Co-Author: Caroline Trudeau
Reading Time: 6 minutes
“I’ve been reading your blog. I’m inspired by your stories”, Cécile shares as our annual meeting to review of my finances. I’m flattered.
She is my advisor for all things money related. I do (almost!) everything she tells me about assuring my financial security, managing my coin and planning for my retirement.
“I think I want to write, but I’m not a good writer.” I’m surprised. She is the first person to share with me that she might want to take action based on mine. An accomplished professional, she is most likely a better writer than she thinks: I encourage her to try it.
A few weeks pass by. As I’m working on the redesign of thevoicescollection.com, I have a lightbulb moment: not everyone has the time or desire to create and curate a blog – we should just collaborate!
A few emails, phone calls and a lunch, Cécile’s desire and commitment to sharing her story became the catalyst for THE VOICES.
Our collaboration follows.
For the Love of Tennis
Cécile picks up a tennis racket at the age of 5. In Briey, a town of approximately 5,000 people located in northeastern France, she practices and plays every day. She loves the game. Along with her friends, she is on a team. She is competitive. And she is good.
Her senior year of high school, she gets a phone call from an American college: Indiana University, home of the Hoosiers, a Division 1 NCAA institution, in the Big Ten Conference. IU offered me a full ride. I knew maman was going to be upset to see me leave France, but I immediately knew I was moving. Even if I didn’t stay for the full 4 years, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. I would learn English, go to university all while playing the game I loved. I could go back to France any time I wanted to. Famous last words, fifteen years later, she is still here.
Cécile leads: 15-Love
- Don’t be scared to take chances and choose the path less traveled.
Hard Work and Discovering a Passion
It turned out that I loved everything about my experience: I loved training three hours per day, I loved tennis, I had a great team, great coaches, and above all, I loved that hard work was so highly regarded in the US. I wasn’t the most talented player but I had grit.
She isn’t just a D1 athlete. She is also a scholar. Not only is she learning English in the United States, but she also chooses Spanish as her major.
The most influential class I took at IU was an elective: personal finance. I found it fascinating that most people didn’t understand finance, yet their retirement, their future depended on it. It became my passion and I decided I wanted to become a Financial Advisor after college.
With unequivocal support from her teachers, the student-athlete selects to also major in Economics and graduates with a 3.9 GPA.
Cécile leads: 30-Love
- Grit matters.
- Discipline counts.
- Hard work pays off.
- And finding and pursuing a passion is an advantage.
To San Francisco, With Love
Upon her arrival at IU, Cécile meets Brian. A year her elder, her then boyfriend (now husband), takes an amazing job at an investment bank in San Francisco. In 2007, after walking in her crimson cap and gown, Cécile packs her bags once again and joins him in the City by the Bay. It was a hard landing. I hadn’t expected that finding a job would be that hard with everything I thought I had to offer. I had a bunch of promising interviews but I started to question if my teachers had been lying to me.
Challenge is, her visa to stay and work in the United States is only good for one-year post graduation. Cécile is honest with her prospective employers about her immigration status. And while she is proud of her athletic accomplishments, her peers spent their summers at gaining experience at fancy internships rather than sweating and hitting bullets on midwestern tennis courts. All prospective employers would see was a recent grad with no work experience and a lousy visa. No one was willing to continue the conversation, let alone sponsor me. It was as if no one noticed me and it hurt. I was frustrated.
Determined to get her foot in somewhere, she takes a job at a temp agency as a receptionist. It was something. I was determined and I wasn’t giving up. I would put my time in, keep my head down and get the experience I needed. The best perk was the view. Indeed, that view blows everyone away.
Cécile leads: 30-15
- When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
- Honesty is the best policy.
- Resilience makes a difference.
Oui! A Job in DC
Spring 2008. The eve of one of the most horrific periods in US financial market history, time is not only ticking on Cécile’s visa, jobs are also getting more and more difficult to find in San Francisco. Cécile is anxious about her future in America and reaches out to everyone she knows to network and ask for help. With 2 weeks left in my visa, I decided to reach out to one of my old teammate’s mom, with whom I had shared my dream of becoming a financial advisor when I was at IU. She reconnected me with David Blisk, CEO of Spire Investment Partners, a wealth management firm in Virginia. He had previously offered me an internship after graduation which I had declined to take a chance on a job in San Francisco. This time, with my visa running out, I had to give it one last shot.
