On the first Tuesday of every month, we’ll announce a new Female Founder, including a video interview of them sharing their business story.
Want to be featured as a Female Founder? Contact Heather Hutchings for more details.
The Female Founders Program would not be possible without our Title Sponsor, Scotiabank.
To learn a little bit more about the Scotiabank Women Initiative, and why they’ve chosen to sponsor this program, see the video below.
The fifth Female Founder we’re featuring is Irene Vassalo, Principal of Vassalo & Associates Private Wealth Management.
The team at Vassalo & Associates Private Wealth Management is committed to providing you with superior wealth management by creating tailored strategies to fulfill every aspect of your short-and long-term financial needs. This includes becoming your partner in education, which will provide you with clarity and confidence in every decision you make.
Irene has been working in the financial services industry for over 27 years. She works with affluent Canadians providing a personalized, multi-generational approach to help build, protect, and transition wealth. Real financial advice is about clarity and confidence so that you and those you love continue to thrive.
Irene graduated from the University of Waterloo (BA, Social Developmental Studies) and holds the CFP professional designation (Certified Financial Planner), EPC (Elder Planner Counselor), and RRC (Registered Retirement Counselor) designations. Irene has appeared numerous times in the media, including print magazines, radio programs, and television special news reports.
She has been highly involved in her community through various organizations including St. Mary’s High School, She Shares, Alzheimer’s, Waterloo Food Bank and Chalice.
Irene’s awards include: IG Private Wealth Management President’s Club (2008, 2009, 2011-2018); President’s Elite 2010. (Irene was among the top 2-3% within IG during those years.); NEW Foundations of Wealth Management Program, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (2018) and President’s Program Executive Series – McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University (2019).
Her proudest accomplishment is being married to her husband Brian and mother to her beautiful children Isabella and Zachary.
To learn more about Irene and her journey as a Female Founder, watch the interview below (or read the written format).
Tell us a little bit about your business.
We are true holistic financial planners. We help improve the lives of our clients by helping them achieve new heights of financial success. So, they have the freedom to decide how they want to live, both now and in their retirement. We do that through an intimate understanding of their current financial situation, their goals, their aspirations, and their top three priorities – what keeps you up at night, what are you really excited about? And from there we build them a comprehensive, personalized roadmap to where they want to go.
Where did your business idea come from?
It was a complete leap of faith. I graduated from the University of Waterloo. My major was social developmental studies, and I was actually working at the bank at the time. When I graduated, it was the peak of the recession. There were no jobs in social work. However, all my family and friends said, “Hey Irene, you got a great job. You know, just continue what you’re doing”. So, I continued building my way up at the bank. And then at one point, I thought, “I can’t do this. I can’t sit behind a counter. I can’t sit behind a computer. There’s a huge world out there and I’ve gotta go find it”. My husband now, who was my boyfriend at the time, found an ad in the paper talking about financial consulting with IG Wealth Management. And he is like, “Irene, it’s got all the same qualities that you have, you should really check this out”. So, I did. And that was 28 years ago. And here I am.
What have been some highlights in your entrepreneurial journey?
One of the biggest highlights for me is just learning about yourself, learning about your unique ability. Everybody has a unique ability. You’ve got to find that, you’ve got to recognize it, And you’ve got to just continue to build it, express it. I think as women, we tend to not shout our stories. We tend to do to be very quietly strong, when I think we have a great story to tell, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it. We should be out there talking about what we can offer because we do have so much to offer.
Starting so young in the business – I was only 24 years old, fresh out of university, and just wanted to do the best that I could and help people. That was the objective that I was after. And so, at that time, and especially being in an industry that is traditionally male-dominated, here comes this young female trying to save the world. There were a lot of obstacles, as you can imagine. I started taking a lot of courses, a lot of sales training, and a lot of education to figure out: Who am I? Where am I going to go? Why am I here? What do I have to offer? And I remember going to one session – I forget the lady’s name. I can still picture her in my mind. She was young and so energetic and enthusiastic. Her group was called the Magellan Group. I do remember that – And she did come out and say, “You know what, you gotta use your attributes. So, you don’t have the experience, you don’t have the wisdom or the gray hair yet, but you’ve got your energy, you’ve got your enthusiasm, you’ve got all that ambition. Use that to your advantage”. And I thought, okay, I can do that.
