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The S.B. Questionnaire: Kevin Bourke

Talking Finance and Ditching Suits with the Founder of Bourke Wealth Management

Photo: Paul Wellman Kevin Bourke in his Santa Barbara office.

“People plan their vacation but not their retirement,” says Kevin Bourke, founder of Bourke Wealth Management. “They don’t give it enough thought.”  

Kevin says financial planning is “kind of like driving — if you panic, you make a mistake.” Emotions should never drive the decisions. “People who end up with the most are the ones who don’t pay attention to the daily swings,” explains Kevin, who’s worked in the field of financial management since 1987.

Living, working, and making a difference in Santa Barbara is a childhood dream come true. “I used to come here as a teenager,” he remembers. “I’d go to Rocky Galenti’s.” He recounts seeing men in suits in our idyllic city and saying to himself that if these men can do it, so can he. “All roads lead to Santa Barbara,” he likes to say.

“Initially being poor as I was, anything about finance fascinated me,” Kevin explains. “All of the kids around me were rich.”  

He was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan, but his parents moved to Woodland Hills when he was two years old. “The house we lived in was condemned,” he explains. His mom was a homemaker while his dad cleaned pools. “Finance was a window into a world I knew nothing about, “ he says.   

After graduating from El Camino High in 1982, Kevin contemplated becoming a minister. A family friend, Bill Parodi, who worked for EF Hutton, encouraged him to take classes to become a stockbroker.  Parodi opened his own company in Woodland Hills, and Kevin worked with him until 1989, when Shearson Lehman Hutton came calling.

In the mid-1990s, Prudential brought Kevin to Santa Barbara. His first daughter, Olivia, was born at Goleta Valley Hospital. He recollects those brief years as living more like a tourist in our city.    

Smith Barney gave him an offer he couldn’t pass up to move to Vegas in 1995, and he stayed there for eight years, eventually opening his own firm. “The best thing that happened in Vegas was that my daughter Rachael was born there,” he confesses.

But he was committed to be back in Santa Barbara by the time he was 40, and returned in 2004. His perspective on his career in finance was also changing. During the first decade of his career, he was propelled by the momentum of being fascinated by the business. But, he explains, “The next 10 years I hated it, for it felt shallow, materialistic. and meaningless.”

Upon returning to Santa Barbara, he had two experiences working for single older women who were about to make big mistakes with their finances. “In both cases they listened to me,” he says.  “These women would have been on the streets.” They are both still his clients.

“Every day since then I’ve gotten more and more excited about my business,” says Kevin. “Clients tell me how important I am to their lives. This gives me great satisfaction.”

Five years ago, Kevin gave up wearing suits, which he’d had to do five or six days a week for his entire career. “I got tired of wearing them,” he says. “I don’t want to represent corporate America. I want people to feel comfortable approaching me.”

Kevin Bourke answers the Proust Questionnaire.

What is your motto?
“Always do the right thing.” Really, if you always do the right thing, it’ll always turn out well. And if for some reason it doesn’t turn out well, at least you’re happier in the meantime.

What is your most marked characteristic?
I had to ask others for this one. Generosity was the answer. I believe that whatever we have is meant to be shared and help others less fortunate.

What is your greatest fear?
Unfulfilled potential. When I think of people who are really gifted at what they do, I think, “What if they had never practiced their craft or honed their skill or taken it for granted?” What if Meryl Streep had never taken up acting? What if there is something out there that I’m really good at that I never even try, or worse, that I’m afraid to try?

What do you like most about your job?
Finance is a mysterious black box that confuses most people. I love to simplify the complex and watch my clients take a deep breath and relax. Recently, I had the great pleasure of having my daughter, Olivia, join the team. Working with her has brought a freshness to my 32-year career.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To live untethered to technology. Cell phones, computers, iPads, software upgrades, random error messages. There are many things about technology that are wonderful, but I remember when my pencil broke, I’d walk to the sharpener. Problem solved.

Who do you most admire?
Boyan Slat and other young people like him. Boyan is a young Dutchman who, as a teenager,  invented Ocean Cleanup, which at this moment is clearing plastic from our oceans. The beautiful thing about young people is that, unlike adults, they don’t know a given task is impossible, so they just do it.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Napping on a beautiful Santa Barbara afternoon. It just feels so decadent to sleep while the sun is shining.

What is your current state of mind?
Incredibly excited for the future. I’m newly married to an amazing woman, business is flourishing, my family is healthy and happy. I wake up happier each day.

What is the quality you most like in people?
Kindness, without question. We are each here for such a short period of time. I can’t fathom why we aren’t all just nice to each other. I mean, really?

What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Maybe snobbery, people who gauge their worth by money and treat as lesser those who don’t have their same level of wealth. One of the things I love about Santa Barbara is that it is home to some of the wealthiest people who are also some of the most thoughtful, intelligent, generous, and kind people.

What do you most value in friends?
That they want what’s best for those around them. I love people who put others’ needs first and I attempt to emulate that quality daily.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
My daughter Rachael said either, “Six of one, half dozen of the other” or “Bitchin’.”

Which talent would you most like to have?
Dancing. My wife loves to dance so I dance with her because she loves it. But I don’t know how to dance and certainly don’t dance well. If I could dance better we’d all be so much better off.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’m quick to pass judgment. It’s a trait I work on daily, although those around me would probably say it’s hard to tell if I’m making any progress.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I was raised in a very controlling religion. They threatened that if I were to leave I’d lose my friends and family. When I left, sure enough, I did lose all my friends and nearly all my family. But I’ve been compensated so many times over by loving relationships that I could never imagine having had in the church.

Where would you most like to live?
Somewhere near the ocean with moderate weather. I’d like to have the sea on one side and mountains on the other. It would be nice to have concert halls, beautiful places to walk, friendly people and islands in the distance. So…Santa Barbara.

I dreamed about living here when I was younger. I would visit and see men walking around downtown in suits. Few people vacation in Santa Barbara wearing a suit so I knew they must have figured out a way to make a living here. I figured if they could do it, so could I. Just before my 40th birthday I vowed to myself that I would spend my forties living in Santa Barbara. Now I’m halfway through my fifties and could not be happier I made that decision.

What is your most treasured possession?
As a gift, my daughter Olivia made me a picture that says, “That which can be seen, heard, experienced, these are what I prefer.” She has a pretty good idea of what I like. Things aren’t that exciting to me. Travel, having good friends, being able to walk in beautiful surroundings, it’s things like this that I prize, by far.

Who makes you laugh the most?
Anyone who knows me knows the answer to this: my wife, Diane. Seriously, it’s like living with a stand-up comedian, without the angst. I watch her go and just wonder where it comes from. If I had to pick a second, at the moment, John Mulaney makes me laugh hardest.

On what occasion do you lie?
When I think it will protect the people I love. But I’m also a believer that telling the truth and letting the chips fall where they may is preferred. It’s just too hard to keep track of lies, so why bother with the hassle?

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