David offers Cecile a job as an executive assistant on a Saturday. He wants her in DC to start the next Monday. I jumped on a plane and moved cross country over the weekend. David and his wife, Brenda, also an advisor for Spire, worked with me on securing my work visa as soon as I arrived. We got it all done in a week. My visa got approved, even though it was a lottery system and only 50% of visas were typically approved. I finally had a real job and my status in the US was secured. And as crazy as it was, with some luck and a couple who believed in me, I had found my new home.
Cécile leads: 40-15
- Nurture your network.
- Ask for help.
- Cherish the ones that come through.
Reception to Boardroom
Settled in her new Northern Virginia workplace, Cécile can finally focus on her dream again. A young woman in a male-dominated world, she wants to be taken seriously. People still saw me as a young college grad with no experience. I was still impatient and I was afraid that, if I didn’t make a move fast, I was always going to be portrayed in the same role. She hits the books and starts preparing for the rigors of the financial certification process. I knew I needed to get financial experience any way I could get it. I even applied for an internal transfer to be one of the advisor’s assistant to find out I didn’t even have enough experience to be considered.
In the fall of 2008, times get ugly. A lot of my colleagues were laid off. I was asked to cover the reception in addition to my executive assistant role. I had worked extra hard studying on my own to catch up and passed 3 licensing exams in the meantime, but it felt like I was going backward. I was discouraged and about to give up. I considered going back to school in France.
While working the reception desk, the proverbial heartbeat of the office, Cécile uses every opportunity to share her plans with colleagues coming in and out of the Tyson’s Corner suite. If I was asked what I was doing this weekend, I responded I was studying for my CFP® (Certified Financial Planner) designation and that I wanted to be a Financial Advisor. I needed people to know my goals and plans – they weren’t going to just figure it out on their own!
Enter Joel Forster. An experienced financial advisor, he joins the firm in early 2009. Joel needs an assistant. Times are still tough and Joel can’t afford all of Cécile’s salary. Cécile charges forward and takes on the responsibilities anyway. She knows the experience is priceless. I kept on working at the reception and for the other three executives. I had wanted a job, I was now performing three! Joel soon becomes Cécile’s first mentor and advocate. He started trusting me more and more and let me branch, he even let me place trades for his clients. After all, I had completed the journey I had embarked a year earlier: I had become certified to do so.
Cécile spends another year under Joel’s leadership, learning everything she can and surrounding herself with positive people. I started getting noticed. Joel was preparing to retire. Cécile is eager to continue to carve her path with Spire Investments. Dianne Nolin was one of the advisors that noticed me. Her team, started by David’s wife, Brenda, the Blisk Financial group, was women-owned and the most successful at Spire. They were looking for a junior advisor. One day, she took me to lunch. She was intrigued by my unusual path. Her business in growth mode, Dianne needs someone to step in, hit the ground running, work hard and get the job done. I was excited about the opportunity.
A couple of months later, the captain of her support team and mentor was about to retire. I was offered the job on the Blisk team as a financial advisor. I was elated. Enfin!
- Publicly declare intentions, goals and dreams.
- Find a mentor.
- Keep grinding.
- Be patient.
The job on the Blisk team is no walk in the park. I had to learn a lot in a short period of time to come up to speed. I was willing to put in the time. Brenda and Diane are two incredibly smart, talented, driven, ambitious and sometimes intimidating ladies. It was a crash course.
But the journey had lead Cécile right where she needed to be. She’s now been with Spire for 10 years and doesn’t plan on slowing down. I’ve been given this opportunity to touch so many people’s lives and do what I love. I want to keep on learning and growing. I’d also love to help mentor the new generation of advisors and give back.
Looking back, I think I was a bit impatient at times. I also didn’t give enough importance to the valuable skills I learned along the way by working many jobs. It’s not always easy to be objective in the present. However, I will never regret pushing forward, taking chances, and not settling. Life is too short not to do what you love.
Say something, go ahead!