When I first met with Mark Scheffler just a few years after he launched The Appleton Group in 2002, I was intrigued by the story of how his career veered from teaching music at an inner-city school in Kenosha to running a wealth management firm in downtown Appleton. The story goes that on a long-distance trip in an RV with his wife’s family, the Wausau native and Lawrence University graduate picked up a book on financial planning, studied it and decided that was the career for him.
Within a few years, The Appleton Group won the Small Business of the Year, Rising Star and Innovation awards from the Fox Cities Chamber. Its PLUS Fund received a 5-Star Overall Morningstar Rating (only the top 10 percent of funds in its category receive five stars). Today the company oversees $165 million in assets.
This month, Scheffler launches an entirely new program with the goal to draw billions of dollars in retirement planning fees to the state. Called Wisconsin Select, it brings the offerings of 20 Wisconsin-domiciled investment management firms under one umbrella that provide 401(k) retirement planning services to companies, nonprofits and governmental agencies. It has the potential to bring as much as $3.57 billion to the state’s economy, which could translate into as much as $224 million in tax revenue — not to mention thousands of jobs. Of course, it all depends on the success of the program.
“This is probably one of the biggest economic development initiatives in the state this year,” Scheffler says, referring to the sheer numbers at stake. “It has the potential to reshape the Wisconsin financial services industry. I look at this as a true cornerstone of a sustainable Wisconsin economy.”
Scheffler is also knee-deep in a personal project, a documentary film that questions the notion that growth is always a good thing. He draws his ideas from nature as well as from a book called “Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources” by Rob Dietz and Daniel O’Neill. Both informed Scheffler as he founded a nonprofit organization called the Foundation for Sustainable Wisconsin in 2014.
“For the past 100 years, two birds sat on a tree, one was named Growth, the other Prosperity,” he explains. “Only recently, in the past 30 years, the bird named Prosperity has flown away.”
You can measure whether growth is beneficial or not by backing out the things that end up being direct costs to society, he says.
Such ideas are provocative, especially in light of the developments communities are currently weighing. One is a proposal to combine two major hospitals in the Fox Cities, Appleton Medical Center and ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah, and build one new hospital. It could be at least five years before such an idea comes to fruition. Check out our story on page 31.
Another regional development in the works is the idea to transform the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh into a research institution. For years, those involved in the launch and financing of high-tech companies have bemoaned the lack of such a resource in Northeast Wisconsin, like we have in and around UW-Madison. UWO’s new chancellor, David Leavitt, is championing this idea. Turn to page 10 for more on this story.
Scheffler would be the first to say that innovation ought to trump growth when we think of prosperity. At Insight, we’re pleased to be a champion of innovation with our annual THINC! event.
Coming up May 19, our Technology & Human Innovation Networking Conference shines the spotlight on companies and organizations that put innovation into practice. This year, THINC! features a truly dynamic speaker on the subject, Dr. Paul Voss of Ethikos. Check out our Connections story on page 20 and I think you’ll agree it’s an event you won’t want to miss.
As always, I hope to see you there!