Shannon Spotswood is the President of RFG Advisory, a $2.7 billion platform committed to serving independent financial advisors with a warrior’s mindset and a servant’s heart. Passionate about Wall Street and the world of finance since she was 14, Shannon has spent more than two decades in the finance industry. She has served as a Portfolio Manager and Director of Long-Only Equity Strategies for Symphony Asset Management, as an Investment Banker for Volpe Brown Whelan & Co., and as a Research Analyst and Junior Trader for EGM Capital, where she started her career. In addition to passionately serving as RFG Advisory’s President, Shannon is also an entrepreneur and Partner of Busy Bees, a luxury children’s clothing brand carried in more than 100 retail stores in the country.
Shannon joins me today to discuss the importance of intentionally cultivating a great company culture. She shares her journey through the financial industry and the lessons she learned along the way. She describes how having a female mentor in a male-dominated industry impacted her career and shares her advice to other women in the financial industry. She also discusses the power of getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable and shares her call-to-arms for advocating for women in the finance industry.
“There is a real desire to promote women and foster their professional development. We need to be more intentional about it as an industry.” – Shannon Spotswood
This week on The Model FA Podcast:
● Shannon’s backstory and her winding path to becoming the President of RFG
● The importance of getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable, and Shannon’s first foray into leadership and culture
● The importance of self-care, and how Shannon pushes through the feeling of discomfort
● The art of the “Mosaic Theory” and how research helps Shannon overcome awkward situations
● How women can find female mentors in a male-dominated industry
● What building a culture means to Shannon
● What the culture looks like at RFG Advisory and the mechanics of developing company culture
● Creating RFG 2.0 and becoming the RIA of the future
● Cultivating emotional intelligence as a step toward growing as a leader
● Book: You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
Our Favorite Quotes:
● “Culture is something reiterated time and time again, especially when there is some discomfort on the horizon.” – David DeCelle
● “Don’t be afraid to work hard. The skills and resilience you build from hard situations will be paid in endless dividends through a professional lifetime.” – Shannon Spotswood
● “Culture centers the company on a single mission and determines whether decisions are aligned with that mission, vision, and values.” – David DeCelle
Connect with Shannon Spotswood:
● Email: [email protected]
About the Model FA Podcast
The Model FA podcast is a show for fiduciary financial advisors. In each episode, our host David DeCelle sits down with industry experts, strategic thinkers, and advisors to explore what it takes to build a successful practice — and have an abundant life in the process. We believe in continuous learning, tactical advice, and strategies that work — no “gotchas” or BS. Join us to hear stories from successful financial advisors, get actionable ideas from experts, and re-discover your drive to build the practice of your dreams.
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President of Model FA, David DeCelle
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Shannon Spotswood 00:03
One of the things that we're all most proud of is through this transformational journey of change, we lost no advisors. Every single one of them opted to take this journey with us. And was it harder than we expected it to be? Yes. Was it significantly more expensive than we expected it to be? Yes. So did I predict all the landmines? No, right. But because of the fact that every single person told us we were going to fail, we had to get tremendous clarity internally on those touchstones.
David DeCelle 00:39
Welcome Model FAs, I am very excited to bring you our guest today, Shannon Spotswood. As a reminder, I'm David DeCelle, president of the Model FA, and Shannon is the president over at RFG Advisory which has about 2.7 billion on their platform, and they work with independent financial advisors. They're headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, and have 65 advisors affiliated with them across 23 locations primarily throughout the Southeast, and Midwest. And in Shannon's words, what helps set RFG apart is that they are fiercely committed to serving advisors with a warrior mindset and the servant heart. And I'm excited to unpack that a bit later on in the show as we talk about creating a great culture within an organization. So Shannon, I know that I've personally enjoyed our intro call, getting to know you from afar, some of the banter before we started recording, and I am very excited to have you a part of the show and grateful for your time. So welcome to the show.
Shannon Spotswood 01:44
Thank you so much, David, I'm excited to be here, this is gonna be a lot of fun.
David DeCelle 01:49
Awesome. So you have a little bit of a — not little bit, I think a lot a bit of a different path to becoming president of RFG. So I know you spend some time, the majority of your time, in your career on the institutional side, and have had a hand in bringing some fairly well-known companies public, so I'd love to talk about that. And then you also mentioned that you took a little bit of a pivot, as you put it, into a totally different industry and had some success there. And then you landed back over at RFG and back into the industry. So I'll ask some questions along the way, but I'm going to keep my first question fairly open ended. Tell us a little bit about your backstory.