So, having that journey to really understand yourself – what is your priority? What’s important to you? What do you want to offer somebody else? That starts as you grow in your business and as you grow as a person, then you start to be very comfortable in your own skin, confident and able to deliver to and serve others. That’s what I think we’re all here to do. I think we’re put on this earth to serve other people. We’re here to help bring the best out in someone else and help that individual succeed. That would be the key one, finding that unique ability and building that.
Another highlight would be building a niche, very respectfully, very elegantly, in a traditionally male-dominated industry. So, that’s pretty cool. We’ve been in the top 2% to 3% nationally, our company over the last 14 years. I’m pretty proud of that. I don’t talk a lot about the awards and the accolades because it is really all about the people, the relationships that you build with people. It’s about touching people’s lives. It’s about making people feel that they’re okay, providing them that confidence that they are going to be okay: helping them educate their children, purchase that first home, you know, helping them ease them into retirement. You see all the great stuff, but it’s a full circle of life. You see the other side of things where people get sick, people die. We help people prepare for that. We hold their hand in that journey because life happens and we’re there to help you navigate.
The key thing when I think about the awards and the accolades – the pride for me is my daughter. I have a 16-year-old daughter, and I tend to downplay a lot of that stuff. When I come home and I’ll make a comment, but lightly or I’ll brush it under the table. It’ll be my daughter that pipes up and go, “Hey mom, that’s really cool. You know, you should be really proud of yourself, mom. That, that’s pretty fantastic”. So, I would say for me, the highlight would be having my family understand what I do and be proud of me.
And certainly, the privilege that our clients give us to allow us into their homes. I’ve had a lot of clients say to me, “Hey, Irene, you know more about me than my family does”. To be able to watch people. I love people. I love to sit and people-watch. I love to make up stories. I love to watch their actions. I love to hear what they have to say because everybody has a story. And my opinion is that you need to be kind and respectful to each other because you don’t know what that other person’s going through. I feel so honoured and privileged to watch my client’s journey. Starting so young in the business and growing with my clients and watching them get married, have children, try to educate their children, pay off those mortgages, navigate that debt, save for retirement, and protect them in case of premature death, disability or any type of critical illness, long-term care… How do you deal with parents? I’m part of that sandwich generation and there are lots of people like me out there. How do you continue to be a mom, be a successful business owner, take care of your children, and take care of your aging parents as well? It’s a big deal, but it’s so meaningful and it’s so rewarding. And to be able to watch people’s stories, to be able to watch their journey, to be able to tell stories and say, “Hey, you know what, you’re not alone. This is what I’ve seen before”. Having that honour and that privilege to be in people’s homes and watch that journey, to walk with them and help in any way that I can. That’s a huge highlight for me.
What have been some challenges that you or your business have faced?
Oh, there are several. My biggest challenge probably is me. I think we’re our own worst critics. But it is also what made me succeed. I’m incredibly stubborn, and some people will say that’s perseverance instead of being stubborn. I would never fail. I’ve never failed at anything in my life, and there was no way I was going to fail at this. The challenge that goes right along with that would be people telling you that you can’t do it. When you have the ability, the drive, the passion and you know that you can, I guess if I look back on it, I probably had all of that, but I would really describe it as being stubborn and pigheaded. It’s like, “Okay, well if you say I can’t do it, you just watch me go because I’m gonna prove you wrong”. We’re often our own hurdle, so get over that and really have that introspection and understand what your priorities are. Find that unique ability and move on.
