Opportunity after opportunity, William Manchester, BBA ’01, has reinvented himself.
Landscaper. Gardener. Chauffeur. Investor. Entrepreneur. Executive. Each step taken with ambition, purpose and a bit of good fortune.
Now the vice president at Firstrust Financial Resources, in alliance with Equitable Advisors, and founder of The Manchester Group, the Fox School of Business alumnus smiles as he looks back on his journey to this point.
“It’s kind of a crazy story,” Manchester says of the career path that has had more turns and lead changes than the Daytona 500.
Manchester is quick to share how he was guided to the Fox School by the late Drew Lewis, a highly successful business executive who once served as U.S. Secretary of Transportation under President Ronald Reagan.
Lewis initially hired Manchester, then a young landscaper working with his brother’s business, to tend the gardens at the Lewis family’s Montgomery County home. What followed, Manchester says, was an opportunity that would completely change his life.
“One day I was there working and (Lewis’) limo didn't show up to take him to a board meeting,” Manchester recalls. “I said I could drive him, but he said not to worry about it.”
Two hours later, Manchester got a call asking him to drive Lewis to New York the following morning.
“That’s how things began,” Manchester recalls. The gardener-turned-chauffer would listen as Lewis conducted business from the car. Conversations between the businessman and his new protégé would follow.
The pair talked about Manchester’s future and where he saw himself next. There was talk of opening a flower shop, but his interest in finance grew as the odometer tallied the miles. Eventually, Manchester says, Lewis encouraged him to get a business degree.
“So, at about 28 years old, I enrolled in the Fox School,” he says. “I took six or seven classes a semester, went during the summer and I finished in about three years.
“(Lewis) was one of my first clients coming out of college and, well, as they say, the rest is history.”
Manchester says his passion for the world of finance developed over time at the Fox School.
When Manchester first enrolled, the plan was to get through his program with decent grades and a degree. He admits that he wasn’t a top performer in high school, putting limited interest in going beyond what was required, graduating and getting started at a job.
“I thought about how, in high school, I never would have loved things like economics—and yet here I was at Fox really enjoying this,” he says. “Something in my brain switched and made me feel like, ‘Wow, this is so interesting.’”
As his professors and courses continued to deepen his interest, he saw how he could combine his work ethic and a business education to create a whole new opportunity.
“The Fox School taught me that,” he says.
The Abington, Pa., resident has worked at financial organizations including Citigroup and Janney Montgomery Scott. He built out his client book and brought in other like-minded business professionals to form The Manchester Group. In 2021, he joined Firstrust Financial Resources, in alliance with Equitable Advisors, bringing his team into the organization with a focus on retirement planning opportunities for clients.
He believes that every opportunity he has had really helps him understand his clients and their business needs.
“I’ve run my own businesses and while I knew what I was doing with the work, I didn’t know the business part of it,” he says. “So now I sit with a lot of small companies. They are great at making their product, but then they might drop the ball on the business side.”
That’s where he and his team can really make a positive impact for his clients, he says.
“A good entrepreneur knows their business and knows what they are capable of doing,” he says. “They also know when to reach out for help, that’s really important.”
Making connections through networking builds bonds, something that is extremely important when a client is looking ahead to retirement.
“You have to get in front of people as much as possible,” he says. “Then once they get to know you, the trust is built and that’s the biggest thing when you are talking about retirement planning.”
Building trust can also be important early in your career even when you aren’t sure where you are headed. Manchester and Lewis are a great example.
“I sometimes say that what I want to be able to do is to find a young person and give back to them what Drew gave to me,” he says. “I think he changed my life completely.”