Shannon Spotswood 02:33
Absolutely. And I'm so glad that you brought up the winding path that I've taken because I'm one month away from turning 50. So I'm looking at 25 plus years in the industry. And I've been doing as a result of that just a lot of reflecting on the path that led me here, and I think it's particularly relevant as we're all navigating this new normal. And I think we've all learned a really valuable lesson this last year that there's no amount of planning, you know that great quote, everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face. Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face. And what's fun to look back on the winding nature of my career in finance is that I picked up and was really allowed the space to explore and develop skills in each one of the roles that I was given the opportunity to hold. And the culmination of all of those is what has really allowed me this tremendous gift that I've been given, which is a leadership position here at RFG Advisory. So starting out, I'm a little bit of an odd bird and I have three teenagers. So I now realize how strange the next statement that I'm going to make is, but I knew at 14 that I wanted to work in finance; I asked my parents for a subscription to The Wall Street Journal. And what it was is I was interested in money, and what money represented to me was independence. So I didn't like asking my dad for money. I didn't like the control that came with someone else having the money. And it was pretty clear after, this is back in the era of liars, poker, and the den of thieves and kind of the Wall Street lore of the 80s, reading those books that there was something to be harnessed there, especially as a young girl at the time. And so I was very singular in my mindset of wanting to work in finances. And I think that has that clarity of being, like truly called into the industry has really served me well because I didn't ever question what am I trying to do? I always had that clarity of thought. So out of the gate, right out I worked for some advisors in college out of the gate, I moved to San Francisco and that was an unbelievable time in San Francisco. So we're in the early 90s now, I went to work for one of the very first hedge funds in San Francisco. So that in and of itself was still a relatively new — it was a new type of investment vehicle; it was a new type of company, especially being entrepreneurial and catering to smaller foundations and endowments and wealthy individuals. It wasn't just pension funds, it was really the hedge fund world was starting to spread its wings and attract a much broader range of capital. And the gift of that first experience as the lead PM there was a woman. So I had job number one out of college, the mentor that everybody wishes for, and was able to sit on the trade desk and learn from the head trader how to trade, and I worked for her in the afternoon on how to model companies. And that firm hit a five-year track record, and literally overnight, assets went from sub one hundred million to close to a billion dollars. And so I got to wear a lot of different hats. And one of the things that I really pride myself on is I am not afraid to jump into the deep end. Like, what is the absolute worst thing that's going to happen? You're either going to sink or you're going to dog paddle hard and fast enough to figure it out. And I'm really comfortable with being uncomfortable. And so, the lens of looking back, and I think this is relevant to where I am today, is that developing that or at least acknowledging the need to build that muscle of being comfortable being uncomfortable is what has really served me well as I've navigated this path. I was able to springboard from that role into investment banking. So two-year analyst investment banking program, it's been in the headlines lately. I think the folks over at Goldman are rebelling from the 100-hour workweeks and sleeping under their desks. So my experience in that looks no different than anyone else's with the exception of — and this is like, truly one of the most fun chapters of my career — I joined an investment bank called Volpe Brown & Whelan. Our logo was a T-rex with an X through it, because we were all about the future. And the first deal that I worked on, you know, I'm a baby analyst here, I can't take credit for this deal, I was in the trench — was Netscape. So the very first internet company to go public, we took them public. And subsequently, this is before the bulge bracket firms had really tapped into high tech as a bankable area. We were running around, driving up and down the 101 knocking on doors in Silicon Valley. Like, have you thought about going public? Riding S-1s that were like, what is the World Wide Web? What is the internet, what, what is this, you know, now hugely important, probably the most important economic industry in our country? So what an unbelievable experience in your early 20s, to work with everybody who's like, we're gonna break stuff, we're gonna do these really, kind of crazy cutting-edge ideas of companies. Did that, was promoted to an associate position, help them start an M&A group, which is just like translation for sleep under your desk, right? Sleep under your desk, work around the clock, but I wouldn't trade those hours in the trench for anything. I learned more in that time; and anyone who is young and is looking at our industry, don't be afraid to work really, really, really hard. Because the skills and the resilience that you build from those hard situations is like, there is no end to the dividend that is paid through a professional lifetime. And from that role I had had, you know from that 14-year-old, my goal, the Holy Grail for me was to be the manager of a hedge fund. I wanted to be a portfolio manager of a hedge fund. And I was at that pivotal point, an associate at an investment bank, you either go to business school, or you kind of keep climbing up through that; and I was given really the job of a lifetime. I joined a hedge fund called Symphony Asset Management. I was employee number nine; they hired me they were all quant jockeys, like brilliant quant jockeys. And they were doing quantitative qualitative investment strategies and needed someone to come in that spoke qualitative, that could talk to companies, that could add a qualitative layer to one of their portfolios. So for six years, I ran a long short equity fund that was investing in, actually in European and UK companies. So I got to spend the better part of three to four weeks every quarter for six years over in Europe and learning the cultures, investing. Part of that included a six-month stint living in London. So it really is, like this is the stuff that dreams are made of. And that firm, while I was there, we were acquired by Nuveen Investments. We grew incredibly fast; we had tremendous, tremendous success in the institutional market; four very visionary founding partners who really were willing to take a huge risk on me. I mean, I did not have an Ivy League pedigree to come in and run a hedge fund for them. And jumping into that deep end of the pool and bringing that qualitative skill set to them learned just more than, more than anyone could ever hope for in that. But I really, I learned not only about investing and analyzing companies and dealing with institutional investors. That was my first foray into leadership and culture. And I almost, you know our motto back at Symphony was have fun, make money. But the first part of that was have fun. That was the antithesis of every other hedge fund. It wasn't about having fun, it wasn't about enjoying each other, it wasn't about celebrating our strengths and building this really cool firm. It was about how much alpha are you going to generate? You know, how much money are you going to make me? And as a result, that translates into just a cutthroat, really I would say the opposite of collaboration and collegial relations; the worldwide wrestling ring. I mean, it's a Spartan ring, right? You're fighting for alpha. And so it was really a very different place that prided itself on building relationships, and developing talent, and gave me a lot of room to run that portfolio. And it — cut me off if you want to jump in. Otherwise, I'll kind of keep winding down.
David DeCelle 11:44
No, I want you to keep going. I'm making some mental notes as to some of the lessons that you learned along the way that I certainly want to unpack. But keep going. It’s, great.