The second one for me was being in a male-dominated industry. Like, when I first started. It doesn’t feel that long ago when I walked into the office and I sat down at a table beside all my male counterparts. I was one of three females at that time. And one guy looked at me and said, “Irene, you’re in a male’s world now, so act like a man”. And that was so foreign to me. I was brought up in a European family, my parents are Portuguese, and my dad never treated us like that. I’d never felt that way through any of my part-time jobs through university. I’d never been faced with that kind of attitude before. I knew it existed, but I hadn’t experienced it. So, to have somebody actually say that to me and judge me because I’m a woman and I was different from what they were – that was mind-boggling.
And the year later, I was at a training session, and we were always taught to network, get out there, and talk to people. I walked to a complete stranger’s table with my lunch and I was going to sit there in between training sessions. And the one, I was going to say gentleman, but he was obviously not a gentleman, because he just looked up at me and said, “Sorry, you can’t sit here”. And I thought he was joking. I’m like, “Okay, well why can’t I sit here?” And he’s like, “Because this is a man’s table”. Well, I started to laugh. I laughed and I sat down because I thought the guy was joking. And he is like, “No, I’m serious. You can’t sit here because it’s a man’s table”. And like the rest of the table were all men. They just sat there with their jaws at the table. And I thought, oh, well I didn’t want to sit here anyway. And off I went to find something else to sit. But that kind of attitude… I couldn’t believe the fact that somebody wouldn’t even get to know me, like didn’t know who I was or what I could offer. Like, if I was incredibly annoying, I could understand why you wouldn’t want me to sit at your table, but the fact that I was a woman and I couldn’t sit there because it was a man’s table was a completely foreign concept to me. That was one of the biggest challenges I had to get over. Being young in a business of males, who are typically older, gray hair, that whole thing, whole shebang. But being part of that one session where we talked about the unique ability, the youth, the energy, the enthusiasm – that’s what got me through that.
One big one is noise. We have so much access to information from so many channels, whether it’s media, people, strangers, or unconscious biases. It’s phenomenal. We’re in a world that, in my opinion, is incredible. The amount of opportunity that people have, the ability to be who they want to be and really strive to be the best person they can be. I think that the world today is probably in the best place that we’ve ever been when it comes to that type of opportunity.
However, coming with that and the tremendous amount of information that we have access to, to be able to consciously understand the right information and to sift through all that noise to get to what is truly important and the answer that you’re looking for is a skill. The more that you can do that and help educate people so that they understand what that true answer is… like history’s never a guarantee of what the future’s going to look like, but at least we can get some perspective as to “what is it?”. In my business, it’ll be financial markets. Things are cyclical. Let’s have a look back. Let’s go back right to 1924. I can show you the charts. I can show you when inflation was up and when interest rates were up. How does that affect the markets? How does that affect the economy?
How does it affect you and your plan? I can’t stress this enough, having a plan in place is everything. You need that roadmap because if you don’t know where you are and you don’t know where you want to go, how can you measure that success? And, when you have all this noise that surrounds you constantly, then if you have that roadmap, you can go, oh, well it doesn’t really matter what happens tomorrow because this is where I’m going to be in, in 3, 5, 10 years.
And really, does it really matter if interest rates went up yesterday? Well, yeah, it kind of sucks today, but is it going to be like that for the rest of my life, for the rest of my journey? Probably not. I would encourage people to yes, be conscious, and understand what’s happening, but don’t get sucked in. Make sure that you understand what your opinion is, and what you’re truly looking for. And if you can’t find the answers with all the noise that is happening out there, please seek out the right experts in that particular field to be able to help you provide that perspective as well.
What are some strategies of yours when it comes to building teams and recruiting talent?
The number one piece of advice I would give is to make sure that you hire for where you want to go versus where you are today. There’s going to be a different skill set with the team members that you want. For us, it’s important that everybody is a dynamic fit. We have an incredible team of experts that, most importantly, have each other’s back. We want to build a world, I’m going to call it a utopia. I’m very much in the thought process of just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And just because it’s done like this all the time doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. So, why can’t we build our own utopia? What does that look like? What does that mean?
