As a part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Skinner.
Ryan Skinner is founder and co-owner of Summit Financial Partners, a Woburn, MA-based firm offering a range of services including retirement planning, life insurance and long-term disability. Author of Taking Stock: Protect Your Wealth and Create Reliable Income for a Happy and Secure Retirement, Ryan and Summit Financial Partners have been seen in some of the most recognized American news publications, including Fortune, Forbes, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
In grades 1–5 I attended public school. I used to get picked on a lot because I had dyslexia and reading comprehension issues, so I was often seen as a bad student. As a result of getting picked on a lot I would often act out. In 6th grade my parents decided to take me out of public school and enroll me in Catholic school. They were thinking that if I didn’t get picked on as much then I would do much better in school. It turned out that I still didn’t do too well in school, but I didn’t get picked on, so it allowed me to feel better at school.
Seventh grade came along and I had a teacher who noticed that I was really good with numbers and thought she would try to teach me. At the time she was saving for her retirement because Catholic school teachers don’t get Social Security. She was reading a lot of books about how to invest for retirement. She gave me a subscription to Investor’s Business Daily and $50,000 in fake money to invest. With that money I bought Coca-Cola, Nike and Gatorade because of Michael Jordan. I did pretty well. I ended up beating the S&P. She wrote a letter to the author of the book who was promoting his principles and wanted to meet with me. That’s where it started.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I think one of the funniest things that’s happened to me in my career was during a time I was flown out to Arizona for a roundtable with some of the top people in my industry. During this round table we had to go around and introduce ourselves. Everyone was introducing themselves by their name, company and industry. However, because I was so used to attending AA and drug meetings, I introduced myself as “Ryan Skinner, a drug addict and alcoholic”. This opened my eyes to how far I had come.
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?
My mom. My mom is the person who told me that I didn’t have to play it safe and if I wanted to own a business then I should go after it. I didn’t want to work for somebody else. My mom supported my dream to start my own business while my Dad wanted me to play it safe and just take the job offers that I was receiving. Anytime the odds were against me my mom believed in me. At one point my mom was going to refinance our house in order to give me money to do workshops and seminars.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
When I started Summit Financial Partners my biggest vision was to help people who were near retirement or already retired. I wanted to help people who didn’t have a ton of money. I wanted to help them get the same financial services, if not better services, than those who did have a lot of money.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
During the pandemic I almost fell into the same fear trap as everyone else, but one day I woke up and decided we needed a change. We were rattled and scared by these unprecedented times, but we just put one foot in front of the other to make it through. We worked to reinvent ourselves and we found new ways of doing business. One thing that we did was go back to existing clients and offer them additional services we can provide that they might need.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
When I was younger, I didn’t have a choice. I just kept saying that I would do the right thing to get the work done. The challenges that came with this year were much different. Now I have a step- daughter and a baby. I know that both of these girls deserve a really good life, so they are my motivation to keep working hard.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most critical role of a leader during challenging times is to listen as well as be heard. This is essential in order to make sure your team knows that you care. It is important to communicate what you do know, and it is important to be wise. You cannot try to dictate more than you are trying to lead, even when you are frustrated. It is important to remember that nobody stands alone and that it is okay to ask for help. When you are having trouble during challenging times it is important to surround yourself with a strong team.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
I think it is important to take down time for yourself. This can help you get your head right and remind you that you can, and you will get through this. After taking time for myself I really try to go back and lighten the mood. Oftentimes if things feel tense and morale seems low, I will buy lunch for everybody or bring in bagels, something to help everyone relax.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
I find the best way to communicate difficult news is to be direct. There is no need to sugar coat it. It is important to be transparent and tell both your team and customers what is going on as well as what we are planning to do to work on it.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
You just have to make plans. You have to realize that sometimes things are not going to go exactly as planned. If you make the plans and you show up ready everyday then when the plans change you will be able to change with them.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
If you try to be a service and you do the right thing and you live an ethical life then you are going to get through it.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
I think sometimes the owner gets caught up in the fast life. They get caught up in the money and the extra houses and extra cars and they lose sight of what really built the business. To avoid this, I think it is important to just be humble and show up to work. It is important to be there as much as you ask your employees to be there. If you’re not there it is important to show genuine concern. It is also important that you never get too far removed from your business. Make sure you always have your hand on the pulse of business.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
I think that the bad times are what define you. They are what separate the good from the great. During the hard times it is important to push harder and dig deeper in order to get to that next level. As long as you keep your head and your mind right and push hard you will be able to forge ahead, even in a difficult economy.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times?
- Be present. It is important to be there and outwork everybody in the room. It is important to want success and results so bad that you can taste it.
- Service your clients. When you are servicing your clients, good things are going to happen. When in doubt see your clients, talk to them and just have a good conversation.
- Do positive things. Being positive is the first step on the road to success.
- Give more than you expect.
- Bring something greater into it. It is important to really care about the cause and really try to be a service. I use God and prayer to help me lead. In my prayers I ask God to help me lead and help me be a service for people.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“What you do to the least you do to me.” Matthew 25:40
This quote means a lot to me. How you treat the people who can do nothing for you is what defines you. I don’t treat a guy on the side of the road any different than a guy who would give me a million dollars. I would probably treat him a little better because I know the pain that he is in and I know that when people show love and compassion it helps.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can further follow my work online by visiting my website: http://www.ryantakingstock.com/ and connecting with me on LinkedIn. You can also further follow my work by reading my book, Taking Stock: Protect Your Wealth and Create Reliable Income for a Happy and Secure Retirement.