Like many teenagers, Anthony DiBlasi worked part-time to earn cash. He got a particularly early start. At age 12, his father — a mechanic — enlisted his help. Young DiBlasi did odd jobs as his father repaired cars. By 15, DiBlasi had moved on to work at a car wash and a gym while in high school. Intent on going to college, he earned a football scholarship at The University of Toledo in Ohio.
His goal of becoming the first in his family to attend college was on track. But in the final game of his senior year of high school, a severe back injury upended his plans.
DiBlasi briefly attended University of Toledo before transferring to the The University of Akron in his hometown. He worked a series of part-time jobs to cover tuition, still hoping to graduate. He was well on the way to his goal when his father suffered a serious workplace accident that left him disabled.
Already struggling to make ends meet, DiBlasi’s parents suddenly faced a crisis. So DiBlasi left college to work a series of jobs to support them.
For a few years, he grinded out a living at fitness clubs. Starting as a personal trainer, he advanced into sales and then managed a sales team.
Searching for a more lucrative career, he took a friend’s advice and pursued a job in financial services. At age 26, he joined Merrill Lynch and received training to become an adviser.
“I didn’t know a lot about the financial planning business,” said DiBlasi, now 51 and a senior executive at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. But he soon realized he’d found his calling. He spent his first 10 years as a practicing adviser while also coaching newly minted planners to succeed.
Fast-forward 25 years and DiBlasi now oversees managers and advisers in 13 states. Based in Arizona, he has earned many promotions at Merrill. Climbing the corporate ladder without a college degree hasn’t deterred him. “It led to some insecurities early on,” he said. “It was an issue in my own mind. But I’m proud to say in my 25 years here, it has never come up. It’s a meritocracy here.”
He credits Merrill’s leadership training with strengthening his skills. As part of that program, DiBlasi read “Leadership Through People Skills” by Robert Lefton and Victor Buzzotta. He said the book has helped him develop what he calls “a great communication framework” to enhance his leadership abilities.
DiBlasi also applied lessons he learned on the football field. Before every game, he prepared diligently to gain an edge, and he brought that ethic to the financial advice business. “I want to prepare myself in the best way I possibly can,” he said. In his early years as an adviser, he sometimes thought, “I may not be the most talented person in front of you. But I outwork everybody.”
One important lesson is to craft a coherent, easy-to-follow narrative when sharing a personal story. When telling anecdotes, speakers often ramble or recall events out of sequence. “Put it in a timeline so that [listeners] can follow along,” DiBlasi said. “Organize it chronologically. This improves comprehension on the other end.”
He gained confidence over time, turning prospects into clients. Initially, DiBlasi admits he viewed his background with some trepidation. “I was shy about it,” he said. “But I could see that clients want to do business with someone they connect with. So I leaned into it and started sharing my personal story.”
The more he opens up, the more DiBlasi learns about the setbacks in life that many people experience. Conferring with an adviser who overcame adversity creates a unique connection. “It starts with being vulnerable,” DiBlasi said. “Once I tell my story, it allows people to feel more comfortable sharing their story.”