Taking stock of the adventures of Tom Swift
Every day Tom Swift goes to work in his
office in the tony financial district of San Francisco. Prospective
clients will find Swift's shingle around the corner from the Pacific
Stock Exchange -- and a world apart from his competitors at the
larger brokerage houses nearby. Swift, 36, has cultivated a niche of
HIVers seeking advice in planning the futures they thought they'd
"I love it," he says, his clear blue eyes flashing with pride. "I
have finally put it all together." In this mecca for many whose CD4
cells are rising as steeply as their debt, the box of Kleenex in the
file cabinet behind Swift's desk is as much a necessity as a
calculator. He leans in and says, "Someone came to me and said, 'I
planned for every possibility but life.'"
But Swift swears to the it's-never-too-late philosophy. After
testing positive in 1995, he spent his retirement fund and ditched
his job at a Chicago gay rights group to, as he puts it, live and
die in San Francisco. But after a sudden protease-based surge of
life, Swift realized his plans needed revising and he needed a job.
Now he's on a mission to help others overcome "the significant lack
of retirement planning in the gay community."
To demonstrate one investment strategy, he stands up and empties
his suit pockets, spilling more than a dozen pills onto the desk.
"This is what we should invest in," Swift says, pointing to the
regimen he takes twice a day. "Glaxo Wellcome made a billion dollars
off AZT. There's no reason we shouldn't own that company -- or at
least part of it. We're driving the profits -- we should be taking
part in them."
And Swift sees the survivors' market as only growing. For proof,
he recalls the "No Obits" headline of a recent Bay Area
Reporter, a San Francisco gay weekly. "That's what we call, in
my business, a leading economic indicator."
Swift learned the jargon from his boss, John Horton, founder of
the Horton Investment Advisory Group. "From Day One, he was so
impressive," Horton says. "He had a business plan and a focus. He
was very passionate about what he could do." Horton admits he's
faced flack in financial circles for hiring an out and outspoken HIV
positive gay man, but he's pleased with Swift's performance. "I'd
rather have more of Tom," he says. "From a business perspective, his
people are underserved."
Horton's not the only one who can't get enough Tom. Swift is
having great success taking his message on the road, leading
seminars locally and in Los Angeles to educate survivors of AIDS on
investing successfully for the future. And Swift knows how to draw a
crowd. "I use props and the Village People," he says. "It's
financial planning -- you gotta make it interesting."
The Bucks Start Here
Straight from the hip, here
are 10 Swift tips for solving your debt and getting your life back
in order. Start today!
- Keep health a top priority. People like us can't work
18-hour days. If you don't have health, what's the point of
working so hard?
- Check your emotional baggage. This is a time of
renewal. Embrace it as a chance to start over and plan your
- Face your debt head-on without shame. Any decisions you
made while facing a terminal illness were proper -- even maxing
out credit cards. But if you're going to live now, you need new
- Get help. It's easy to seek assistance in health-crisis
mode. When we're doing better, we sometimes feel we don't deserve
it. Trust me, you do.
- Don't fear the tax man. Haven't filed in a few years?
Find a low-cost enrolled agent and get an hour's consultation.
- Be patient. If we hear the 60 Minutes clock on our
lives and invest with urgency, we'll only lose money faster.
- Evaluate your relationship. Did you -- like me --
settle down with someone just because you thought you were dying?
You're putting together a long-term financial plan -- is your
partner really the one you want in it?
- Invest in what you know. If you believe in a product,
you can believe in its stock potential.
- Ask yourself how long you're going to be here. Many
people avoid the question, but planning for the future requires
- Dream again. After testing positive, I whittled my
dreams down to a manageable few. Now some of us can revise and
expand our wish lists.