December 4, 2022

Like many teenagers, Anthony DiBlasi worked part-time to earn cash. He made an especially early start. At the age of 12, his father – a mechanic – enlisted his help. Young DiBlasi worked odd jobs as his father repaired cars. By 15, DiBlasi had started working at a car wash and gym while in high school. With the intention of going to college, he earned a football scholarship to the University of Toledo in Ohio.

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His goal of becoming the first in his family to go to college was on track. But in the final game of his senior year of high school, a serious back injury sabotaged his plans.

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DiBlasi briefly attended the University of Toledo before transferring to the University of Akron in his hometown. He worked a series of part-time jobs to cover tuition, still hoping to graduate. He was on his way to his goal when his father suffered a serious workplace accident that left him incapacitated.

Already struggling to make a living, DiBlasi’s parents suddenly faced a crisis. So DiBlasi dropped out of college to work several jobs to support him.

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For a few years, he made a living in fitness clubs. Starting out as a personal trainer, he progressed into sales and then managed a sales team.

Seeking a more lucrative career, he consulted a friend and took a job in financial services. At the age of 26, he joined Merrill Lynch and trained to become a consultant.

“I didn’t know much about the financial planning business,” said DiBlasi, 51, a senior executive at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. But he soon realized that he had found his calling. He spent his first 10 years as a practice consultant, while also coaching newly minted planners to be successful.

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Fast forward 25 years and DiBlasi now oversees managers and consultants in 13 states. Based in Arizona, he has earned several promotions at Merrill. Climbing the corporate ladder without a college degree doesn’t stop them. “It created some insecurities in the beginning,” he said. “It was an issue in my own mind. But I’m proud to say that in my 25 years here, it never came. It’s a merit here.”

He credits Merrill’s leadership training for reinforcing his skills. As part of that program, DiBlasi read “Leadership through People’s Skills” by Robert Lefton and Victor Buzota. He said the book has helped him develop “a great communication framework” to enhance his leadership abilities.

DiBlasi also applied lessons learned on the football field. Before each game, he prepared diligently to get the edge, and he brought that ethic to the financial advice business. He said, ‘I want to prepare myself in the best way that I can. In his early years as a mentor, he sometimes thought, “I may not be the most talented person in front of you. But I outshine everyone.”

An important lesson is to create a coherent, easy-to-follow narrative when sharing a personal story. When telling an anecdote, speakers often recount or recall events in sequence. “Put it in a timeline so that [listeners] We can go along,” DiBlasi said. “Arrange it chronologically. This improves understanding on the other end.”

They gained trust over time, turning prospects into customers. Initially, DiBlasi admitted that he viewed his background with some bewilderment. “I was embarrassed about it,” he said. “But I could see customers wanting to do business with someone they connect with. So I leaned in and started sharing my personal story.”

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The more he opens up, the more DiBlasi learns about the setbacks in life that many people experience. Discussing with a mentor who has overcome adversity creates a unique relationship. “It starts with being vulnerable,” DiBlasi said. “Once I tell my story, it allows people to feel more comfortable sharing their story.”

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