As a young man, Chuck Widger’s ambition was modest. "I just wanted to be an educated person," he said. His career, though, married the unfocused ambition of a history and biography buff with the practical world of money management.
Today, the Navy Veteran is president and CEO of Brinker Capital, a specialist in strategic investment planning, an eminently successful and astute "educated person" whose firm now manages in excess of $22 billion in assets.
To expand his educational horizons, Widger, who grew up in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, attended Gettysburg College.
There he studied history, his first love. He played soccer. He met and began a lifelong friendship with Scott Higgins, founder and president of Veterans Advantage. And he enlisted in the Navy OCS, which he viewed as "a very honorable choice" for a young man who grew up in the shadow of World War II and embraced the sense of patriotism that epic conflict instilled in him.
Widger spent his stint assigned to a guided-missile destroyer, the USS McDonough, homeported at Charleston, South Carolina. While the fighting in Vietnam raged halfway across the globe, the McDonough patrolled the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, an American presence in some of the warmer theatres of the Cold War. In the Mediterranean, it was not unusual to be buzzed by Soviet Bearcat bombers or have occasional "chicken drills" with Soviet ships.
It was in the Navy that Chuck Widger grew up. There, he said during a recent telephone interview, he got his first real chance to be a responsible adult. He also lucked out.
Widger got initial orders to join the brown-water Navy in its operations in the Mekong Delta. A good student who got "great grades" in engineering school, where he had been sent by the Navy, he was assigned, by virtue of his academic achievements, to the McDonough when a replacement was needed.
"When I was aboard ship, I told myself it would be a great experience to learn about practical leadership and administrative skills. I believed then," he said, "that I wouldn’t really feel the benefits immediately but rather when I reached my 40s." Which has been, he said, "absolutely true."
In the Navy, exposure to other cultures in his travels proved to be of more immediate value. Of equal importance, he said, was going to law school at Villanova University, which he attended after having completed his three-year Navy obligation - and, later, trying to raise three kids.
Widger landed a job as an assistant attorney general in the capital of the commonwealth of his birth, specializing in tax litigation. The subject so grabbed him that he went on to earn a master’s degree in tax law from Boston University’s School of Law.
After deciding that a life practicing tax law was not his cup of tea, an abiding interest in investment and management blossomed. He went into the real-estate investment business.
One of his clients, the CEO of an insurance company, was impressed by his passion and savvy. He invited Widger to submit a business plan to start a subsidiary of the Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company.
Widger eventually managed both his start-up subsidiary and a broader array of investment operations as the CEO of the Mutual Benefit Capital Companies.
The initial start-up subsidiary, which Widger eventually bought out, became Brinker Capital.
From a venture which began on Halloween 1991 with a piece of paper and a few dedicated investors, Widger and his associates grew Brinker to the financial powerhouse it is today. Brinker began with eight people and $133 million in assets. Providing investment planning for a variety of institutional and individual clients, Brinker now employs 85 people managing $3 billion in assets.
For the last several years, Widger has chaired the Endowment Committee of the Board of Trustees of Gettysburg College. This spring, he was chosen to be Chairman of the Board, with his first order of business to select a new President of the School. He also serves on the Board of the Money Management Institute.
Not a bad career for a history buff who still loves history and makes it in his chosen field.
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