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Voice of Experience: Susan Brown, Wells Fargo Advisors

Susan BrownSusan Brown keeps a quote from Marianne Williamson on her desk that says, “There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…. As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

Those words, which have helped Brown grow her team and business at Wells Fargo Advisors (WFA), remind her that women must be bolder than they might have been conditioned and pass it on to others.  “We need to learn our own value and expertise—and speak to ourselves just like our best friend would,” she advises.

Building Her Business, Helping Others Build Their Wealth

As Brown puts it, she “fell” into the career she loves 35 years ago, when she was working in Hilton Head, S.C., and married a manager at her current company, which meant she ultimately had to find another job. At her side gig teaching aerobics, a class member suggested she interview at Prudential Securities—where she was quickly hired.From there, Brown transferred to Charlotte, N.C., as a client associate for the firm. Her next move was to transition to a financial advisor role, where she spent eight years in a positive mentoring relationship with a senior financial advisor. Prudential Securities was acquired by Wachovia Securities and then Wells Fargo Advisors—where Brown is now a financial advisor, managing a $170 million-AUM practice. She’s proud to oversee an all-female, multi-generational team of four, which includes her partner, Karen Shane, once Brown’s client associate. Both participated in Wells Fargo Advisors’ DELTA Program, an intensive coaching and consulting process based on proven business development and practice management strategies—and realized how well they work together.

In addition to building and developing her team, Brown acknowledges her proudest professional achievement as being able to keep 100 percent of her clients in the market during the 2008 collapse. “There are only so many ways to tell people to hang in there, but they listened, and I’m pleased to say that they were all able to recover.”

Brown’s team remains focused on its mantra of “women helping women,” and is working to attract additional female corporate executives as clients. “This is what we’re passionate about, and we’ve had proven success in this space over the years,” she says.

A Program that Helps Women Grow

Brown advises women to be patient with themselves as they hone their skills, something that she feels is reinforced through Wells Fargo Advisors’ Next Generation Talent Program—of which she encouraged Shane to participate as she progressed from client associate to financial advisor.

The innovative program, which includes training and mentoring as well as a salary throughout the program before transitioning to base plus commission, has an 80 percent success rate. In contrast, Wall Street’s traditional sink-or-swim training programs garner only about a 20 percent success rate. “Being a client associate used to be a place where you got stuck,” Brown says.  “However, WFA’s program provided Karen with the training, support and development to become a financial advisor—and I gained a partner and an eventual successor for my practice in the process.”

It’s also a win for the firm, as the program yields confident and educated advisors for the next generation, as well as clients who will be served by them. Brown hadn’t realized her clients were worried about her eventual retirement until she introduced her new, younger partner, and they expressed their relief in knowing there was a great succession plan in place.

“My clients’ concern about my succession plan is simply because the relationships we’ve built are so personal—some of them already stretching to a fourth generation,” she says. “We understand their challenges and family dynamics and these deep relationships are invaluable.” In fact, she finds that her work and social life are almost inextricable. “If you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work,” she says, adding that most of her travel and exercise groups include many of her clients.

She is also imparting the importance of relationship-building to her 28-year-old daughter, Anna Berger, who joined her team four years ago. Anna graduated from the University of South Carolina with degrees in finance and marketing and had started her career in New York, when she told her mom she wanted to move back to Charlotte. Anna has her Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor designation and focuses on client review preparation, trading, social media and other duties but has plans to participate in WFA’s Next Generation Talent Program, as well. In 2017, Kelly Walker joined Brown’s team as a practice manager and handles scheduling appointments, managing the team calendar as well as coordinating client events.  She is also working on obtaining her securities licenses.  “Kelly is extraordinary at running the team and making sure everyone is executing on a daily basis. She’s a star,” adds Brown.

“I was taught that I’d be recognized for hard work and merit, yet I’m telling my daughter that while hard work is important—it’s not enough. I tell her that she has to be bold and go after what she wants because no one is going to just serve it to her,” says Brown. “However, I believe that if you’re passionate about your career, like I am, everything else will naturally fall into place.”