Resides: Sherrills Ford
Family: Wife Jessica, son Max
Occupation: Wealth Advisor
Where are you from?
I grew up in Charlotte. My family moved to Charlotte when I was very young, maybe one year old. For all intents and purposes, I feel like a native Charlottean. My grandparents bought a house on Lake Norman in the early '80s when they were super cheap. We would spend our weekends in that area growing up, running all over Catawba County and up to Hickory sometimes. I found out I was not cut out for college and didn't finish. I came back and started working and met my wife in that job. We moved all over the southeast for her work. We were like nomads. Her work would transfer her and since she was a little more on the ‘career path’ than I was, we went and I found new work. Eventually, we ended up in the Nashville area. We were in Murfreesboro, Tennessee for about six years, and that's where I decided I needed to finish my degree and pursue a career. I got my math degree at MTSU [Middle Tennessee State University] just south of Nashville.
For someone who didn't finish college the first time around, math is a very ambitious choice.
I was in the engineering program at NC State, and I had taken a bunch of math for that degree. They have a really strong math program. When I decided to go back to school, my sister was an educator at the time and she said, "I think you'd be a good teacher." I mulled it over and weighed it out, and I thought it was a good fit. With that math background, it made sense to teach it. I got a major in math and a minor in secondary education, and started working in a middle school. Then we got pregnant, and my mom said, "If you move back to North Carolina, you'll have a babysitter on demand." I had been wanting to come back home anyway, and this was an offer that was too good to refuse. We came back, I think it was the summer of ‘14, and we found a little house in Sherrills Ford. It was built at the turn of the century, it is charming. We found a good place to live and I started teaching at South Iredell. I taught in ’14 and ’15, and then I was ready to make a career change. I connected with some guys who do wealth management, and I started at the bottom as an assistant to learn the industry and get licensed. In early 2017, the partners of our firm joined up with Signature Wealth Group. The Group has quite a few offices and manages over $1 billion. This partnership allowed us to offer a better suite of services to our clients while improving our cost structures. Through industry connections, we became aware of a Financial Advisor in Hickory who was interested in connecting to a larger group. That went into fruition in January of ‘19. I moved over to Hickory full-time to assist with that process and to also grow the business. I fell in love with Hickory. In bigger cities, it's easy to get lost in the mix but what I've discovered about Hickory and Catawba County is that there's a lot of integration and people know each other. There's a collectiveness that I didn't experience in larger communities.
You have one child, Max. What’s he up to?
Max is six, and he is big into karate. He’s a yellow belt. He's in kindergarten at a Christian school in Denver. We were looking at homeschooling, and the school he's at has a hybrid model, the ‘University Model,’ so it's two days at home and three days in a classroom. He gets the best of both worlds. I think an important opportunity for some homeschooled kids is the socialization aspect. I'm glad he has the classroom and a teacher and peers, but then he also gets time at home with us and my wife working with him.
Your wife, Jessica, is she homeschooling and working?
She was a restaurant manager, and that was the job that took us all over. I was waiting tables in the restaurant where we met. She worked up until she was 38 weeks pregnant. She's the hardest working person I've ever met. When we had Max, we decided we wanted her to be able to stay home. She has done that, but she can't be idle. She has built a home business providing dog sitting in the house. We have two dogs that are pets and then we have anywhere from two to maybe eight or 10 more dogs. We have completely retrofitted the house to make it low maintenance. She's built that business, and I’m excited to help her as a partner. She's from a small community. She grew up outside of Paducah, Kentucky. She didn't like living in a big city as much as she likes it here, because we have the access to whatever we want in the surrounding big areas, but it's small where we are. It's kind of homey to her. She has really come to like it a lot.
Tell us more about what you do.
In my experience investments are historically hard to understand, and I think that they are maybe purposely opaque sometimes. As a former teacher, I seek to help people understand why investing is important, the risks involved in it, and how much things cost. What is this thing that I'm buying? How does it fit into the bigger picture? This timeline, these goals, how does it all work together? I am happy to work with people who are just starting out and those who have more investing experience. I have a client who is a waiter at a restaurant. I feel that's a group of people who are underserved by the financial industry. He sends me $50 a month, but he's building it. He's in his early 20s, and he's going to get there.
It seems you’re in a unique opportunity to help people from all walks of life and incomes, because you recognize that investing for them is just as important.
Absolutely. At 40, I fall into a unique demographic. I think it’s called a micro generation between Gen X and Millennials. For the Millennials especially, there's a lot of distrust of institutions. The more I learn about investing and the financial industry, the more I realize there are serious rules around it that from the outside looking in you might not see. I think it's more trustworthy than a lot of people feel it is. Over the long term, capital markets create wealth, they create value, and if we're not going to have pensions and employers are not offering matches and retirement plans then we have to look out for ourselves. Social security may or may not be there for us. It's important that we do something now to create something we can have later and live off of.
It seems that engineering and teaching and wealth management are all somehow connected for you. It’s almost as if what could have felt like missteps at the time ended up being the right path for you. Do you ever think of it that way?
