Editor’s note: Mary Cantando of WomanBusinesOwner.com recently interviewed Lori Spivey of Cary-based Financial Directions. Lori has been actively involved in the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED) since its inception and was the organization’s first female Board Chair. This conversation is the latest in a series of Entrepreneurial Spirit columns for LTW from the membership of CED.
Lori, I know you’ve been a prominent member of the RTP business community for a long time, can you give us an overview of how your company fits into the market?
Our firm is a boutique that helps businesses and individuals understand and make choices with their insurance, investments and financial planning. This can range from what 401(k) Plan design and product to put in place, what health and welfare program is going to work best, what plans to establish for key employees, what asset allocation is appropriate for an individual, to selecting and implementing money manager’s for a portfolio or creating a tailored financial plan. We serve as a consulting broker or advisor, providing advice along with the product knowledge while being independent of all product providers.
Tell us a little about your background and education.
I was born in a suburb of Cleveland Ohio, one of five children. I was the middle child, the compromiser. Although I was very studious, I spent much time outdoors–and today still need to have lots of trees around me!
I attended Grove City College, where I gained a degree in Business Administration and then went on to earn my MBA with a concentration in Finance from the Babcock School at Wake Forest University. I have both my CPA and CFP (Certified Financial Planner) designations. I also have my Series 7 Securities License and am a Registered Principal.
Where do you think your entrepreneurial nature comes from?
Late in his career, my Dad started his own company and was my initial entrepreneurial inspiration. My husband, the consummate entrepreneur, exposed me to it daily. I think the enterprising spirit was catching!!
Your husband, Robbie, is also well known throughout CED, share with us a little bit about how the two of you work together and how this impacts your family?
Robbie and I both lead Financial Directions and we split the responsibilities. He has responsibility for the Representatives we have in other parts of the country, so he can do the traveling which I do not enjoy anymore unless it is family travel! Robbie also focuses on the business owner services and estate planning. I focus on the corporate benefits services as well as financial planning. Our son is thirteen and having our own business allows us the flexibility to be there when he needs us. We can pick him up from school and he often comes to the office to do his homework. He helps out with administrative tasks after his homework is done. He is well versed in what it means to have a company, both the positives and the more challenging aspects, and aspires to be another Bill Gates.
What has been the most exciting aspect of growing your company?
Seeing the growth of our team members and seeing them work together to solve the needs of our clients. Most financial service companies do not encourage team work and clients are not shared. We have found that by sharing clients we can bring them the most comprehensive technical support and the most suitable solutions.
What has been your worst experience?
Losing two of our great corporate clients in the same year to acquisitions. We not only lost the client, but we also lost the relationships with the corporate employees that we had worked with so closely.
Looking back on your business and career what might you have done differently?
I had both an undergraduate degree in business and MBA. I would probably change the undergraduate degree to include more psychology work while keeping the accounting. Business is so much about understanding people and behavior and while I have learned a lot of that on the job and from books, it would have helped to have had more of that knowledge earlier in my career.
What are the hallmarks of your leadership style?
I have been fortunate to learn from all types of leaders in my career and I cherish those leaders most that have helped me to reach new heights. As a leader, I encourage our people to stretch and reach higher levels of technical expertise, product understanding and client service.
What is the greatest obstacle to growth for women entrepreneurs? What is the greatest opportunity?
Probably the greatest obstacle to growth is managing expectations — both of others as well as your own. I can’t tell you how many people assume that because I work with my husband we must be operating out of our garage or bedroom. And to think, previously, I had a successful career as a partner with an international accounting firm! It takes a while to establish and reinforce that you are a professional and serious about building a company.
This is also the opportunity because if you commit yourself to it and keep working on it daily, it will happen and you will make a difference for your clients and your people.
What advice would you give to a woman considering entrepreneurship?
Be sure you have obtained experience in a larger company environment so that you can appreciate the importance of process and infrastructure. Then you can design a small company with adequate process but without the hindrance of bureaucracy. Too many small companies underestimate the importance of putting processes in place and reinvent the wheel countless times.
Also, learn how to be a successful networker before you start as an entrepreneur because you will live or die by your ability to create relationships with other business people.
What message would you like women to take away from this discussion?
Building a business is an around-the-clock commitment with high points as well as obstacles. But if you like challenges and have a high energy level, it is the only way to go.