Silvercrest: Helping the rich get richer

G. Moffett Cochran V admits he'd much prefer a name like Joe. As for the Roman numeral designation, "I don't use that," he protests, whipping out a business card.

Still, a name like G. Moffett Cochran, the fifth or not, can't hurt when your business is wealth management. The Staunton-born Cochran, who majored in English at UVA and wanted to be an artist, was back in Charlottesville recently to merge his three-year-old Silvercrest Asset Management Group with an existing local firm called Heritage Financial to offer high-end financial services to the area rich.

"There are said to be more millionaires in Albemarle than in anywhere else in the state except northern Virginia," notes Cochran, whose clients average a net worth of $35 million.

So how does a youth who graduated from UVA in the early '70s with dreams of becoming a studio artist end up CEO of the third-largest asset management company in the country, handling almost $6 billion?

A practical father. That would be George Moffett Cochran IV, who served on the Virginia Supreme Court.

"Dad asked if I was going to be able to make a living," says Cochran. "Being a rationalist, I thought about it."

Rejecting both the military and getting a job– heaven forbid!– left only one option: law school. "I went for the worst reasons," he confesses. "Nothing better to do. But nothing about law school appealed to me."

No, wait. One area did: trusts and estates.

When he graduated from UVA law school in 1976, Cochran set his cap on McGuire Woods & Battle. The firm "declined the opportunity to hire me," says Cochran, and so it was off to New York and J.P. Morgan, which allowed him to pursue his interest in trusts and estates.

And in truth, Cochran, 54, acknowledges he makes a much better businessman than lawyer. He was president of Credit Suisse Asset Management in New York.

"Apparently working for the Swiss is not much fun if you have the entrepreneurial spirit," says Ben Brewster, the Heritage founder who merged his company with Cochran's and hopes that will translate into a more entrprising company here in Charlottesville.

As for Cochran, the merger means another excuse to come from New York to Virginia, where he serves on several boards, including the UVA Alumni Association, the Jefferson Scholarship Foundation, and the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

"It gives me reason," says the ever-savvy businessman, "to write off my trips to Virginia."

G. Moffett Cochran V