When my team members wake up in the morning, I want them to be excited to come to work. I want them to go, “Hey, oh cool, I’m going to the office today”, not, “Oh my God, I have to get outta bed”. I don’t want that. I want them to be excited to come to work, and excited to be with each other. Everybody’s got their own roles and responsibilities, but we all roll up our sleeves to get the job done if we need to. They know that we have each other’s backs. Because if we have that type of supportive environment within our team, then it’s just going to be automatic that that’s how we’re going to treat all of our clients.
It’s always about the best interest of the client. Sometimes that means it’s after hours that you need to go pick up a document or perhaps a client needs to drop something off to us and can’t make it in, so we have to go to them. We have to have people that have that mentality, that don’t just come in to check a box. It’s all about, “Okay, I’m here for a purpose”. You want to make sure that they understand your mission statement. You have to have a mission statement. I guess we should start there. Make sure you know what you’re doing, what’s your purpose and what you’re trying to accomplish. We build the mission statement, our vision statement, our definition of our ideal client, our purpose as to why, and what do we want to do for clients. Why are we there? And everybody’s got to buy into that. If they don’t, then I’m going to tell you that it may work for a period of time, but then at some point that either the toxicity is going to start or you’re going to have to get rid of that individual or they’re just going to leave. So, if you want to build a long-term team that truly wants to be there, that truly appreciates the team and really takes care of your clients, then they have to be that dynamic fit.
You want to hire for unique ability. Everybody’s got their unique ability and it’s important to hire different personalities as well because even though you have more diversity within the team, you have different expertise, you have different skill sets, people are going to love to do one thing better than another once they get into that role. They might enjoy a different role instead. Or perhaps there are three things they’re supposed to do, but they really shine in the one. You want to be able to build that. You want to provide the ability for continuous learning and professional development. It’s like just the same thing we ask our clients: What are your top three priorities? What are you excited about? What keeps you up at night? You want to have those same conversations with your team members as well so that you always have that dynamic fit.
Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would do differently?
Oh, yes. There are two major things that I would recommend that people start with right away. If you are starting your own business, understand what it is to be a business owner. That’s number one. Because what would be probably one of my largest challenges is thinking that all I was going to be was a financial advisor and help people achieve their financial goals. And then as you become successful, you need that support team. Oftentimes being a business owner, you’re the CEO, you’re the HR department, you’re everything, and you’re also the business developer and the financial planner at the same time. Things will be much easier with that kind of mindset from day one versus just thinking, “Oh no, I’m just going to be a financial planner and everything else will take care of itself”. It’s going to be a hard road if you do it that way. So, really understand what it means to be a business owner and who you need to surround yourself with to be successful immediately or as soon as possible.
The second thing that I would recommend is to build that center of influence, a network group, as soon as possible. Figure out who that is. In my business it would be lawyers, accountants, and real estate agents… Look at all these different industries that work well with each other. I would certainly seek out people that share similar personalities, similar ages, and similar spots in their careers or in their professional development. And then just help each other grow and build each other’s businesses up. Teach each other how. “Okay, so who’s your ideal client? What are you looking for?” Perhaps provide them with a script and say,” here are some key points or a script that you could use or an email that you could send a client for me. Perhaps I could be in your newsletter. Do you have any type of social media that maybe I could be featured on? As your professional advocate, how can I refer you? What are you looking for?” You know, reciprocity is very important. You can’t be a giver all the time and you can’t be a taker all the time. You need a little bit of both in order for a relationship to work. So certainly, build that center of influence network as quickly and as soon as possible.
What are some methods you’ve use to grow your business?
Certainly, that’s evolved over time. When I first started the business, what I did were trade shows and booths. They nicknamed me the Booth Queen in our office because I was out all the time. Any trade show, anywhere that I could get my face out there. Cause I’m thinking, if I’m there in the community, I’m going to recognize people, they’re going to recognize me. And what a phenomenal opportunity, especially for me to go upmarket. Because when you’re 24-25 years old, there aren’t a lot of 24–25-year-olds out there that have a tremendous amount of money or need a tremendous amount of financial planning. They just need to start something. And then it became, okay, so if I want to start to build on my skillset and use my skillset, I need to launch into a different demographic.
