As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Angela Vlach.
Angela Vlach is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Financial Advocates. She has been with Financial Advocates since 2009. Angie oversees the day to day functions of all divisions of the Financial Advocates Corporation along with the Registered Investment Advisor subsidiaries Financial Advocates Investment Management and Financial Advocates Advisory Services. She is also responsible for Financial Advocates’ outside insurance agencies.
Angie focuses on high quality service to our advisors with an emphasis on business development, advisor engagement, operational support and effective compliance oversight. She provides information, research and support to advisors and management of financial institution clients. With over sixteen years in the investment industry, including a number of years in financial institutions, she has significant experience in compliance, operations, client sales and service. Angie works closely with advisor offices and strives to provide efficient processes for the greatest organizational benefits; both for Financial Advocates and their advisors.
Angie graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. She holds FINRA Series registrations: 7, 24 (through LPL Financial) and 66 (through LPL Financial and Financial Advocates Investment Management) along with Washington State Life and Health insurance licenses. When Angie is not in the office, she can be found spending time with her family and son. Angie also enjoys running marathons and spending time outdoors.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. I know that you are a very busy person. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you grew up?
I grew up in a relatively small town and out of 200 in my class, I graduated third. Of course, I was irritated not to have earned the place of valedictorian, but I kept that inner drive with me as I grew into my career.
What were your early inspirations that set you off on your particular journey?
My mom was always my biggest inspiration and supporter in life. She was the one who expressed the importance for me to earn a college degree and pursue my dreams in the financial industry.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
In college, I worked as an intern for a financial consulting firm and was assigned to work with the company’s president. He had a reputation of being difficult to work with and once told me to make a phone call to the custodian and ask a series of questions. When he came back for the info, I had to explain to him that despite my best efforts, I could not find the phone number for the janitor.
This was when I learned that in finance, a custodian is the keeper of money and not cleaning supplies.
To this day, the story reminds me that it’s important to keep an open mind and continue learning new things. It’s impossible for one person to know everything.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are a ton of people that I have to credit with helping me along my career but one in particular is Paul Nalbinian. It was Paul who reintroduced me to Gary Campbell in 2009 and brought me into LPL. At the time, I did not realize that this introduction would lead me to 13 years of fun at Financial Advocates and becoming the company’s CEO.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
One of the hardest things I had to face in my career was quickly advancing above my experience. As a young professional, I was quickly promoted to program manager for a large group of financial advisors who were much older than me. I was convinced that they were going to try and eat me alive if I did not act quickly to earn their trust.
Through hard work and dedication, I proved myself as someone who was there to serve and be a good leader. By the time I left, one of the advisors who had been the hardest to win over called me to ask what they were going to do without me. It was in that moment that I received the validation for the hard work I had put in to make a difference.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
During my college internship, the same unpleasant president who apprehended me for not knowing the proper meaning of “custodian” would ask me to get coffee for him. One day, I told him that I was there to learn and not get him coffee and kept that energy with me for the rest of my career. I told myself that if I could survive him as a boss and last for the entire internship, I can make it through anything and come out stronger and better in the end.
I was the only intern to last all six months.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
The past 13 years at Financial Advocates have been a long road but things are going well. We continue to move forward with grit and resilience and are not yet ready to label ourselves as a success. While I am happy for all that we have achieved, I also understand that there is always more we can do to better serve our advisors in a constantly changing environment. We’ve made it this far despite challenging times in the market and can’t wait to see what the next 25 years will bring.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are two things that make Financial Advocates stand out. The first is the ability to affect change for advisors looking to gain their independence. The second is that we truly care about the advisors we serve. We go beyond business to understand what our advisors do in their free time, what they like to drink and who they are as people.
There’s no greater feeling than helping these advisors achieve their business goals ahead of when they thought they could.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
For entrepreneurs, and especially those in the financial services industry, it can be easy to be wrapped up in the mentality of working to survive. While it remains important to persevere with dedication and grit, my best tips for avoiding burn out are to:
- Enlist help when it’s needed — make sure you have the right connections and network to make your goals a reality and do not be afraid to delegate tasks.
- Retain a healthy work-life balance — be sure you are consistently meeting basic physiological needs such as eat, sleep and exercise.
- Be sure to also prioritize your mental health — it’s important to never give up on your goals, but its also important to not allow them to consumer your life. Remember to take regular breaks for achieving peak productivity.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The success of Financial Advocates has allowed hard working financial advisors to regain their time and independence so they can spend more time doing what they love. Additionally, we are involved with several charities and have created a philanthropy partnership where we provide a platform that highlights the work being done by our advisor network.
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Never give up — I have a sign in my office with the Thomas Edison quote: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like hard work.” This serves as a constant reminder that there are hard times that may want to make us give up. In these situations, we just have to keep charging ahead doing what we know is right and believe the answers will come eventually.
- Trust your gut — That little voice in your head that gives you the answer is usually right. Sometimes it takes a little bit to make an appearance and other times it is automatic. My advice is to listen closely and don’t be afraid to take action. Ask those around you what their gut says if they are the subject matter expert.
- Delegation is key — It’s important to build a strong team around you. We need a strong team and cannot expect ourselves to “do it all.”
- Be patient –Good thing come to those who wait. The things that are worth it can take a lot of time. This applies to so many aspects of business.
- Seek out good coaches and/or mentors — Learn from those that have already done something similar and learn from their mistakes. Modify what they share to suit your own needs.
Now that you have gained this experience and knowledge, has it affected or changed your personal leadership philosophy and style? How have these changes affected your company?
I would not say it changed necessarily; however, I would say that I have more confidence in owning my philosophy and style. Having more confidence has helped the company better understand my vision and over time we are learning how we can continuously enhance our communication and effectiveness.
This series is called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me”. This has the implicit assumption that had you known something, you might have acted differently. But from your current vantage point, do you feel that knowing alone would have been enough, or do you feel that ultimately you can only learn from experience? I think that learning from mistakes is the best way, perhaps the only way, to truly absorb and integrate abstract information. What do you think about this idea? Can you explain?
It really does seem that ultimately the only way we truly learn is from experience. Others can share best practices and we can learn quickly from those examples; yet most times the way we truly learn is by doing and by experiencing the ups and downs. I agree that learning from mistakes is the best way to absorb and integrate abstract information. If we keep an open mind and see a mistake as an opportunity, we advance much faster. By not being afraid of making a mistake, we are able to take more risk and grow more fully and quickly than we would if we did not want to risk making a mistake.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
This is a hard one since I can imagine a few. My first inclination would be integrating health and work life balance into the workplace. By exercising, eating right and getting enough sleep we as humans can achieve much more personally and professionally than we can as workaholics with less than favorable eating habits. This is one I am consistently working on.
How can our readers further follow your work online?