Shannon Spotswood 11:54
Okay. So I'm running this fund, I'm getting upright, we're on the west coast. I'm getting to the office between 4:00 or 4:30 in the morning, I'm investing in European markets. I am 33 years old, and I'm like, Oh, shit, I forgot to have a baby. And realized, kind of went from I'm never having kids to like, I want to be a mom, my husband and I wanted to have a family. And that does not line up with spending several weeks a quarter in Europe, and I transitioned. So we'd been acquired by Nuveen Investments, I transitioned into leading a team for them. We incubated some strategies, some long only strategies using our very innovative way that we were managing money, and I led that team. So I really pivoted like, really hard internally, from being a portfolio manager, to leading this team and being a mom. And, as I reflect back on that, in some ways it was incredibly easy and natural; and in some ways, it was the shock of a lifetime. Because I knew when I walked away from being a PM, I was really closing a door on what had been my greatest love and my greatest dream and really my calling since I was a teenager. And that is a, those are — I mean, we've all had those moments. You're staring at the ceiling, like, Who am I, what is my identity if I'm not a little bit of a baller, throwing down like I run a hedge fund? There's, especially as a woman, that is thankfully becoming more common now. But at the time, it was still, it was still very unusual. I would be the only one in the room that was actually running a fund. So that was kind of one in a very long list of hard pivots. So built that business for Nuveen. They're an absolute juggernaut, right? They can distribute product like nobody else. We had a great sexy story, had tremendous success in doing that. While I was doing that, I went through what I call my reckless procreation years. So when I decided I forgot to have a baby, I realized I didn't want to just have one, I wanted to have three; and we had three children in three and a half years. So there was pretty much never a time I wasn't like pregnant or with a newborn. So my youngest daughter's born, we've gone through the financial crisis. She was born in May of 2008. We're like in the teeth of that, so we're all climbing on airplanes dealing with the fallout of — Oh wait, I've got these three little babies. We kind of roll through a couple years of that and one day I literally could not get on an airplane. I physically for someone who was just like, at one point, 100,000 miler or on three different airlines, I physically could not leave my children. There was something in me where I was almost paralyzed at the thought of getting on an airplane, and it was a real wake up call for me. I was like, Okay, these two things can't coexist. I can't work for Symphony and now owned by Nuveen, and we're doing this big initiative with all these long only strategies. And growing out this, we're now on our way to, you know, Symphony’s now a $30, $40 billion company. These are big dollars and big companies and big responsibilities. And I had started to have a conversation with a woman who became my business partner who had a very small, in a garage startup doing a trunk show business around children's clothing. And she had an interesting background. She'd moved from New York, from Manhattan to Marin County, where we were now living, but had a background in PR, and her mother had been a fashion designer. So she'd really grown up in PR and fashion and I saw something in her; I saw something in the brand. And over the course of a year, she asked me three times — she was this brilliant, creative, and my whole background are numbers and finance. And while I was running the fund, I did a significant amount of investing in retail companies. I've always loved building brands, and the notion of creating, at the time, public company value as a result of your brand. So I had a real expertise and a skill set that she couldn't even begin to think about; like, Excel made her head explode. But she could look at a million little fabric samples and design something beautiful from that. So, I'm a big believer, the universe sends you signs, if you're looking and paying attention and listening, you will not be guided in the wrong direction. She asked me three times, the power of three, to partner with her; and I walked in one day, and I kid you not David, we just launched a closed end fund, it had gone really, really well. It was in May, again, I walked into the CEO of the firm, who he and I had grown up together at Symphony, and I looked at him and I said, so I'm gonna quit today. And I'm gonna go start a luxury children's clothing business out of a garage. And this is such a finance statement, he looks at me and he says, You know, the margins suck in retail. Like, I'm pouring out my heart to him, I'm gonna leave everything that I know.
David DeCelle 17:24
It's like black and white.
Shannon Spotswood 17:27
Yeah, I'm gonna walk away from this tremendous career, all the upside potential I could ever hope for in hedge funds at Nuveen. You know, really, the world is kind of my oyster in finance at this point. I've been with Symphony for 10 years and his, you know, the margin suck in retail. But that was it. Like, I switched the switch, I went from the tallest building in San Francisco and a large team to a garage with upside down boxes of really two product: infant cashmere, which P.S. anyone who has an infant knows, infants don't wear cashmere; like so infant cashmere, and the Cuban cigar of children's clothing, which is 100% cotton pajamas that aren't flame retardant. So we had two products, a trunk show business, and a couple stores, and an idea of really building this business. And I'm gonna pause there, because that's a chapter unto itself.
David DeCelle 18:22
So thank you for sharing all that. It's been nice to watch you and of course, listen to you speak. Because as you're going through your story, you're just glowing on your end. And you can tell that you're appreciative and grateful for the journey that brought you up through this point. So I do have a couple follow up questions. So one would be I'm also a believer in the saying of, you need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. And I think that through a lot of aspects of our lives, whether it's career oriented, fitness oriented, relationships, personal goals that we have; oftentimes at the sign of discomfort, we can just kind of like cave and fold and just go back to where we feel good. So I guess my question around what that means to you is, when you're starting to feel like you're uncomfortable, what are you doing to push through that? Are you seeking mentorship? Are you putting together a plan? Are you just running forward and seeing — what is it that you're actually doing? So for those of the folks who are listening to this, who struggle with that, what would be your suggestions that have worked for you?
Shannon Spotswood 19:38
For me, I think there's a two-part answer. The first is like you, David, I am pretty disciplined with my time and with my schedule, and very protective of what I need to do for self-care.
I love self-care.
Shannon Spotswood 20:05
Yeah. You've got like the most inspiring Instagram. I'm like, I gotta like level up. I need wagyu steaks and like sunset beach—. Okay, so the first is, what is a framework for dealing with being uncomfortable? A long, long, long time ago, I adopted a very, like this very disciplined notion of self-care and scheduling. And so I have in place a prayer practice. I have in place a meditation practice. I mean, I am very, very protective of my workout time.
David DeCelle 20:31
And when you say, when you say you have a good practice around that, it's literally like in your calendar, or how are you holding yourself accountable to actually following through? Cuz I find a lot of people say they want to do these things, but then they get, quote, busy, and it goes lower on the priority list. So how is it that you're holding yourself accountable to doing those things that essentially secure your mask first, before being of service to others?
Shannon Spotswood 20:57
Which I love that analogy. I would have to roll back the clock several years, maybe even more of a decade now of not being protective of that time. So yes, it is in my calendar. I would not stray from this for anything. Even on those days where you're traveling, and you're like, Okay, I can't get my workout in at the time that I usually do it, you still have your meditation time, you still have your prayer time, you still have that at the end of the day, even just some simple yoga stretching, and that, to just kind of like get your mind and your body in touch with each other. So that discipline, developing that discipline around those key pieces of it are essential because I have a place to go to. I have a place to bring fear; I have a place to bring anxiety. I have a place to really bring that uncertainty, and some carved out room to allow it some oxygen so that I don't get paralyzed by it. I can bring it to prayer, I can bring it to meditation, I can bring it to my workout. So that's one piece of it.
David DeCelle 22:03
So to sum that up quickly, essentially what you're saying is through prayer, exercise, and meditation, those are your means of centering yourself when the outside world can be fairly noisy and stressful and anxiety driven. So those are your three mechanisms to take a breath, center yourself, refocus.