Absolutely. I was raised in a Presbyterian church, but it was something we did on Easter and Christmas. Our journey to this point has strengthened my faith, because I do believe things have happened along the way to bring me to the place I am, so that maybe I could help somebody who wouldn't have been helped otherwise. When I pray, I ask that I be of service to people and help. I want to grow my family and I want us to prosper, but I think that that happens through helping and serving other people. That was kind of what drew me to teaching. I felt I had a really intuitive understanding of mathematics through the high school level and the first couple years of college. I wanted to relate that to kids in a way that they would feel better about it. So many people have this idea about math that doesn't necessarily relate to what it actually is or what it could be for them. Starting out in the classroom, I had really high hopes. When you're inside the math program at university, it's easy to forget that most people don't really like math and when you're inside the education program at university, it's easy to forget that most people don't like school. So when you go from your college to your classroom in the middle school, it’s very challenging – but I still miss it sometimes. I like to say that for the 20 hours a week that I actually got to teach, when I wasn't doing admin tasks or any of the other things you have to do and I was actually teaching, I loved that. That's the same satisfaction I get from my current job. If I can help a client, or even someone who’s not a client, better understand what these things are, in terms they can digest, it is that same reward.
Are you involved in the community outside of work?
I do Chamber Ambassador work. I really think the Chamber in this area is doing some great stuff. The initiatives they've put in place, I can fully get behind. We have a client who works with the Chamber and in a meeting she said, "You might be a good ambassador. Why don't you come check it out?” I looked into it, and it seemed like a good fit -- it checked all the boxes. It is helping an institution that is doing good work by reaching out to more people, retaining members and shareholders. It also gets me in front of those people, and I need exposure to people to do my job. I am really excited to be a part of that. I am on the advisory council of Hickory Young Professionals. Through HYP, if we can get young professionals to put down roots here, we can help the community and we can help them. Life is not any better anywhere else. In fact, I think it's better here. Having lived in a lot of places, I would rather be here than there. I think if they were to build that network and community here, they would find it rewarding. If I can help in some small way, and if I can continue to grow my business through that avenue, then it's a win-win. I am also in the Hickory Rotary Club. We have done Rotarian Idol in the past, but unfortunately we had to cancel this year due to the virus. We also do scholarships for students, and we contribute to the early education initiatives. Rotary is a great way to serve and give back. My family is currently between churches. One of my 2020 goals is to be in twice a month at least, preferably three or four, because it's important for us to have that in our life especially for our son. I think that's a valuable thing. It gives you peace to know there's a plan, because the world's a little chaotic.
What do you like to do for fun?
Since we had Max, it feels like somebody stepped on the gas and I haven’t been able to do as much as I used to. I have done pottery in the past. I took it in high school as an easy elective and I fell in love with it. I haven't had my hands in mud in about 10 years, but I want to get back to it. We’ve enjoyed a lot of the local festivals and community events, like the festival at Hart Square and the Folk Art Festival in downtown Newton. Those were a lot of fun. Being near Lake Norman, we enjoy lake activities like boating and jet skiing.
You talked about how you appreciate being here because it's a community where you can feel engaged and connected and can know people. How did that happen for you?
When I first came to the area, I didn't necessarily understand the degree to which the community is so tightly knit and integrated, and I've learned that by seeing it. I'll see somebody over here, and then I'll see them over there, and then they're doing a third thing and we find out we have a lot in common. The different things I'm doing definitely have increased the degree to which I feel connected to people in the community and have increased my satisfaction with being here. I find that most people are welcoming and open to meeting you and to learning about you, what you do.
What advice would you have for someone who is coming into this community without roots here, like you did?
Being involved in Leadership Catawba has opened my eyes to the depth and variety of things that are here. I would say to anyone who was exploring this community as a potential place to live, look into it. There's so much. Like any community, we have things we’re working on, we have things that are really good, and if you plug in you're going to find a place where you're needed. You can find rewarding things to do and a place to call home. It's a good place to raise kids.
What do you like about living in Sherrills Ford, in the southeastern part of the county?
If you look at the Lake Norman area, property values are skyrocketing there. Accessibility to Charlotte is big. Sherrills Ford was like the last little corner that wasn't developed. It was just a matter of time. To take the proactive approach that Catawba County has in planning it will help make it a nice place to be. There are other areas within 25 miles of here, 50 miles from here, that weren't planned as well and the development just kind of sprawled. I feel like our county is doing a great job of putting some forethought into it. I welcome the growth. I'm repeatedly impressed at the degree in which the different areas of government work together. In the area in Tennessee where I lived, they were facing an enormous challenge. The projection was that in 10 years the area was going to grow by 340,000 people. That places tremendous strain on your systems. They weren't working together like they are here. We aren't facing that kind of demographic shift, but pretty soon getting to Charlotte and back is going to be like a stone's throw. We're going to see growth in this area. The cooperation and connectivity happening here is only going to make it better.