Oftentimes when you start businesses, there isn’t a lot of money. So I also would always look for freebies. Every Saturday at that time in the KW record, there was a whole listing of events that were happening the following week. So, I would look at that religiously and thank goodness my dad had a subscription to the record so I didn’t have to pay for it. I would look and whatever was free, I would do myself. I would call the organizer and say, “Hey, could I set up a table? I’ll give a prize away. I’ll do a raffle, set up some information, educate the public. What do you think? Can I come on board?” And I never got a no. When it was a little bit more expensive, I would find a partner in the office and say, “did you want to partner with me on this?” There were some of the bigger trade shows that the office was involved in, so we’d all pitch in and we’d all have different shifts at the trade shows. That was huge for me because one thing I’m very proud of is I’ve never made a cold call in my entire career. That would’ve been most of the cold call – the fact that I had a chance to have a conversation with them at the booth, got them to fill in a ballot for whatever raffle we were doing and had a conversation about what we did, what was important to them. And then as soon as they left, I would make notes on that so I wouldn’t forget. Then I would call them and I’d follow up the following day.
The second thing that happens to us quite often now is referrals. I’m very, very proud to say that we have built our business, from client number one, organically. So, definitely referrals are big for us. Another thing that has happened lately for us would be seminars. We’ve done some public seminars. Prior to Covid, they were in person. During Covid, we did some virtually. I’m not a virtual person to stand in front of a computer like I need people’s energy. I need to talk to people. I need to see people’s faces. I need to see their eyes, I need to see their smiles. So, the virtual thing’s not for me, but the public seminars have worked out very well for us as well.
One of my key goals when I first started was to be a brand name in the Kitchener Waterloo Cambridge community, as if you needed any type of financial advice, you go see Irene Vassalo. I did a lot of clips on local tv, I did the financial planning tip of the day on the radio stations for many years. I do lots of sponsorships. Now, we’re very strategic, knowing what our mission and vision statements are, and our ideal clients. We align ourselves with our community partners in order to reach that demographic that we’re looking for, so we do a lot of sponsorships with the chamber, both in KW and in Cambridge.
Prior to getting married, I volunteered a lot, was on a lot of boards of directors, and built some pretty fantastic relationships that I still called my friends today. They’re still clients today as well. Then, of course, you get married, you have kids, and you’re still running a business. There’s not a whole lot of time. Then you give back financially in those periods of time. And then, as my kids started to get a little bit older and I had a little bit more time, the volunteer opportunities start to shift into kids’ activities. It’s more dealing with schools, being on school councils, and then eventually – my kids are now, uh, 16 and 9, so they’re starting to get to an age that they’re more independent – it’ll start to become, okay, where else, where else am I gonna go in the community? So we’re starting to shift our lenses. But again, anything that we do moving forward, it’s all about how we are going to impact people’s lives. What kind of legacy can we leave behind in a community that has been so good to us? I’m so grateful for that.
What have been some of the benefits of establishing your business in the Waterloo Region?
I love Kitchener Waterloo. I was born and raised in Kitchener. My family is here, my immediate family. I have two older sisters. My dad, unfortunately, passed away a few years ago, but my mom is here. Brian and I, my husband, built our family here. We have phenomenal universities. We have everything. Like, I think we’re in the middle, and you can drive to Toronto if you want more entertainment or more shopping, you can drive to London. I don’t know why I would ever move. I will never move, I don’t think. I’ve been able to watch the city grow. It’s been a beautiful experience to watch everything. We went from Kitchener being such a thriving manufacturing town, and then it was Waterloo and now we’re the silicon of the North.
I’m very proud when I say to people that I live in Kitchener, in the Waterloo region. And then they start to pinpoint the University of Waterloo, or they’ll start naming certain things. So, I’m very fortunate and very grateful to be here. I’ve heard other people say it, is that even though there’s been so much growth, I think there’s so much more growth to happen. But we still are a community. People are still friendly. They’re happy, they wanna help each other. The more you get involved in the community, the more you start to build those relationships. Being able to give back to a community that has given us so much is one of the major things that we love to do as well. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
What do you consider the most important core values you’ve integrated into your business?
