allowed to earn income and make a living and build assets. And my wife was allowed to have assets and my wife was allowed to have and manage a family trust. We had not fraudulently conveyed anything. It was thoroughly examined and scrutinized and the assets were what they were and it is normal for a businessperson to protect themselves and to bullet-proof themselves as a normal course of business practice.''
Among the deals he signed during bankruptcy proceedings was a January 1994 publishing contract with John Wiley & Sons Canada Ltd. for his book, Ultimate Canadian Investment Guide: Double Your Net Worth Every Three Years.
Wiley paid a $10,000 advance and White agreed to buy 10,000 copies to sell at his seminars. As an author, he got 50% off catalog price, bought 5,640 copies and was billed $48,466.78.
According to Wiley, White gave the firm four post-dated cheques, but the first one, dated July 31, 1994, bounced. The bank account had been closed two months earlier. White says he'd moved offices and switched banks. Rather than just ask for new cheques, he says Wiley started an action against him.
Indeed, Wiley did sue to recover $67,198.68 for books shipped as well as lost profits from the 4,360 copies Wiley said White was obligated to buy but didn't.
White disputes those numbers and says Wiley owed him for money he spent to promote the book. He says he won a set-off of those expenses against the costs of books and paid a settlement to Wiley that was ``nominal.''
Wiley president Diane Wood confirms there was a settlement, but cannot reveal the terms.
Personal arrangements also continued apace during the period of bankruptcy. On April 5, 1994, White's wife, Lilli White, made an offer of $920,000 that was accepted for 70 Forest Hill Rd., a renovated five-bedroom house with swimming pool in a wealthy Toronto enclave. The unconditional cash offer was made in the name of Bak Jelly Wampoa Ltd., a Cayman Islands company. ``I don't know anything about it,'' says White. ``I have no businesses outside this country.''
Shortly before closing, set for June 30, the parties involved were informed the deal would not be completed on the specified date. The Whites requested permission to move in anyway, but cheques to cover the arrangement bounced and the family was almost evicted at Christmas. The transaction finally closed on January, 6, 1995, financed by a mortgage held by White's mother-in-law.
Now ensconced back in Canada, White will only describe his net worth as ``less than $10 million'' and says that he has no liabilities. ``I've accumulated enough to be able to make significant investments into companies for cash and to buy other companies as well,'' he says. ``I'm not on relief. I don't borrow funds and we always try to pay cash for everything.''
Audiences at his seminars would dearly love to be in the same position. White winds down this particular Friday night session with one last question from the audience about money and how to make it. It is a slow, fat pitch that White knocks out of the park: how to choose a financial planner and how much money do you need to get started? As little as $5,000, says White. As for which planner, why, hasn't Ramon Fruittrell's name already been mentioned a few times this evening and isn't that the very man himself standing, grinning, at the back of the room?
Only the benediction remains. ``Thank you for coming,'' White intones, pausing as if he's sprinkling holy water on the true believers at mass, ``and make money.''