He’s a bicycling enthusiast whose life seems to be in constant motion. But Michael Berger is doing a lot more than just spinning wheels.
A Financial Adviser at Morgan Stanley for almost 35 years, his aerodynamic lifestyle has brought him successfully through professional buyouts (E.F. Hutton-turned-Smith Barney-turned Morgan Stanley), stock market corrections (recession), and office moves (from Santa Clarita to Glendale, and back to Santa Clarita).
He recently transferred to the Morgan Stanley office in Valencia, but long before the change of address on his business cards, Michael Berger had a reputation in Santa Clarita for decades of community service. Originally from Woodland Hills, he moved to the SCV in 1985, where his parents lived. His mother was an active member of Zonta, and his father was involved in the Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce.
The young Mr. Berger found a good fit with the Chamber of Commerce; to begin with, he served drinks at Chamber mixers (it was a good place to meet everyone). From there, the classic extrovert went on to become a part of several local service organizations.
Berger finds a strong community atmosphere in Santa Clarita, predictably raving about the prevalence of bike trails. Although he and his wife, Melina, have never had children, Berger likes seeing the SCV’s soccer fields, schools and parks packed with families.
“It’s the camaraderie of being a part of the community,” says Berger. “From the basics, as when a new family moves to town, the involvement in the schools … sports, and what the city offers – parks, paseos, bike paths – it just builds that camaraderie. When people live up here they’re proud to say they live up here.”
As a member of the Santa Clarita Planning Commission, Berger saw firsthand the openness Santa Clarita community leaders have for views of all kinds, even those that oppose their decisions. One example, he says, occurred during the process of planning the Bridgeport development, when environmentalists had concerns about an owl in a tree targeted for destruction.
According to Berger, a woman told them she found some owl droppings under the tree.
“In the back of my mind I thought, ‘Who cares?’” says Berger. “But the city took it seriously. We spent, I think, $35,000 to look into how long they’ve been here and ask, ‘Will it affect them?’”
It changed Berger’s perspective.
“All of a sudden, I had tremendous respect for people who wanted the best for community, but wanted to be sure the environment wasn’t ruined,” he says. “It’s not easy to be a community activist.”
It is Michael Berger’s upbeat, solid support for people on all sides of an issue that inspired the community to reward him with such accolades as “Man of the Year” in 2006.
“It encompassed everything I had done for the first 20-25 years since I moved up here,” he says. “And it’s selected by past recipients; the only people who vote are people who’ve been Man and Woman of the Year.”
Berger describes the award as “prestigious,” admitting that to be a member of the group of former recipients is intimidating.
“I went to the first meeting and I’m sitting with 34 other “Man and Woman of the Year” recipients,” he says. “You’re talking ‘A’ personalities. When they ask for ideas … everyone has an idea. When they vote or elect somebody, they’re looking for a doer – not just someone who writes checks.”
When Michael Berger commits to a path, he pedals as fast and hard as he can. He is a past president of Rotary Club of SCV and the Santa Clarita Chamber of Commerce, in addition to decades of active involvement on the board of the College of the Canyons Foundation. Berger was elected to the COC Board of Trustees seven years ago.
“It’s extremely rewarding – very time consuming – but rewarding,” Berger says. “The students that you see, the work that’s performed behind the scenes … when you get cards and letters from students with an alcoholic mother, father in jail, who say, ‘I had nothing, but my friends were going to community college after high school, so I did, and I met a professor or a counselor who made a difference.’ And they say, ‘I want you to know I’m 25 years old and I’m now the CEO of my own company.’ You sometimes get tears in your eyes.”
The board is currently working with people who are first generation college students, as well as students overcoming various forms of adversity.
“And to see them come through our college and get full rides at a university and get accepted to those schools after what they’ve gone through,” he says.
When Berger talks about COC, he is somewhere between a marketing exec and a cheerleader.
“It’s the second fastest growing community college in the country,” Berger gushes. “And you have a chancellor who, in my opinion, might be the most influential person in the state of California. When you see what she does, when you go to the State Chancellor’s Office and you realize they have asked her three or four times if she’ll quit COC and come up and run the entire 113 schools in the state. I’m not exaggerating … working with a person like that is so rewarding.”
Michael Berger was already socially connected in Santa Clarita before he met Melina, his wife of 28 years, who is not an extrovert like her husband.
“She’s kind of shy,” he says about Melina. “She has other interests. She’s not a phony person, whatsoever. A lot of times she might just be tired of kibbitzing and would like to stay home and relax.”
To coax Berger into talking about his strong points is like hitting the brakes on his bike. He freezes a little and starts to teeter, because it feels self-promoting. But finally, Berger admits to qualities such as being honest, ethical, considerate and compassionate.
“I won’t say something if it’s going to hurt somebody in some way,” he explains. “I’d rather be a motivator.”
Being a good listener and a good leader are high on Berger’s list, and he admires men and women who are humble. So, it is up to residents of Santa Clarita to continue pointing out what Berger is doing right, a task the man seems to make pretty easy.
Where the path takes Michael Berger, no one can say. But as long as the tubes in his tires hold up, he is unlikely to change gears anytime soon.
Michael Berger is a Financial Advisor with the Global Wealth Management Division of Morgan Stanley in Valencia, CA. The information contained in this article is not a solicitation to purchase or sell investments. Any information presented is general in nature and not intended to provide individually tailored investment advice. The strategies and/or investments referenced may not be suitable for all investors, as the appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor’s individual circumstances and objectives. Investing involves risks and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC, Member SIPC, or its affiliates.