Family, number one. I was often told early in my career, “oh, Irene, you take things too personally. It’s only business”. And then as you grow up that way, you start to get a little bit callous. However, I don’t believe that because, when you deal with people, that is personal. You have that connection with somebody. You either do or you don’t. And if you don’t, you shouldn’t be working with that person, because how do you build that trust to ensure you’re going to help that person succeed?
Family is number one to me, although I’m very proud of what I’ve built, what we’ve established, what we stand for, and how we can help other people. First and foremost, I’m a wife and I’m a mother. Hands down, if my family needs me, that’s where I go. It’s been frustrating in the past because there have been lots of things I’d want to do on the professional side. However, we don’t know what’s gonna happen tomorrow. And this could all be taken away from us tomorrow. But the one thing that you always know is that your family’s there, your family will always have your back.
A key exercise that I went through that really changed my perspective and my life was, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I didn’t read the book. It was actually the days of the CDs in the car. So, I was driving and I was listening to this one exercise. And then as he takes you through the exercise, really what he’s doing is he’s trying to get you to determine what your definition of success is. And so, when I went through that, I think about this often and I think, wow, you know, like, what do I want people to write on my tombstone? That I’ve been a perennial sales leader and won all these awards? No, I want on my tombstone – well, I won’t have one – but when people think of me when I pass away, I want them to go, “Wow. You know what, when Irene walked into the room, I could feel her warmth. She put a smile on my face, she was always there to help me. She knew what she was talking about. She was the first one to stand by me. She got my back”. That’s what my definition of success is. So when you look at all of this and you add that personal into your professional, and say, “So, family is so important to me, you know what? Your family’s important to me”.
I want that whole intergenerational transfer of wealth. I want grandparents, I want parents, I want children, I want grandchildren. I want to keep that whole family together. Isn’t that incredible? If you have an advisor that has an associate there for every one of those life stages and you don’t have to go anywhere else, but that person’s been with you and you’ve built that trust. Because it’s so important for me to take care of my family, I wanna make sure that my team and their families are taken care of. And then we wanna make sure that you and your family are taken care of. So family is very important as one of our core values.
The second one is collaboration. I’d love to tell you that I know everything, but I don’t, but I know where to go find the resources. I know to go find those experts. You need to collaboratively work together in order to make sure that any plan succeeds. So collaboration is very important to us as well.
Trust. That probably should be number one, especially with money. You need to make sure that you trust the individual who’s holding your money and your life savings and your goals. Whether it’s a house, whether it’s educating your kids, whether it’s taking care of your children, whether it’s a legacy. You know, I’ve built all this wealth. Now, what do I do with it? How do I protect it? Am I going to be okay? You need to have that trust with that individual and that team and that group of people to ensure that you can succeed.
I would say the last one that’s very important to us is community. I’m a big believer that when you’re good to yourself, you’re good to your family, you’re good to your community, that success will just find you. As I’ve mentioned previously, we are so grateful for everything that the community has done for us. And especially in the Kitchener Waterloo area and Cambridge, the number of programs that you can access for free or next to nothing for so many individuals. It doesn’t matter what demographic or what life stage that you’re in, what they offer is pretty incredible. Certainly, in everything that we do, we always wanna give back to our community as well.
How do you define success?
Success to me is happiness, very much so. First and foremost, happiness, harmony, and fulfillment. Because there’s got to be more. You know, when I first started this business, I thought success was money. You know, like as long as you were financially okay and you had money, you were fine. You quickly start to learn that money is important, but what it does is it provides you with resources, it provides you flexibility, it provides you choices. That’s where you want that financial success. When I talk about that privilege of being in somebody’s home and watching their lives from getting married to retiring and to passing away, you start to see people who are very successful in retirement, and those that aren’t. And then you start to think, why did this person love retirement? This person hated it, and a year later they passed away. And then you think that it’s not just about finances and that that’s an important piece of it, but you have to be physically and mentally okay. You have to be stimulated. You need to build that support system around you. All of those come in to build that definition of success. Everything that we do now, it’s got to be meaningful. It’s got to be impactful.
