How Adam Birenbaum went from intern to CEO


Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

I have always been fascinated by how people get to where they are in life, professionally. Year’s ago, I turned this idea into a series of television stories called “First Jobs” and remember interviewing a CEO of a local health food business, and learned that his first job was working at a haberdashery in Independence, Missouri and that President Harry S. Truman was a customer, and would only buy his belts from him. 

Today, we begin a new series of stories called Career Journeys, and I hope you, dear reader, will help make suggestions to us of other stories from the St. Louis Jewish community we can tell. If you have a story to tell, or know of someone who does, drop me an email at [email protected].

If Adam Birenbaum had his way, he’d bottle the 10 minutes he has each morning in the car with his kids. Like many of us, his morning is a chaotic rush of moving and grooving to get kids up, out, and off to school.  But then, there are those 10 minutes.

“I get those magical 10 minutes with three kids where they say the funniest and most interesting things. It never gets old and it makes me want to freeze time,” said Birenbaum, dad, husband, son, member of Shaare Emeth, former intern, and now CEO of Buckingham Wealth Partners.


The Journey

Sometimes when you read stories about financial leaders, CEO’s or other big business bosses, you get the impression these women and men were born for that job. But not every leader in the wealth management industry starts off with a background in the financial space.

Like many a kid growing up in St. Louis, Adam Birenbaum loved sports and yearned to play for the St. Louis Cardinals. Sadly, that didn’t work out. So, after graduating from John Burroughs in 1996 and attending Vanderbilt, he found himself in the energy industry.  But, that field just did not fit.

“When I realized that was likely not my path, being the next Jerry Maguire was next,” said Birenbaum.

With the goal of becoming a master dealmaker for sports icons, Birenbaum returned to St. Louis to attend St. Louis University Law School, and worked as an unpaid summer intern at Buckingham each year until graduation.

The Power Of The Internship

“I’m a huge believer that internships and other apprentice-like opportunities are invaluable learning experiences,” said Birenbaum.”I encourage any young person – actually, we should all desire to continue to have such experiences – look for environments that offer those opportunities, places that really work hard at building your skill competencies as well as your professional and personal behaviors.”

The key to any good internship is getting one where the people there want to groom and teach.

“Bert Schweizer III and Mont Levy provided me my first internship opportunity,” remembers Birenbaum. “Without that beginning, without their true care, support, coaching, development and mentorship (and from a lot of other great founding generation leaders there) there is simply no way things would have played out as they have.”

How Things Play Out

From intern to compliance manager, chief compliance officer, and eventually general counsel, Birenbaum was in that unique position of learning how the business worked and how the decisions were made, which is why he calls himself an accidental entrepreneur.

“When I speak about being an accidental entrepreneur, I mean very directly that I didn’t ‘start’ or ‘originate’ Buckingham or the idea of what Buckingham could be. I had no part, no role. Those that have that specific entrepreneurial gene are a rare and special breed. They are the true entrepreneurs, in my view. I was instead blessed to find myself with the opportunity to take over leadership of an already established, successful, values-infused firm. That’s the accidental entrepreneur circumstance I discovered.”

As CEO, Birenbaum says the most gratifying thing about his job is having a positive impact on the lives of the firm’s clients and his team, which means looking for ways to pay it all forward.

“I make time each day to connect and have a sit-down and touch base with someone in our organization I don’t have regular occasion to interact with,” Birenbaum said. “It keeps me connected, it allows me to actively listen, it provides me the opportunity to now coach and mentor like was done for me. I love having things come full circle.”