Chief Financial Officer: Jeff Poe

Chief Financial Officer, Mariner Wealth Advisors

Jeff Poe learned about the value of business networking at a venue that has almost completely vanished from the American landscape: The drug-store soda fountain. This one was set in his hometown of Kirksville, Mo., and the pharmacy—his father’s—was also his first employer, where the 14-year-old Poe knocked down the regal sum of $3.35 an hour for janitorial services.

That soda-fountain counter was a popular gathering spot for local business figures. “They knew who my family was, they knew who I was, and in a very good way, someone was always watching,” he says. “They were leaders of my Boy Scout troop, went to the same church. They helped teach me about responsibility and the value of being committed to something long-term.”

That commitment would eventually take form as a finance expert who now serves as chief financial officer for Mariner Wealth Advisors, the fast-growing Overland Park firm with over $100 billion of assets under advisement, and counting.

The long path to Mariner started in college at Northeast Missouri State, now Truman State University. Influential science teachers in high school had inspired him to study biology for two years, but before his junior year, he took a summer job with an asbestos-removal company. “I was intrigued by the business aspects of this—how was it that I was getting paid, how they were getting paid, how they were getting contracts,” Poe says.

The first semester of his junior year, he threw himself into finance-track classes. “I was intrigued by the time value of money, supply and demand, marginal utility,” he says, “and there was a path for me to finish on time, even though I started late.”

He followed that degree up with a Master of Accountancy, took a role with Ernst & Young before settling with a German-owned ceramic tableware company called Waechtersbach as controller. It didn’t take long for him to move further up the executive ranks and become president.

“The small company nature of Waechtersbach provided a lot of opportunities for me, and I was exposed to everything,” Poe says. “I think I always felt I wanted to be in the room where decisions were made, but there was never a plan for higher levels, and there still isn’t.”

Through a friend from southeast Kansas, Poe eventually encountered fast-food magnate Gene Bicknell, who had founded National Pizza Co., the nation’s largest Pizza Hut franchisee, in Pittsburg. At the time, Bicknell also owned Pitt Plastics, Inc., and he brought Poe on board there as president in 2005.

The move represented exponential growth in responsibilities over Waechtersbach—“everything came with zero behind it; people was an extra zero, revenue was an extra zero,” he says—but Bicknell was “easy to fall in love with and hard to say no to. As it turned out, going to Pittsburg was like going back to Kirksville,” also a university town.

In corporate finance, size does matter, and at Pitt Plastics, “I couldn’t manage any longer by knowing everyone; it became more about setting strategic direction, monitoring KPIs and trusting the great people that we employed. I was always struggling to get to know as many people as possible,” Poe says.

After Bicknell sold Pitt Plastics, Poe was able to act on a long-held desire to teach, landing on the faculty at Pittsburg State for several years. But he remained in the Bicknell family orbit, so when Bicknell’s son, Marty, was shopping for financial acumen for his growing wealth-advisory firm, Poe signed up in 2017. 

He’s helping a national advisory execute a vigorous acquisition strategy—nearly 10 firms alone in 2022. Poe’s role is to help raise capital for those transactions, so he’s been … busy.

“I’ve always been impressed that Marty wants us to hire the best people we can attract,” Poe says. “We have great people throughout the firm, including the accounting and finance teams. It’s our associates that make it possible for us to continue to grow and provide great service to our clients and I just keep learning from them.”

Through the opportunities he’s had over his career, “I’ve always had the realization that somebody else got things to the point that I got to come in,” Poe says. “My goal is always to leave things better than I found them. In the second half my career, my greatest joy has been watching others develop, and I hope to have some influence on that development.”