I think a lot about legacy and what we are leaving behind. And when you’re in a position of influence and you could do so much good for other people. Being able to see people succeed, I think that’s so cool. And if you had a part of that, it’s like, wow. That’s success on a personal basis.
I’d say being a mom, you know, like watching these little people growing up and they have an incredible sense of humour. I had a huge successful moment last year when we took our children to one of our work conferences. I watched them interact with my business colleagues and I was so proud of them. My colleagues were so good, and they came up right away, “Oh my god, Irene, these are your kids!” And they would introduce themselves and they’d ask them about what their names were and how they were doing. My kids were right there, big smiles on their faces, shaking their hands, looking them straight in the eye. They were so articulate, and you could see the stunned look on some of the adults’ faces, like, “Oh my God, these kids talk”. Brian and I just kind of disappeared in the background. Like they were just so engaged with my children and to watch them succeed, to watch them work hard, it’s a big deal for me.
We try to lead by example and I want to be that role model and that mentor. I started all this thinking I was going to be Super Mom. I was going to be the best mom in the world, and I was going to be the best business lady in the world. But something’s gotta give, because you can’t be all of that, to everybody. Oftentimes you sacrifice yourself. So, when you see your children and you watch them succeed, that’s probably one of the biggest successes that I’ve seen.
The other one would be my mom. She’s an immigrant lady from Portugal, who came to a brand new country, didn’t know the language, and was newly married. And she built a life for her family. We’ve all done well because of her. So, I watched that. I watch her and I watch all the strong women influences that I’ve had in my life, and I think wow. It makes me very proud when I can say, “We’ve done it”, you know, we’ve accomplished that goal.
What inspires you?
My biggest inspiration is probably my children. I guess I always thought, being a mom, that it was up to me, it was my job as an adult that I would have to show them the right way. And I never thought that they would actually make me laugh. I thought I had to entertain them. I never thought that they’d be the ones entertaining me. So, watching that naivety, that innocence, the thoughts, the ideas, the way that they look at the world, the way they just have fun.
We always talk about like ‘dance like nobody’s watching’. Well, where do we lose that? When you’re a kid, it happens all the time. You’re goofy. They scream, they laugh, they play, they jump around, and it’s okay for a certain life stage. And then, all of a sudden the cap comes on and it’s who made that cap? And why do we have that cap? You know, why can’t we just go outside and jump around and have fun and laugh and giggle – people would look at us like we’re crazy. However, maybe a little bit of that crazy is okay too. I think that if our children ruled the world, we’d be in a much better place than where we are today. So, I think just taking that time to really watch them and understand them… kids are so smart and the way they look at things is just so beautiful. We need to get some of that back. So I have to say, certainly my kids and their friends. Brad and I are both very involved and present parents because there’s so much going on that I want to make sure that they’re okay and their influences are okay around them. And just watching their network of friends, how articulate they are, how they deal with each other, and how they talk to us. It’s really cool. Like, some people are so worried about where our world is going. And I would say to you, look at these children, the generations that are coming up. They’re amazing. They’re going to do some pretty interesting, cool, phenomenal things to help this world continue to succeed.
Of course, my mom, her being an immigrant coming to Canada – a brand new country, brand new language, brand new marriage, she was only 20 years old and had no idea. But that was what they needed to do to make a better life for themselves and their family. When I think of the strength, and I think of this courage, I think of how much my mom was always there. She was there to stick up for us. I remember her telling us the one time, well, she would walk into school and if she didn’t like something, she would be right up in the principal’s face. It’s like, “That’s not the way it’s supposed to be, and my kid’s not going to do that”. I come from a pretty long line of very strong women. I’m very, very grateful for that. And certainly, my mom is one of my biggest inspirations as well.
