Adam Belardino stands next to a MetLife advertisement that appeared in the New York Times in 1992 featuring his grandfather, Gerard Turtora. Photo by Aleesia Forni
The world of finance has certainly changed since the days Gerard Turtora would walk door to door as a salesman, collecting quarters for insurance premiums in the 1950s. But after more than six decades in the industry and just days before his 87th birthday, Turtora still talks about his career and his clients with a mix of fondness and optimism.
“I still feel like you never arrive, you just keep trying to grow,” Turtora said. “Thankfully, I still have my head screwed on at least, and that’s lucky.”
A Pelham resident, Turtora began his career in the industry at MetLife, a decision that was influenced by his father who started with the company in the 1930s. Beginning his career in management, Turtora later worked in the sales department until 1994.
But at the age of 64 with retirement looming, Turtora was not yet ready to walk away from the business. To continue with the company, he started a senior partnership with MetLife that allowed him to continue his work even after retirement. In 2007, he joined Shelton-based Barnum Financial Group and remains one of the top performers among the company’s 300 financial advisers.
During the course of his 65-year career with MetLife, Turtora won numerous honors from the company, including a Lifetime Achievement award. In all those years, Turtora said he never received a single written complaint from a client, something he credits to his focus on customer service and integrity.
“When you’re dealing with clients, you always want to exceed their expectations,” he said. “I always felt that if I could exceed the client’s expectations, then everything else will take care of itself- and it has.”
Those lessons are ones he hopes to pass on to his grandson, Adam Belardino, who has followed in Turtora’s footsteps. After starting with MetLife as an intern at 18 years old, Belardino worked his way up the ranks of the company and now works alongside his grandfather as a financial planner at their offices in Elmsford.
“He has a saying that he taught me: give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime. I think that kind of sums up my career thus far,” Belardino said.
While Belardino, a Scarsdale resident, benefited from his grandfather’s experience and connections, Turtora is quick to add that his grandson’s success was far from a hand-out.
“What he’s done, he’s done on his own,” Turtora said. “He’s a natural.”
Belardino said that at the beginning of his career, his grandfather’s approach was one of “tough love,” something he can appreciate now looking back.
“That was a tough dynamic as a family. Maybe it wasn’t always easy on me. Maybe I was like, ‘Why is he so hard on me?’ Now I get it,” he said of the beginning of his career. “Now I think that we’ve really got it figured out. We can run a business and be grandson and grandfather. I totally get why he pressured me. ”
Today, the duo work closely- speaking on the phone four to five times per day if either is travelling away from the office- and continually praise each other’s hard work and dedication.
“I’m more enthused about the business today than I was 20 years ago and this young man helps me do this,” Turtora said.
“He’s the gold standard in this industry- period, so I’m a pretty lucky guy,” Belardino said. “Going to a conference with him at MetLife was like going with Jay-Z. There’s literally a group of people following him, it’s unbelievable.”
An essential part of Turtora’s success has been adapting to and embracing change.
“I’m pretty progress and pretty proactive. I realize you have to go forward,” he said. “You can’t say ‘Oh, it was great in the old days.’ That doesn’t exist anymore.”
One of the greatest changes for Turtora happened earlier this year, when the MetLife Premier Client Group, which includes Barnum Financial Group, was acquired by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., effectively ending Turtora’s time with MetLife.
For Turtora, the prospect of ending his working life with a company other than MetLife was something he could not have foreseen, but as with the rest of his outlook, he’s taking the change in stride.
“You have to realize that what happens, happens. There are things you don’t have control over, and you have to develop a way to live with it,” he said.
While Turtora’s peers have all moved on from the workforce, with many retiring decades ago, Turtora has no intention of hanging up his hat for good.
“He tells me ‘You’re just going to have to wheel me out of here,’” Beladarino said with a laugh.