Shannon Spotswood 22:23
Exactly, exactly. And then the more tactical piece of it, one of the skill sets that you really, that I've feel you really develop and that I have mastered, like this is something I would say, I won't claim mastery over many things. But one thing that I have really mastered is the art of the mosaic theory. And that comes from six years of running a fund where you're connecting dots on a lot of disparate data points. So you're really reading volumes and volumes of research on companies and industries, on economic trends, on fads on whatever you can get your hands on; in order to make decisions around, do I invest? Do I short this company? Do I go long? Do I sell, do I buy, whatever it is. And so the tactical piece of getting uncomfortable being uncomfortable for me is I am a natural researcher. So I am going to absorb as much data as possible, whether it's from what I can read, what I can Google, what I can find, who I can talk to, who's doing what worked, what failed. So I'll get really comfortable being uncomfortable by going through that process of assimilating a massive amount of data. And we're talking about big stuff, right? If I'm picking out tile for my bathroom, I'm not doing this. But if we're starting a strategic course, or we're gonna make a big investment in business, or even quite honestly, we'll talk about after living in San Francisco for more than 20 years, we moved to Birmingham, Alabama. No, we're not from Birmingham, Alabama. No, I did not grow up in Birmingham, Alabama. No, we did not have jobs in Birmingham, Alabama. So, on these big things, for me, I go to those two avenues. I've got the room and the, if you will, the protected space to process; and then how I get comfortable making a decision, in collaboration, in partnership with my business partners or with my husband, is going through that just exhaustive assimilation of data. And what's important in developing that skill is it can't be open ended; you're never going to have the answer to every single question. You just have to amass enough data that you can answer your pro-con, that you can identify, all right, I'm not going to be able to predict every landmine that might blow me up, but I've identified the ones that I can and I've assessed the risk associated with them. So for me, getting comfortable being uncomfortable, is a dual track with those two lanes.
David DeCelle 24:56
Awesome. I couldn't agree with that more, and as we had discussed on our intro call and maybe you've gotten a sense through social media as well, I love to consume information via podcasts, audio books, and, last year, read or listened to, I should say, 170 books; a goal of 200 books this year. And I mean this somewhat literally, but also figuratively, because there's a lot more that goes into this. But especially as a consultant, people essentially are paying me and paying us at Model FA for, of course, the experience that we have and the other folks that we work with, but quite frankly, to share the knowledge that we've consumed through all the research, quote, unquote, with books that we've been able to do. And what I found is, for me as well, and I'm sure this is similar to you is, it does a good job equipping us with enough knowledge to then increase confidence. And when your confidence is increased, whatever you are fearful of or uncomfortable with initially, doesn't seem as big and scary as it did before. Because we feel like we have the tools in the tool chest and the newly acquired knowledge to navigate through that with enough knowledge to where, as you mentioned, we know some of the landmines. And of the ones that we don't, we know how to work through landmines in general, to where it's no longer scary anymore. So I couldn't agree with you more on that front. The other thing I wanted to hit on as you were going through your story, and I'm glad to see, I still think the industry has a ton of work to do as it relates to males and females in the industry. Obviously, it's a male dominant industry, but I'm curious to know, how much of an impact and what exactly was the impact did it have having a female mentor when you first got in the field?
Shannon Spotswood 26:53
David, it would be impossible to quantify, right? Like I attribute everything to it. I mean, I really believe I would be where I am regardless if I had not crossed her path. But I certainly wouldn't have — I was so fortunate in that as a 22-year-old kid, to be swept up into this kind of protective embrace of this really kind woman whose interest was watching me grow and thrive and succeed. It doesn't mean that she was always easy on me, right? It wasn't all like, oh, we're skipping through the park with our picnic baskets. But she really wanted to teach me. She took very seriously hiring me and invested significantly and making sure that after a year of being with that firm, I could confidently go into an investment banking program. I was the only non-Ivy League kid in that analyst class. How did I get there? I had, I basically had business school, my first year on the job. I got to sit on a trading desk and invest in IPOs and spend all afternoon ripping apart companies and modeling them. They had just come out and they didn't know anything. And I had a year of like an MBA with under her tutelage. So it is something that I try and be really intentional about with my time and my team, both giving back and mentoring within our team, giving back and mentoring within our community. I've got two girls, two teenage girls, a 16-year-old and an almost 13-year-old. So this is a call to arms. You have young women in your organizations, or even your peers who maybe haven't had the privilege of coming up through or working in companies where they were heard, where they were valued, where their opinion mattered, where there was really the forum for taking risk and being recognized for the value that they're delivering. And it's, you've got to be intentional about it.
Patrick Brewer 28:55
Hey, Model FAs, I know you're enjoying this conversation. But I wanted to take a quick break to talk to you about the Model FA Accelerator. This is a unique collaboration between us and you, where we help you build a financial advising practice that you can be proud of, we focus on the foundational concepts around how to pick a niche or a specialization, how to price your services, how to construct an offer that people are going to buy, and then how to market it and sell it in a way that will get people to sign on the dotted line and become clients of your firm, all while giving you the information to scale and set up workflows and operational processes that will allow you to reclaim your time and build a practice that doesn't run you. So if you'd like to hear more about that go to www.ModelFA.com/accelerator or www.ModelFA.com. Hover over Work With Us and click on Accelerator. Hope to see in the program.
David DeCelle 30:02
So let's say I'm a female, and I'm either considering getting into the industry or I'm already a part of the industry. I'm at a firm and it's all men for the most part in the advisor role. What would you suggest to someone in that situation as it relates to finding a female mentor, even if it's outside the four walls of their organization now?