And my husband, oh my gosh, he’s my rock. He’s my biggest critic, but also my biggest supporter. He’s also my consultant. Anytime I have an idea, I always say, “Brian, what do you think?” I use him and my kids as focus groups. You know, “Here are three or four ads, what do you guys think?” And I get each one of their opinions just to see the differences and watch them look at things through a different lens. I always find that amazing. My family very much inspires me. And then I have to say, my clients. To watch them through their own journeys and their own struggles and to watch them succeed.
What advice would you give to other aspiring business owners?
Number one is to trust your gut. Your gut is always going to tell you what the right path is. If everything looks great, but then all of a sudden, your gut starts to go off, that means that there’s a red flag somewhere. Always, always trust your gut, and never ignore it.
Second, be prepared to work hard. I think that if you are truly passionate about something, regardless of if everybody out there is telling you “No, you can’t do it”, use that as your motivation to show them that you can. But be realistic about it. Listen to your head but follow your heart. There are always going to be critics that are out there. But if you truly believe that you’re doing the right thing for yourself, your family, and your community, then you always will be successful.
And then get outside that box. There are so, so many cool and exciting things that are out there that we can achieve, that we can look at. And don’t be afraid to fail, be kind to yourself. We’re all going to fail at some point, and that’s okay. How can you measure success if you don’t know that you failed every once in a while? Along with that, make sure that you build the right support system. That is so important. The energy, the opinions, the mindset that you have, that you surround yourself with, that’s what’s going to help you continue to succeed.
In my opinion, relationships shouldn’t be hard. Certainly, that which is worth having is worth working for. However, when you’re in a relationship and you’re constantly butting heads, that’s, in my opinion, not right. There are always going to be ups and downs with everything that you do. However, things should be much easier than always butting heads with somebody. So, make sure that the support network is solid, and that you’re in a place where people truly believe that they’re helping bring out the best in the next individual so they can continue to grow. And don’t get stuck. Step out of that box and don’t get stuck. There are interesting, fun, good things that are happening out there in the world, and it’s up to us to go find them.
What audacious goals do you have for your business in the future?
Oh, so many cool things. I want exponential growth. I get so excited when I think about all the opportunities. I think of all the complex situations that are out there, and I wanna make ’em easy for people. You hear so many terms, especially in the financial industry. There are so many acronyms. Every day you watch the Dow go up, you watch it go down, and you see all these arrows, you see red, you see green, you see the acronyms of the stocks. All of that can be so simple really because it comes down to, “Am I okay and do I have enough” and, “Will my family be okay?” Whether you’re a business owner trying to figure out how you’re going to do business succession planning, whether you’re a farmer and you’re like, “Uh oh, I have four kids and one person wants the farm, the other three don’t. How do I equalize my estate?”, or “how do I use that participating insurance policy that’s going to help me build my estate, but also ensure that I can use it today?” You know, “How do I plan for that long-term care in case I get sick?” All of that kind of stuff and just building all those pieces of the puzzle together, but then bringing it back to you and saying, “Here you go. You’re gonna be okay, and here are all the reasons why you’re gonna be okay”. So, very excited about that exponential growth, and learning more about complex situations with different people.
Building client focus groups. I’ve always wanted to do that. And again, I love talking to people. I love getting their opinion. I want to be in a position where, whether it’s a social media strategy or upgrading the website, whether it’s doing something different with a certain product, I want to be able to have a key group of clients that we go to and say, Hey, let’s meet on a quarterly basis and here’s some of the stuff that we’re thinking about. What do you think? Do you like it? Do you want to see that? What do you want to see more of? What would you like to see less of?”
Building out more of that center of influence network as well. And, you know, how do we do that? Having more specialty type of events for our clients and their family and friends as well, so that they can come and have fun and we can be introduced to them at the same time. So, there’s a lot going on up there, every day. There’s a lot of fun and I see a lot of cool things in the future.
What can we expect in the meantime?
What you can always expect from us is our true commitment to helping our clients succeed. If you come to us, you are going to have the most incredible financial planning experience with a team of experts that genuinely care about you and your family and help you achieve your definition of financial success.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.