Petersen Hastings shifts to a new generation of leadership

Jeff Petersen

Jeff Petersen retires on March 31 after more than 20 years as CEO of Petersen Hastings, the Tri-Cities wealth management firm established by his late father, Jim Petersen, in 1962.

Scott Sarber a longtime member of the team and partner, steps up to the role of president and CEO.

While Petersen said he intends to travel with his wife and continue his work on everything from cancer awareness to promoting bicycling, he has his next gig lined up: Tennis instructor at CBRC Heath &  Wellness in Richland.

It is a full circle for Petersen, who was the club’s first-ever head tennis pro in the mid-1980s.

He joined what was then Benefits Northwest on Dec. 1, 1986, just one month after he had accompanied his father on a client call to Yakima.

“The client kept saying over and over how my dad had helped them,” he said. “When you see somebody light up in gratitude for something that your father has been doing, it is contagious.”

He brought a finance degree from Central Washington University and most of an accounting degree when he joined the firm as its sixth employee, a number that included his father and his father’s partner, Roger Hastings.

He learned the ropes while attending night school, a harried experience that left him with an appreciation for others who hustle to get ahead.

His initial expectations were modest: Learn the job, bring home a paycheck to support his family and new mortgage, avoid making mistakes.

“Not getting fired,” was a top goal. Taking over when his father retired wasn’t part of the plan or even something he could imagine in the early days, when the company was housed at the “flashcube” building at West Clearwater Avenue and Columbia Center Boulevard.

His bosses were swamped while young Petersen felt uncomfortably idle. He craved more duties.

“They were meeting with clients all the time, talking to clients all the time. A lot of activity in the office was to support the clients. You want to get into the mix but there’s a learning curve,” he recalled, joking that work soon flowed his way.

“Be careful what you wish for!”

Jim Petersen and Roger Hastings formed a partnership in the 1970s following a chance encounter on a tennis court at Columbia Basin College. Jim administered retirement plans and found himself being held accountable for investments he didn’t control. He wanted to take on the investment side and found a partner in Hastings, who worked in brokerage.

Together, they launched an investment business that would eventually overtake Benefits Northwest and lead to the 1998 rebrand to Petersen Hastings and the move to its current Quinault Place quarters.

Jeff likes to say the company’s success rests in its secret sauce, Carol Harris, his father’s assistant since 1962.

Hers was the first voice clients heard. Her interest in their lives and personal touch kept them coming back. She retired after 50 years and remains among its biggest cheerleaders.

The friendly, caring approach remains baked into its business model, Petersen said.

The firm serves clients across the Northwest, with many concentrated in Eastern Washington. Its job is simple, he said. Earn people’s trust by doing the right thing and avoiding mistakes. And no client is too big or small to overlook.

“Whatever your net assets, your needs are complex because tax law changes, life changes, investment products change,” he said.

Jeff said the two years since the Covid-19 pandemic began have been a blur of Zoom meetings with clients asking if they have enough money to retire, or as he puts it, wondering if they can afford to stop doing what they’re not enjoying doing.

“We’ve retired a lot of people,” he said.

His own choice to retire is less about Petersen and more about Sarber and the crew he’s developed over the years.

“A CEO’s job isn’t to determine when they want to retire. It’s to determine when the next in line is ready. In this case, I was very fortunate. I wanted to let the team take over,” Jeff said.

Stepping out created an opportunity for his team members to advance. It allowed the firm to keep talented workers who might have been tempted to leave for other opportunities.

Scott Sarber

Sarber joined the firm in the mid-1990s, coming from another Eastern Washington brokerage he’d joined fresh out of college.

He had been shaken by an experience with a manager who, after learning his wife had booked an expensive vacation, made a few swift calls to clients and covered the cost by selling stocks on commissions.

It was not an approach he enjoyed. He met Jeff through his father-in-law, who was a client. He soon found himself joining a firm that charges clients a flat fee rather than commissions.

Jeff remembers being impressed by the newcomer, calling Sarber one of five or fewer people he instantly knew he needed to hire even if there wasn’t a position open.

Sarber began as an account representative and remembered the mentor relationship that gave him his start in the firm.

“Jeff didn’t hand me a phone book and say, ‘Make calls.’ He led me to clients. He got me networked in,” he said.

As Jeff steps back into “ambassador” mode, he leaves a firm with seven partner/owners, 22 full-time employees, one part-timer, locations in the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla and a little more than $1 billion under management.

His son, Matthew Petersen, represents the next generation of the family, serving as senior wealth advisor and chief compliance officer.

Sarber praised his former boss’s record of managing through stock market tumult, tax reform and a partnership that extended its reach.

“We’re constantly growing. Part of that legacy of Jim and then Jeff Petersen is deep client relationships,” he said. “People stay with us. Our retention ration is 99% plus.”

In 2021, the firm added a digital platform to extend its reach to digital-savvy investors who are just beginning to accumulate assets. GrowWealth Digital Strategies is separate from Petersen Hastings and offers access to traditional investment tools with professional management for a small fee.

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