Linda Cook, left, and Marlis Gilbert, right, have developed a business that now manages $1 billion in assets. Gilbert is retiring this month.
By Steve Dinnen
The first meeting between financial planners Marlis Gilbert and Linda Cook was brief and, while not edgy, not exactly warm. They were both at a meeting of the Financial Planning Association of Iowa, and Cook was busy handing out marketing brochures. Gilbert served as president of that group and let her associate know there was a designated area where literature could be handed out—and Cook wasn’t in it. Cook took no umbrage and, in fact, decided the two should join forces.
“It started with the recognition that we were better together,” Gilbert says.
So in 1999 the women formed Gilbert & Cook, one of a handful of wealth management firms operating in Des Moines at the time and likely the first to present an ensemble approach for clients. This meant clients would work with the company instead of an individual planner who was working under the umbrella of a sponsoring firm.
The financial planning and wealth management field was—and remains—the domain of men. (Just 28% are female, according to career consultants at Zippia.) When Gilbert and Cook joined forces, there were a few other women in Des Moines working in the business: Deniz Franke and Chris Korte come to mind, and they remain active today. Gilbert & Cook was a bit of a novelty when it was founded and has proved its success in the years since.
Cook focused on marketing (those brochures again) and investment research, while Gilbert did the planning. Gilbert graduated from Iowa State University with a non-business degree but was drawn to financial planning when she landed a job at a wealth management firm and discovered she had abilities there. Both women interviewed all clients so they could deploy their ensemble approach and combine their talents.
“We have a very nurturing style. We’re logical and supportive of the client,” Gilbert says. They strive to help people see what is in their best interest.
Gilbert is now set to retire later this month. She leaves keys to the West Des Moines headquarters to Cook and $1 billion in assets under the firm’s management—not a bad turnout for an experiment begun 24 years ago by two women who thought they might work well together.