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Sandager combines passion for music, community service


Whenever Jim Sandager visits his parents at the Central Minnesota farm where he grew up, he sees the nursing home his father chaired as a volunteer for 20 years.

“What’s neat for me is when I go back … I see the lives it’s impacted and that it’s changed the face and the fabric of the community in a very positive way,” he said.

That spirit of community service has remained with Sandager. As president of the board of the Des Moines Symphony Association, he’s now leading a $10 million fund-raising effort. And, as co-owner of Syverson, Strege, Sandager & Co., a West Des Moines financial planning firm, he helps wealthy clients plan their own charitable strategies.

Sandager has worked behind the scenes for several years with some West Des Moines citizens’ committees. Now, he’s running for a seat on the West Des Moines City Council.

The symphony was one of the first things Sandager got involved with after moving to Central Iowa 10 years ago. He developed his love for classical music through his wife, Louisa, who majored in piano in college.

“The symphony was a great place for me to bring together my passion for classical music, as well as my passion for involvement,” he said.

After helping raise funds for several years for the symphony, Sandager was asked to be on the board.

“It’s easy if you really care about an organization and are passionate about it to ask people to get involved with it, both with their time and financial resources,” he said. “I do that myself, so it’s easy to get others to do it.”

The symphony is enjoying unprecedented success. Season ticket sales this year have reached $402,000, and single ticket sales targets have already been excceded by more than $4,000.

Additionally, the Des Moines Symphony Foundation has raised about $4 million in pledges and commitments toward a $10 million goal for a symphony endowment fund.

At the same time, enrollment in the new Des Moines Symphony Academy has already reached 100 students.

“Success breeds success, and we’re seeing that now,” Sandager said. “We’re now coming into a golden era with the symphony. It’s engaging greater numbers of people in ever-increasing ways.”

As the largest performing arts organization in the state, the Des Moines Symphony “serves as a bellwether, I believe, for the rest of the arts in Iowa,” he said. “It’s really important, that leadership role.”

Sandager moved to West Des Moines about 10 years ago to work for Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. Starting out as a commodity trader, he later moved up to corporate management. But the allure of becoming a small business owner was too great to pass up, he said.

“My dad as a farmer was really first a small business owner,” he said. “I always admired and respected business owners and knew that it was a place for me in my future.”

He partnered with Johnne Syverson and David Strege, whom he worked with at the Bryton Cos. before they bought out its largest division. The independently owned firm serves as a “wealth coach” to clients in 20 states with at least $500,000 in investable assets. It makes its money solely from the fees it charges for its advisory services and does not sell any financial products.

“It’s very gratifying to work with people that have been able to impact our community,” he said. “We work with people who have complex financial situations.”

By keeping a conservative approach, the firm has maintained a 99 percent client retention rate despite difficult market conditions the past few years. It has also grown to 13 employees.

The firm’s newest venture is business development, offering two educational programs. One program, Financial Education for Executives, is a six-hour workshop on financial planning for corporations to provide to their top executives. Another program, Planning for Effective Philanthropy, has been picked up by 12 charitable organizations so far.

“We have a chance to affect the community by doing that, and that’s very rewarding,” Sandager said. “It kind of ties together our keen interest in community service along with education, which is the core of our firm.”

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