Shannon Spotswood 30:11
I thought you're gonna go with a different direction, and I kind of had this like lightbulb moment as you were talking. So I'm gonna answer that first and then I'm gonna come back to your question; because I feel like in the interview process in that role, be aware of the environment that you're getting in. I have this conversation all the time with advisors who are running their firms or, regardless of size, that I think there is a real like desire to promote women and to foster their professional development. But a lot of these organizations just don't have the muscle memory; they don't know how to do that. So I would say, point one, when you're having that interview, we're now at a crossroads, right? We're no longer this hierarchy of, come work for me, and I'm the boss. That doesn't work anymore, that doesn't fly. So when you're in that situation, and you're interviewing, I would say, regardless of level, have an open conversation about what, like, acknowledge the elephant in the room: it's all men here. So, I'm gonna need you to advocate for me, don't let my voice not be heard, invite me to sit at the table, allow me to have some space to have an opinion. And I would say in the interviewing process, regardless of position, you're coming in as an admin, you're coming as an advisor, you're coming in as an associate, whatever it is, have that conversation in that role. And then the outside mentorship question? Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, I think that you've got to have someone else that you can bounce some things off of, if for no other reason than to find your backbone for when you're like, need to stand up for yourself and need to advocate for yourself. I was really fortunate in that all of my partners today, two men, all of them in honestly, well, maybe not all, but most of them that I work for all really — they wanted me at the table, and they didn't want me just — what I was really reflecting on, on International Women's Day. They didn't want me just to sit at a table. They're like, we want you to sit at the head of the table.
David DeCelle 32:10
I think it's too, and we've known each other for a very short period of time. But what I'm gathering from you is you have a nice mix of gracefulness, yet sternness and confidence and directness in your tone. And I feel like it's a nice combination of qualities to be confident enough to hang out in that room, so to speak; and confident enough to be able to give a totally different perspective than a bunch of guys may have. So, for what that's worth, that's what I've gathered so far in you.
Shannon Spotswood 32:46
David, thank you, I appreciate you saying that.
Now I want to come to St. Pete, hang out on the boat. I'll take more. Thank you, I really appreciate you saying that, that means a lot.
David DeCelle 32:57
So where would a female go about searching for a mentor outside of their organization, if there are no successful female advisors already there? Because I feel like it's a combination of accepting the role as pioneer within that firm; and being confident and tenacious enough to accomplish that; while also being humble enough to seeking advice, guidance, and mentorship along the way. So I guess my question, and I just don't know this, and I probably should, are there groups or forums or particular resources in the industry? Or, how would you go about actually finding that person to be able to ask if they can be their mentee?
Shannon Spotswood 33:40
Paging Kate Healy, paging Kate Healy, can you help us? This is something, I'll be honest, as an industry, we could probably be more intentional about. I think that we're starting to form some more female panels and groups, and having conversations where it's all women speakers, or associations and organizations, but I can't really point you. I feel like this is almost going to be like, take a note, call to action, we got to do something where I could say, Yep, David here is a resource for young women in our industry to be able to get matched with a mentor. So let's put this one — give me some time on this. I've got a lot of unbel — I mean, the cool thing about working in finance and why I'm like the biggest cheerleader for women entering our industry, is you want to be challenged every day. You want to surround yourself with really smart people. You want to meet some of the most talented professionals, including women, that you could ever hope to run across, like come on, come on.
David DeCelle 34:36
And I remember too in our initial conversation, I took this note and put it in quotes that you like to build things. So I'm confident that you'll figure it out.
Shannon Spotswood 34:46
All right, let's give me till fall and let's have a follow on because I like this idea.
David DeCelle 34:51
Well, one of our — I'm batting 1000 so far in challenging folks. And granted, it's just one example that I'm sharing now, but one of our previous guests, Ivan Farber, he authored the book Conversations. And it was just in a book. And I told him, I was like, hey, for the interview, just so you know, I'll skim through the book enough to have some talking points. But, I can't sit still and actually read, I need it to be an audio book. And this was back, I want to say in like November; and earlier this year, in February, he went live with his audio book. So far 100% track record. So I'm confident you'll keep it at that. So looking forward to seeing.
That’s tapping into my typing and competitive nature; like, wait, it's a competition, I can't lose.
So getting back to a little bit about your story, and I want to pivot over to how to develop a culture. And I’ve got some questions around that. So what you didn't yet get to, and I want to make sure that there's credit involved here, because it's pretty impressive to get to this level. So you had taken the step out of the industry; you went and started the children's clothing company out of the garage, as you mentioned. Fast forward, and you got up to like over 150 stores that it was available. And so that's no small feat in and of itself. And then you went from there, and you started to have conversations with the folks over at RFG. As you put it, you went on the back of a napkin of RFG version 2.0. Right, so you're now the president of RFG, you guys have 2.7 billion in assets, 65 advisors; it's not like it's a small firm by any means whatsoever. That takes a lot of responsibility. It takes a lot of vision; it takes a lot of culture building as well. So I guess my question is, as it relates to RFG, what does building a culture actually mean to you? And then the second part of the question would be, what are the actual mechanics? So when someone says, I really need help building a culture; like, I have a side client of mine, who's a CPA who just bought his firm from his senior partner. And one thing that he shared with me in our last call is he feels like they don't have a culture. So I want to know some of the steps that you need to take to actually do that. So the first question is, tell me about the culture at RFG and how’d you get there?
Shannon Spotswood 37:16
And then the mechanics. Oh, this is so good. This is like, I mean, if we were gonna pick the top five favorite topics, this would be on that list, for sure. Okay, so a little bit of context. RFG was founded by my partner, Bobby White, in 2003. And he very successfully grew the company from, starting it to about $1.1–$1.2 billion when we met. And I will forever credit him, especially in our industry, for advisors who are listening to this podcast, is he grew really over an 18-month period from 500 million to that 1.2 billion through two succession driven acquisitions. So two large advisors partnered with him, they both needed succession plans; and as he likes to say, he went back to his office for the proverbial pat on the back. I'm a badass, I just tripled the size of my company. He's like, and I found myself crying like a baby in the corner, like, what have I done? I've outgrown my team. I've outgrown my technology. I've outgrown my custodian. I've outgrown like, I can't do anything but eat this elephant. And he is also an advisor. Like so many advisors, he is the, at that point, the professional of multi, let me take on and off every single hat, multitasking. So he's an advisor, he's got a large practice, he's now got this firm that's $1.2 billion. Like, people's heads are exploding as he's walking down; and I meet him and fifteen minutes into our first conversation, we canceled the rest of our day. And we sat there having this conversation about RFG 2.0 and the proverbial cocktail napkin. And what I was seeking, what I learned as I looked back through my professional career up until that point is I like to build things, and I call it seeking intangible. I wanted the intersection of talent and opportunity to build something bigger than myself, because that's what I had done already four times before. And he and I sit down, we talk about all the convergence of these disruptive factors coming to bear on the wealth management industry. And the whole conversation revolved around what is the RIA of the future? How would you serve independent advisors? What does that look like? What does that feel like? It took us about six months to kind of iron out our partnership agreement, ownership, and all that sort of stuff. And then I started September five, now what, five and a half years ago. Minute one, day one, we went on a mission to build RFG 2.0; so out of the gate we said we are going to tear this house down. We are going to change absolutely everything about RFG. We are going to change our technology. We are going to change our custodians. We are going to change our business model. We are going to change our value proposition. We are going to change every inch of this.
