Planners' Perspective: Discovering the Possibilities Thanks to Mentors

 Part 6 of a series that will shed some light on who we are and why we love financial planning. From taking a job to pay the bills to finding a career that fed her passion, Partner Melissa Joy recalls the helping hands who helped her find her way.

I’ve always valued the advice and encouragement of mentors, even when they weren’t called that. From teachers who took extra time with me, to my youth soccer coach, and my debate and forensics teacher in high school. As I entered the workforce, I didn’t have a lot of direction other than “pay the bills”. My earlier interests in law were dampened by my political science major which frankly left me bereft rather than passionate about the US legal system.

Enter a classified ad (this was before Craig’s List) in the Ann Arbor News for a financial planner’s office on Stadium Boulevard in Ann Arbor. When I answered that ad, I met Doug Gross who must be the first financial planner I’d ever run into. What seemed at first to be a brokerage office, turned out to be much more than that. Doug coached successful people to make better decisions in their financial life and invested for them along the way. The great advantage of working in what was then a two-person operation was that I got to take on just about anything that Doug could hand off to me.

In that first year, I decided that I could put off figuring out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life because I was enjoying this new world of finance. Doug was eager to teach me and I was enjoying learning. After a short year, I happened upon an opportunity at a larger financial planning firm, Center for Financial Planning. While I was quite satisfied with my first job in this field, I could not resist the allure of such a prestigious organization.

My decision to join The Center in 1999 changed my life. Professionally, I got to learn from three true pioneers in the financial planning field: Dan Boyce, Marilyn Gunther, and Estelle Wade. I initially worked very closely with Estelle prior to her retirement in 2001. She took an interest in me as a professional and a person and taught me the full value of having a mentor and sponsor in the workplace. She is an important person in my life to this day.

At some point in my first five years here, I realized that I hadn’t just found a job to pay my bills. Instead, I’d found a career I was passionate about and loved. I didn’t need to figure out what I should do with the rest of my life as I’d already found my home. I led a more satisfying life because of the people I worked with and the clients we helped. The timing was right because The Center saw value in what I had to give and was in the process of developing a professional career path for their employees.

Simultaneously, I was developing a niche in the investment realm. Believe it or not, most financial advisors handle the investment side of things on their own. The Center recognized the value of collaboration and delegation early. The partners decided to take some of my time away from helping Estelle’s clients so that the firm could devote more time to our investment research.

We had solid processes which had been spearheaded by Matt Chope in the mid-90s. Matt was invaluable in teaching me the ropes about investing “The Center Way”. My previous passion for research and out-of-the-box thinking from my debate days came in handy and I loved merging the statistics of investing with qualitative aspects in understanding process and people. Our firm’s commitment to investment research and process ultimately resulted in growth into what became a 3-person investment department which I got the opportunity to lead.

There was one piece of the puzzle that was missing. While I recognized the value that a focus on holistic planning brought to our clients, I hadn’t yet completed my own financial planning education. Getting up-to-speed on investments seemed like a full-time job and I thought I should remain focused in that realm. Boy was I wrong!

When I was approached about becoming a partner, I made a commitment to become a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER so as to truly affirm my devotion to our firm value: COMMITMENT TO THE FINANCIAL PLANNING PROCESS. As I completed my training through Boston University and passed the CFP exam, I couldn’t believe that I had waited so long to take the plunge! I knew right away that until this point, I’d been on the outside looking in, understanding that there was value in being a financial planner but not getting that value for myself. And again, I was surrounded by world-class financial planners to jump start me in this new mode of thinking.

Today I’m a financial planner, not just an investment manager at a financial planning firm. That’s an important distinction that speaks to who I am and how I serve clients. I hope I can give the same encouragement and support to our new generations here and in the financial planning community as I received from planners like Doug and Estelle and all the important people who believed in me all along the way. I couldn’t be more grateful for the extraordinary support and guidance I’ve received from everyone here to help me stumble and then sprint into such a deeply satisfying career.