Why Legacy?

Get To Know The Board Members (And Stories) Behind America’s Stadium

Name: Peter Zarifes

Title: Managing Director and Director of Wealth Management at Whittier Trust

Written by: Courtney Cho

If there’s one word that can describe what Peter Zarifes is about, it’s togetherness.

As Managing Director and Director of Wealth Management at Whittier Trust, an investment and wealth management firm headquartered in South Pasadena, bringing people together is what Zarifes does for a living.

“I really enjoy working with families and helping them plan their financial futures. Developing trust within perpetual generations and traveling around the Western United States managing assets for them is very rewarding,” he says. “By adding value to families’ wealth planning, we can hopefully enhance their collective life experiences and relationships as well.”

Zarifes’ ability to consolidate things for the better extends beyond his current career.

After graduating from Claremont-McKenna College with a degree in economics, he knew he wanted to learn the language of business. Zarifes explored his interest, spending a few years accounting at PriceWaterhouse before entering the field of business valuation. Following a couple of years doing that, he decided to attend Harvard Business School for his MBA.

After receiving his Master’s in Finance, Zarifes — a native Southern Californian — returned to the West Coast where he started the meticulous work of valuing privately-held companies.

“It’s a highly analytical field,” he says of the work he was doing. “You’re meeting with privately-held business owners and putting together valuation reports — things that are time-intensive and incredibly quantitative.”

Despite enjoying the rigorous and systematic aspect of his work, after nine years, Zarifes began getting restless. He wanted more variety in his daily life, more balance.

“After a while, I wanted to look for something different to do,” he explains. “Something that could bring out the people side of strengths that I have in addition to the analytical side.”

So, in 1999, he entered the wealth management field, a choice that he felt maximized both his career potential and personal fulfillment.

“I wanted to marry my two main interests, not have an either/or situation,” Zarifes says of his career change. “You know, somehow combine the financial, numbers-driven left side of my brain with the more creative, interactive, people-driven right side. I knew if I could achieve that, I would love it.”

The marriage worked.

“As it turned out, the wealth management business had all the perfect components for me personally,” he says. He’s been in it ever since.

Even today, as Whittier Trust’s Managing Director and Director of Wealth Management, Zarifes hasn’t lost his love for connecting everything to a greater context. Though the company manages wealth for about 350 families, Zarifes says its relationship with the people of Pasadena goes deeper than any number.

“Yes, we’re a wealth management firm headquartered here in Pasadena,” he says. “But really, we’re also a part of this community, having been woven into its fabric for over seventy-five years.”

When it comes to Pasadena and bringing people together, there’s nothing that quite comes to mind like the Rose Bowl.

Zarifes, a Rose Bowl Legacy Foundation board member, couldn’t agree more.

“The Rose Bowl really is an indescribable place,” he says. “I first went to the stadium with my dad and brother on January 1, 1972, when Stanford played Michigan in the Rose Bowl Game. From beginning to end, the experience was unforgettable. Ever since that day, the meaningfulness of the Rose Bowl was implanted in me — permanently and indelibly.”

So much so that for the past 20 years, Zarifes has made attending the Rose Bowl Game an annual event.

“I’ve always viewed the Rose Bowl as the most special stadium in the country,” he says fondly. “It’s just an incredibly unique place, you know? You could argue that for one day a year, Pasadena is the most important city in the world. Having lived in this area for over 20 years, I view the Rose Bowl Game as a source of bonding — everyone here congregates for that special day. It’s something I feel a tremendous amount of pride in. The day of the game brings together community and the stadium and football all in one. And perhaps most of all, it serves as a reminder to give back to those around me.”

And give back he does, dedicating much of his time to different causes he believes in.

“I love serving on philanthropic boards,” he says. “I think it’s important that everyone try and do their part — no matter how small — to better the world.”

Another way Zarifes gives back is by throwing a 300-person tailgate every year before the big game.

“The idea grew from a small seed and germinated into a large bush,” he says of how the tradition got started. “The inspiration really emanated from two things: my love for football, and my passion for cooking and entertaining people.”

“The tailgate started out small,” he adds. “But when you’re doing things with love, people really feel that and enjoy it and want to be a part of it.”

The food can’t hurt, either: Zarifes always makes sure to prepare his “top-secret” ribeye recipe — and it’s always a hit.

“There’s a bunch of other food there, too, like steaks, chips, things like that… But it’s really the ribeye that I like to think people come for,” he laughs.

“Well,” he pauses for a moment, a small smile spreading across his face. “And the good times. But, hey, that’s kind of a given. It’s the Rose Bowl, isn’t it?”