David DeCelle 39:53
How was that received by the people who are already there?
Shannon Spotswood 39:56
So, this is the conversation he and I are having. So you're like, We're about ready to spend a whole year on due diligence. And then a couple years building this from the ground floor up, and we have 30 advisors affiliated with us at the time. Every single person we talked to is like, You're crazy, you're going to fail, you're going to lose all your advisors, it's never going to work. I mean, if we heard that once, we heard that 100 times from every single person we talked to. So we got very inwardly focused on culture. We’re like, the only way we are going to be successful in doing this – and we started with roles and responsibilities. We started with what does RFG even stand for? Who are we? What do we do? What do we like? Who are we right? Not even, what's our mission statement? It's like, who are we, as a team? We're a team of A players. What does it mean to be an A player on the RFG team? It means we're committed to iterating towards excellence; it means we're gonna work to get 1% better every day; it means we're going to lead with a servant heart and a warrior mindset. So we spent a ton of times on what I would call attributes of our team. And in parallel with that, we did roles and responsibilities. And we had a Strategic Coach helping us with this for a full year; I had a Strategic Coach helping me define the roles, the responsibilities, the off sites. How do you message change management? How do you build this really from the ground floor up? And then one of the things that we're all most proud of is through this transformational journey of change. We lost no advisors, every single one of them opted to take this journey with us. And was it harder than we expected it to be? Yes. Was it significantly more expensive than we expected it to be? Yes. So did I predict all the landmines? No. But because of the fact that every single person told us we were going to fail, we had to get tremendous clarity internally on those touchstones. So mission vision values for us is interwoven into this, like, we're gonna build RFG 2.0. So springing forward to where we are today, it's taken on several different shapes. And I would say, our culture is what — and everybody says this — but our culture is not only what sets us apart, our culture is what gets us out of bed, our culture is what's fueling us to be a $10 billion RIA of the future. We're having so much fun disrupting ourselves, and really embracing innovation that none of us can even imagine. It's like oxygen; we're like, well, this is how you do it. But I'll tell you what, David, this has been — I've had to grow tremendously as a leader. One of the hardest, and I'll never forget Bobby looking at me and like, you're great at x, y and z; you suck at emotional intelligence. And of course, I suck at emotional intelligence. Right? I was raised on Wall Street. Feelings? Are you kidding me? You think you're gonna have feelings on a trading desk? No. So, I spent a whole year of accountability journaling on emotional intelligence. Am I listening? Am I being intentional? Am I — all of those important factors. So all of us, as leaders, have had to do work on ourselves. We've been really intentional about that culture. And now, at the stage where we are now, not only is culture — we've documented it, we reflect in our swag, we reflect in all the fun things we do as a team, we reflect in the cadence of our functional team meetings, in our all hands huddles, in our leadership meetings, in our board materials. I mean, the culture is — we are now one DNA, who we are, RIA of the future, an independent platform for investment advisors — is one in the same with, we have a servant heart and a warrior mindset.
David DeCelle 43:53
So you started off with vision values, things along those lines. I guess my question about that is, is that something where you got input throughout the organization on who folks wanted to be? Or was it, the executive team huddled up and kind of made those decisions? Like, how did you come up with the mission vision values that, for the organization?
Shannon Spotswood 44:17
You know, it's really evolved over five years. Five years ago, it was Bobby and me. And then our third partner joined us a year later, Rick; it was the three of us. We were strong arming the future. Like people, especially when you're on that amount of transformative change, we were really like, this is what it means to be a member, a team member at RFG. This is what an A player is like. These are the attributes we're interviewing for. This is the rigor around roles and responsibilities. All of that, in the early days was pretty narrowly controlled. As we've evolved, now the culture is shared. It is 100% a collaborative effort, and the lifeblood of the culture is the collaborative engagement with all of that. So the refining of is, we were just actually working, and we could have a whole separate podcast on how you amplify enthusiastically culture in the new normal in a virtual environment, in a hybridized work environment. That's literally a whole separate conversation. But part of the work that we've done this year is we've really focused on our onboarding and recognizing you can't onboard someone one time. We've created a document for team members that are joining us that really define, what do we mean when we say get 1% better every day? What does that even mean? What does it mean to say crush everything? Like when we're around here, we're like, crush everything; what does that mean for us? Like, we've got our own language now. So we have really been intentional and documenting that. We've built a SharePoint site. We have, like I said, we are completely swag crazy. And all of that is designed to just reinforce the mission. And we'll have, when we're working on hard things, our initiative for this year, one of our strategic initiatives is scale up? What do we need to break? What is not scalable? What can't be done at $10 billion that we're doing today? Scale up, and we'll look at each other like shit, this is gonna be hard. That's alright, crush everything; iterate towards excellence. We don't have attachment to, Oh, well this is how we've always done it.
David DeCelle 46:36
So it seems like the culture that you guys have come up with is something that's reiterated time and time again, especially when there may be some discomfort on the horizon, or potentially just, with any team it’s natural to have friction in some way, shape or form at some point in time. But then it's almost — actually this is kind of a cool comparison. It's almost like the culture serves as your version personally, of working out, prayer, and meditation, where it kind of centers the company with one mission. And every decision that's made is determined by — or depending on the decision you make, that's determined by, is this in alignment with our mission vision values as an organization?
