By Mike Gertsema, CEO & Wealth Advisor
I’ve just finished the book Start with Why by Simon Sinek after it was recommended to me several times by friends and colleagues. It helps you think deeply about why you do the work you do.
I guess we all have our reasons for selecting our jobs and careers. I’ve been told many times: If you enjoy your job, it’s not work, it’s a career. I think sometimes my career is almost like a calling – a term which always seems to have religious connotations.
My daughter had a calling in her high school years, decided to follow it and is now a very happy nun working in a convent in Hamden, Connecticut. It’s a surreal feeling when you witness your child following their calling in life and watching them enjoy their choice and happiness. In a sense, I’m jealous that she realized her calling young in life and knew it. I didn’t understand at the time, but I get it now.
Sinek’s book talks about companies that are famous today because the founders had their passion and vision for what they wanted to create. The author uses examples like Steve Jobs of Apple, Bill Gates of Microsoft, and Sam Walton of Walmart.
One example was two men in Texas that started an airline from Dallas’s Love Field to Houston called Southwest Airlines. In the 1970s only 15% of the population traveled by air. These innovators were not interested in the 15%, they cared about the 85% that couldn’t and created the affordable airline for the Average Joe. This was their why.
But there also were some not-so-famous people that knew their why in life and pursued it, working endlessly to make a difference in the world as we know it today. Most companies today focus on what they do and how they do it but forget to focus on the reason why they do it.
I started thinking about it in my situation in providing personal financial services: What is my why?
Finding my Why on a Dairy Farm
I grew up on a dairy farm in southern Minnesota and I was one of nine kids. I guess we were poor, and I’d hate to rate it in today’s standards because we had food and roof over our heads. But we sure had to work, so “poor” is probably how we’d be labeled.
Growing up on a dairy farm you have one known fact: dairy cows have to be milked twice a day. We had to milk cows at 5 AM in the morning and 5 PM at night – rain, snow, cold/hot weather 7 days a week, 365 days a year. So, before school and after school we had chores.
There was no vacation, calling in sick or taking a day or weekend off. I was taught at a very young age how to work and that you can’t quit until the job is completed, no matter how long it takes or what time it is. I’ve carried that work ethic my entire life and it’s something like a badge of honor knowing that you finish what you started and it was done right the first time so you would not have to redo it again.
When it comes to farming crops in Minnesota, the weather mandated your schedule. When it was time to plant the crop in the spring you did it before it rained or cut the alfalfa hay when the time was right between rain showers, or harvest the crops before it snows. So back then I knew my what, I knew my how, and I knew my why and I wanted to do the best I possibly could.
I really took pride in the end results, even if nobody else saw it, I did. When you have livestock, they are relying on you to feed them, water them, and take care of them and it gave you a sense of responsibility that you couldn’t escape.
It was such a rewarding feeling after you’d clean out a pig pen or calf pen (that means pitching manure for you city kids!) into a manure spreader and watching the livestock enjoy their newfound clean bedding to sleep in.
I reflected on my childhood days as I read this book because the people the author described are a lot of people we know today. They’re not world-famous, but they sure hold a spot in our hearts and minds. They have persevered in good times and bad, focusing on their passion and visions.
I’ve been in the financial services industry for almost 30 years now and I’ve witnessed a lot of change over the years. When I started in providing personal financial services, I felt like I was supposed to be working with the 15% of the population – wealthy and super-wealthy. The industry almost made you feel uncomfortable or unworthy to even talk with them.
When you start out in life as a poor farm kid with nothing but a dream you realize that in order to get ahead, you have to work harder, longer, and smarter than the average to survive – not get ahead – just survive.
I also realized that I didn’t fit in the industry of the elites because I’m one of the average Joes and I also knew that the other 85% average Joes are trying to do the same thing I am trying to do and they are looking for someone to show them the path. They are looking for information, knowledge, guidance, and the resources that they can afford and have available.
Just like Apple made technology available for everyone in the world to level the playing field or Microsoft has software the average Joe can use at home just like the major corporations. Sam Walton of Walmart wanted the lowest possible prices for the average Joes, and Southwest airlines focus on the 85% of the population that couldn’t afford to fly.
They all built a culture of taking care of the average and not just the elite. There’s my why: Providing personal financial services and guidance for the “rest of us.”
It’s About Relationships, Not Bottom Lines
I don’t strive for excellent customer service, I want perfection. I want to bring all the resources available to the average Americans and explain it in laymen’s terms that we can all understand.
Our firm is built on customer service and satisfaction. We strive at being a 5-star hotel that offers all the amenities that you should expect.
Nicholas, my son and colleague, started out in the hospitality industry right out of college. He worked up to a management level quickly within the Marriott Hotel system. When I tried to persuade him to look at the financial services industry, he rolled his eyes at me. Once he realized what the financial services industry is and could see what it should be, he realized the hospitality background was critical to being successful in the profession.
Being an independent advisor and a Registered Investment Advisory firm also allows Gertsema Wealth Advisors to fulfill my why. I’ve learned that having your why within the brokerage industry is a direct personal conflict to the brokerage world’s why, but a firm like ours puts you at the center.
Our mission is to empower you to make life’s decisions on your terms. We know once you’re provided with a clear picture of your finances and the options available, you’re able to make good decisions. We strive to serve everyone, including the Average Joes and the wealthy because at the end of the day we are all looking for someone to show us the path. We guide, you decide.
I’ll leave you with an anecdote from Sinek’s book about a businessman who had to use other airlines for business travel, but specifically chose Southwest Airlines for his personal trips. Even though he could afford the more exclusive airlines, he chose Southwest because they were more affordable, had better customer service, made traveling fun and most importantly they knew their why.
We’d like to send you a complimentary copy of Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why and help you further this conversation for yourself. Get in touch with me today and I’ll make sure to get you a copy personally.