Van Halen’s M&Ms and Ginsler Wealth’s Pencils

Let me tell you about the pencils we use at Ginsler Wealth. If that opening sentence doesn’t instantly grab you, then for some important context, let me first tell you about Van Halen’s M&Ms.

You may know that when rock stars roll into town, their contracts with the venues are long and often include a contract “rider” with specific details the band requires (or demands). In the case of Van Halen, buried deep in their lengthy contract rider included the demand for a bowl of M&M’s with “ABSOLUTEY NO BROWN ONES”. Clearly absolutely ridiculous, right?

Well…not exactly. According to David Lee Roth, the band’s original and then on-again/off-again frontman: “Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets [think, older arenas like Maple Leaf Gardens]. We’d pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors — whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through.”

At first glance, it seemed like Van Halen’s request was just another instance of rock stars being difficult or demanding. However, their M&M rule was their “canary in the coal mine”; it helped them identify the partners they could trust, who had demonstrated great attention to detail. Because if they hadn’t, it could literally mean a life and death safety issue for the band or its fans. This litmus test ensured they could protect the band, the crew, and their fans, and enabled them to put on a spectacular show each evening.

So maybe their request wasn’t so ridiculous after all.

At Ginsler Wealth, we are also sticklers for attention to detail. We look after people’s money…we better be! So let me tell you about our pencils. We use Blackwing Matte pencils with a special-order yellow eraser in place of the standard-issue black (which we hand-swap ourselves). We sharpen it with a two-step long point sharpener (for the perfect point), and protect such point with a matching black point guard.


UPDATE JANUARY 9, 2024: See this video from the Wall Street Journal on the Blackwing story.


Why do we use these and why does it matter? When we help our clients, we have a key phrase we keep in the back of our minds: “best in the world”. If our clients need strategic tax planning, we seek out professionals who, in our opinion, are “best in the world”; when we build investment portfolios for clients, we seek to find external managers who, in our view, are “best in the world” at their specific investment mandate. And then we customize a plan or portfolio for each client.

So, similar to our research into any financial or investment detail for our clients, for our use, we searched for pencils rated “best in the world”…and found Blackwing: a pencil whose roots go back to the 1930’s and which uses Genuine Incense-Cedar and premium Japanese graphite. Then, we customized the pencil to match Ginsler Wealth’s black and yellow branding. And then we take care of our tools. Most of our clients won’t see this. Much like most will never open the backs of their Apple computers to see what Steve Jobs demanded: “Jobs had always insisted that the rows of chips on the circuit boards look neat, even though they would never be seen.”

Van Halen took what appeared to be extreme steps to ensure their customers got a safe, “best in the world” experience. Similarly, if Ginsler Wealth puts all this effort into our pencils, imagine the effort we exert to create a “best in the world” experience for our clients.

Postscript: Blackwing just released a limited edition set of Bruce Lee-inspired pencils with a black and yellow design motif, complete with yellow eraser. We’ll be using these for a while!

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