Shannon Spotswood 47:20
You're 100% right and that's so like, drop the mic, that was so beautifully said; I love that. And you know, I was thinking about your CPA client; here's the deal, you can't fake it, right? You can't fake it; you can't hire McKinsey, and like, we're going to have a mission statement, or we're going to read this book. We love the metronome effect and the cadence of running companies and attraction and Be2 Dot and like all that stuff. I consume that like you do, right; feed me more on operational efficiency and optimization. But you can't fake your values. You can't fake your vision and your mission. So as you're thinking about, we have no culture, that's a lot of okay, it's time to get in touch, get your mind and body in sync, because you need to do some soul searching. Because if you are not willing to preach it, it's not happening.
David DeCelle 48:14
Right. You can smell the fakeness.
Shannon Spotswood 48:18
I mean, it's got to be like, Can I get an amen on this? I'm, like I could literally talk about — and as I think honestly, anyone on our team could sit in front of this mic with you and be like, let's talk culture. Let's talk about how it changed our life. Let's talk about how it informs our decision making. Let's talk about how it really guides us in delivery service. Let's talk about how we're going to get to $10 billion amplifying our culture. So you got to be, that's where you got to be on it. It's not going to be like, hold on, let me get my PowerPoint presentation out. It's, what do you really believe? What do you want? And our culture here would make other people so uncomfortable. They’re like, I don't want to go 100 miles an hour, on the edge of innovation. Like, that's not what I'm about. And we, the beautiful thing about this is because we're so clear in our culture, whether it's our ability to attract advisors to our platform — they know exactly what they're getting with us. You want people to select out of your culture; like, this isn't for me. When we're interviewing for our team, it's very easy for us to be like, you know what, you are not gonna — like we're not coloring in the lines here, you are not going to be happy here. So it serves so many masters once you can really have clarity around that. But it's got to come from your heart.
David DeCelle 49:39
So I'm sure it's part of your interview process, but an idea for you in case it's not / maybe a more scalable way to go about it that you just kind of alluded to, on your end; you mentioned that any of your advisors or team members could sit behind the mic and talk about the culture. So if they're not already woven into the interview process, could be a good idea, I'm sure I'm sure there are for select individuals, but could also be great video content to have each of them highlight like what the culture means to them and more of a scalable way, whether it be part of the interview process as a follow up or having it on your website, social media, of course, so write that down.
I love that. That’s a good idea. Write that down; done.
So I feel and I say this wholeheartedly, I feel like we could talk about this for a while. So as you mentioned earlier, coming to St. P, you and your husband are welcome to visit so we can actually have more time outside of just a podcast recording. So I do want to pivot slightly over to the most recent book that you read. So for everyone listening, if this is your first episode, this is going to be news to you. If you've listened to other episodes before this, you'll know that what I'm really trying to do within our industry is promote learning, and promote learning both in and outside of our industry. There's so many good nuggets through people's entrepreneurial journeys, through various marketing books, culture books, we've talked a lot about culture today, that you can then take and apply it to what you're actually doing. So the purpose of asking all of our guests what book has had an impact on them is to hopefully have you go and grab that book yourself, consume it, and get similar nuggets that our guests have. So all the books that are mentioned are in the show notes. So if you're driving right now, and can't really go and buy the book, just take a look at the show notes afterwards and you'll see it. So Shannon, one of the books that you had mentioned, which is one of the most recent books that you've read so I know it's fresh in your mind, and hopefully, there's some nuggets that you can hit on. But it is, and I may butcher the last name, Jen Sincero. I think that's how it's pronounced. And the title is, You Are a Badass, which I think you can't judge a book by its cover, but that one sounds interesting. So tell me a little bit more about that. I have not had a chance to read that yet.
Shannon Spotswood 52:04
Well what's fun about this book is like you — I could consume all of this information kind of indefinitely, and really feel energized by it. Our director of operations at the beginning of COVID, when we all went virtual, was like his goal for 2020 was to really level up as a leader? Which I just, that's awesome to hear. And so he committed to reading one strategy book a month, and he shared this with all of us. And we're like, you know, we should have a leadership team Book Club; which I never wanted to force that right. I don't want to — I was reading all this stuff, but you're never gonna be like, Oh, great, like, oh, now we have to read a book; you know, you don't want that. So he brought it. We did one a quarter last year. So we did four last year; it was some of our most fun time. And we found that our best time to have book club discussion as a leadership team was at like 6:30, 7:00 at night with a glass of wine. So it allowed us to connect in a different environment.
David DeCelle 52:56
My mom's been, I got finger quotes up right now, been a part of multiple book clubs, as they say. So I feel like it's a wine tasting.
Shannon Spotswood 53:06
This one is like, I really as I looked back on highlights of 2020, that would be on my list. Like it was really a fun connecting exercise. So our Q1 of 2021 book, I brought it so if you're watching, you can see it: You Are a Badass, bright yellow cover.
David DeCelle 53:24
And you got a bunch of notes and whatnot. So you are an active reader.
