10 Questions with Ken Vinikoff, Financial Planner at Skylight’s Cleveland office

In the latest of our “Making It Personal” Q&A series, we catch up with Ken Vinikoff and find out why he loves Cleveland, how he puts meaning into his life, about his passion for rock ‘n’roll and cooking and why he sometimes behaves like a Tasmanian devil!

Where are you from originally and what brought you to Cleveland?

I’m originally from Upstate New York, a town called Troy, across the Hudson River from Albany.  I pretty much always knew from when I was a teenager that I would move and settle somewhere else.   So when a professional opportunity/transfer with one of the Figgie International Companies came up in 1991, I made the move to Cleveland.  I have been here ever since and love it.  Cleveland is a great town.  Our city has most of the great things a big city needs to have – great restaurants, museums, sports teams, arts, parks, eclectic neighborhoods.  This all comes with less of the bad things that major big cities have, like traffic!

You’ve been a financial planner now for nearly 10 years.  What led you to a career in financial planning and what’s it like?

I’ve always had jobs that had inherent goodness to them.  When I was much younger, I called on industries in the Great Lakes region and sold industrial safety equipment – personal protective equipment from head to toe –hardhats, chemical suits, things for steel, automotive, chemical and other manufacturing. Then I worked as an IT head-hunter/recruiter. It felt really good to be able to help someone get a job that allowed them to take care of their family.

After a period of time, I decided I wanted to work for myself. I could have moved into sales but this would have involved lots of travel and at 43 and with a young family I didn’t want this. I asked close friends and people I knew, “If you didn’t know what I did for a living, what would you think I should do, or what would I be good at?” The overwhelming response was a career in financial services and I’ve never looked back.  Being at Skylight, I get the best of both worlds.  I get to work for myself while having a support system of experienced people to learn from.

You are the co-founder of Skylight’s Special Needs Planning Team and actively involved in supporting the special needs community? How did you develop this interest and what does it mean to you?

I have a close family member who has had various issues with neurological and other brain-based differences.  So my involvement comes from wanting to learn how to help these individuals and families who have challenges.  I’m not a doctor and I can’t cure anything, but if I can help with providing planning recommendations and referrals to help others, my head can hit the pillow at night and feel pretty good about my efforts.

Tell us a little about your home life and your family?

I’ve been married to my wife, Sally Spitz, for almost 13 years.  Coincidentally, our parents have the same wedding anniversary of June 22nd(1952), so when Sally and I decided to get married, it was both sets of our parents’ 51st wedding anniversaries.  I have an adult son who lives and works in Austin Texas, and a daughter who works as a personal trainer and lives in NYC.   It’s fun and flexible to be an empty nester, but we have great kids and miss them.

What are your interests and passions? What do you like to do to relax?

I’m a big music fan and really enjoy seeing live concerts. I’m into Rock ‘n’ Roll and love the likes of Grateful Dead, Springsteen, The Beatles, and REM.  My wife and I also like going out to dinner and exploring the many fine restaurants we have here in Cleveland.  We recently redid our kitchen, so now I have ample space to cook for family and friends. We love having people over and I find cooking really relaxing. I like to try out all different kinds of cuisines.  The thing about cooking is that you see the results pretty fast. You can have a good plate of food on the table in no time at all and I find that satisfying.

And I’ve been going on camping trips, in the woods, with the same group of college friends for the last 25 years.   We’re a close-knit group of around 15-20 friends and it’s interesting to see how our camping experience has evolved over the years.  Way back, we started with a few cans of food and some drinks.  Now, as two of my friends are chefs, we eat and drink like kings – despite the primitive conditions! It’s all great fun.

Do you like to travel and what’s the most interesting place you’ve ever visited?

It had been a long time goal to visit Northern California and Sally and I spent nine nights out there last fall. San Francisco, Monterey, Carmel by the Sea, Napa Valley and Sausalito are amazing places. I really loved seeing the Redwood trees in Muir Woods. The sheer size and scope of these natural wonders not only takes your breath away but leaves you humbled with a smile.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

From my Dad, of course. Life is rarely black and white. It is filled mostly with shades of grey. You better learn how to navigate and be comfortable navigating within the shades of grey, or you’re going to be awfully disappointed for most of your life. The other important lesson comes from reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. From this, I learned that the meaning of life is to put meaning into your life.

Where do you like to grab a bite to eat in Cleveland?

For lunch, there are great places near the office on W.25th, including CROP, BonBon, and Nate’s Deli.  Sally and I like going out to dinner in the Tremont, E.4th, and Gordon Square neighborhoods as well. Our particular favorites are Luxe and Parallax.

What was your childhood ambition?

I grew up in Upstate New York.  As a little basketball player, I wanted to be the next Walt Frazier, wear number 10 and be the point guard for the NY Knicks.  There was no one cooler at that time than Clyde.

Any little-known fact about you?

I can’t survive without coffee!  I’m like a seething, snarling, insatiable Tasmanian devil without it.  Just ask Deedee, my assistant!

But to finish on a more positive note, I don’t think too many people know that I will be participating in the 5k Warrior Dash Obstacle Course this August. It’s a fantastic fundraising opportunity for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and I’m really looking forward to being a St. Jude Warrior!

Thanks Ken for sharing with us.

Kenneth Vinikoff is a registered representative of and offers securities, investment advisory and financial planning services through MML Investors Services, LLC Member SIPC. 2012 W. 25th Street, Suite 900, Cleveland OH 44113. 216-621-5680.