Shannon Spotswood 53:29
I am a very active, like, give me a yellow highlighter and I'm so at home with it. Okay, so what I loved about this book, as I mentioned, I'll be 50 here in a few weeks. And that is just a time for reflection, right? You kind of feel like, wow, I'm at the halfway mark; what is the next 50 years going to look like? This book is all about manifestation. So I'm a big believer in write it down. I'm a big believer in pray on it. If you want it bad enough, you will manifest it into your life. And this is really, I would say, the beginner's guide to manifestation. And what I loved so much about it is for me, I have several tools that I use around both short- and long-term goal planning, but this one I felt really energized to think bigger, and to dream bigger, and to question some of the goals — the why behind some of the goals that I have been working towards and like, Do I want that or do I really want something bigger than that? And so it was, I think part of it was where I am. I read it all, full disclosure, I read it on the beach in St. Thomas, which is not a bad, you know, staring at the Caribbean will get you inspired any day; but this is a fun one. The most fun thing for me about this book is I actually bought this book for my husband in 2015. And then a friend of mine gave it to me for my birthday probably three years ago. So this book has been basically, as I call, traveling around my bedside table for the better part of six years. And I just find it's really interesting that I picked it up at the time that I picked it up, and that I felt really energized reading it. I mean, it is just full of, like I've refined actually, which we started with this, I'll share this, I refined, on the back of reading this, my daily prayer. I evolved my daily prayer after reading this book. And so it had little actionable items; it had big actionable items. But I do believe you call people, you call information, you call books, you call things into your life when you need them the most, and if you're kind of open to receiving it. So I find that interesting that it's been doing a drive by on my bedside table for six years, and I read it now; because I honestly was a little bit like sneery at it. I was like, whatever that's got to be stupid, with a title like that. It's all pop culture nonsense, but I like it.
David DeCelle 56:02
Yeah, it was cool, too. Because for those of you listening, that may also be struggling with committing to reading or finishing a book, I know there's a lot of people listening that are probably great at starting books, maybe not seeing them all the way through. One of the things that changed from the last few years when you got it, up until now, was accountability and camaraderie with book club. So if you're struggling with consuming the information that you know you should be consuming, feel free to tap some other folks on the shoulder. That way you're committed to more than just yourself. So I appreciate you sharing that. I'm going to go and scoop that myself and add it to my list and I'll follow up with you let you know how I like it. So this was a lot of fun. Before we head into the after-hours section, Shannon, if someone feels compelled to do so after this podcast, after listening to the podcast, what's the best way to get in touch with you?
Shannon Spotswood 56:59
And I would say enthusiastically please connect with me, we all need each other. So on LinkedIn, Shannon Spotswood, on Twitter SSpotswoodRFG, on Instagram at stronghermoney. And then my email is [email protected]
David DeCelle 57:20
Awesome. And all those will be in the show notes. And her Instagram handle alluded to it, but I would definitely also check out stronghermoney.com. I know it's a brand that you've been focusing on to really help empower women with their financial planning. So for those of you who have a strong focus on serving women, great brand to look at. And I feel like there's a lot more to discuss with you, both over drinks, hopefully at some point in person, as well as another episode potentially at some point down the road. So appreciate the time. And for everyone listening, as you've gotten used to now we do have two asks in our episodes. So number one is if you found value, which I think it's impossible to not find value in this episode, specifically, go ahead and share it. I think that a lot of our episodes are very much industry specific. So you typically share it with another advisor that you know, but I think that some of the things that we discussed in this show are applicable regardless of the industry. So go ahead and feel free to share it with whoever you'd like. That would help us out a lot and obviously help the person who would be listening to it a lot as well. And the second ask is we'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes. It will certainly help with our overall visibility to be able to impact more of the community. So if you go ahead, leave us a review, and just shoot me a text at 978-228-2338 both with the screenshot of the review so I know that you did it, as well as Shannon, just simply say Shannon, so I know what episode it is in reference to. And as a thank you for doing so we'll go ahead and give you access to the digital portion of our coaching, the Accelerator program, and you can learn more about that at ModelFA.com. But Shannon, I appreciate the outreach because your team had reached out to us when we had opened it up to guests. So I'm glad that we were connected, grateful that we connected, very grateful for the time, and quite frankly, it's nice to be energized by you and with the passion that you have. So I thank you very much for joining.
Shannon Spotswood 59:25
Thank you, David. I really, it was fun to be with you. I look forward to the next time, especially if it's on a boat in St. Pete.
David DeCelle 59:32
Perfect. Now we're gonna head into the after-hours.
Shannon that was honestly like from my heart fantastic. I think that, I don't know how much video and audio that you're doing currently, but I would allocate a substantial amount of your time towards it. I'm not, I'm not kidding.
Thank you. Call to action gives in.
It was very dynamic, very, like I said before, graceful yet confident; and it's just a very cool mix especially. And we have some other women scheduled but this was the first recorded podcast since our new format, I should be very clear on, since we rolled this out earlier this year, so it's just a, honestly it was it was a pleasure so I thank you very much.
Shannon Spotswood 1:00:29
Thank you, I appreciate you saying that. It is, I really love it. I'm finding that it takes you a while to find your voice in doing this and get comfortable. Get comfortable being uncomfortable, like, do it on camera.
David DeCelle 1:00:42
So let's buckle up, I got a couple or a few, Would you rather questions, just put you on the hot seat. So first one is, would you rather have no eyebrows are no eyelashes?
Shannon Spotswood 1:00:57
Oh wow. That's easy. I'm a girl so no eyelashes; those things I can have applied, fake all day long.
David DeCelle 1:01:03
So I saw a meme for a dentist office that was going on Facebook or Instagram, whatever it was, and it was about the importance of dental care; and it was a family photo and the husband had one eyebrow and the other one was missing but he also was missing his front tooth. And it said, the importance of dental care; you didn't even notice that he only had one eyebrow, you immediately notice his tooth. It was like spot on. Man, would you rather try and survive a year in the desert with your friends? Or a year in a reality TV house with really dumb cast members?
Shannon Spotswood 1:01:44
Easy. I went to Arizona, baby. Survive a year in the desert with friends. That's like a walk in the park. Familiar territory.
David DeCelle 1:01:53
Love it. Would you rather only have eight fingers or eight toes?
Eight fingers. Why is that?
Shannon Spotswood 1:01:59
Because I'm an athlete. I love to run and cycle.
David DeCelle 1:02:03
I'm gonna toss you a ball, see if you can catch it with only eight fingers. Awesome. Well, I appreciate you having some fun at the end. I look forward to the point in time where we meet in person. I'm committed to that, so hopefully you are as well.
I am, that'd be fun.
Next time your husband wants to check out St. Pete, bring him along. I'll show you around and see if we can get you to explore here a little bit. Okay, so awesome.
You're welcome. For those of you who stuck around for the after-hours, appreciate your time. Grateful for the time spent and look forward to seeing you on the next show. Take care.