Before we jump right in, tell us a little about yourself…
I was raised in rural Sullivan County, N.Y., a region of the Catskill Mountains once known as the “Borscht Belt.” It’s a beautiful area with a rich history that had its heyday for 50 years – roughly 1920-1970s– then went through some hard times. It recently has gone through a bit of a renaissance. I left the small town area before the rebirth so to speak for the big city after college and eventually settled in the Hudson Valley. But, I always carry the core experience I had growing up in a small town with me.
My parents are two of the hardest working people I know. My dad, originally an electrician by trade, was entrepreneurial and had multiple small businesses through most of my childhood – mainly home security systems. My mom worked for the town, and played an integral role in my father’s businesses as her secondary job. They taught me to save first and not overspend along with many lessons of what it takes to operate a small business day to day.
Many of the most important business lessons I learned probably happened, again, when I was growing up around and working in my dad’s small business. I saw how hard it could be, but how empowering it was as well. He always went above and beyond and made sure the job was done perfectly. It was here I first learned the importance of top client/customer experience. I’ll always remember how he insisted that customers’ houses were vacuumed and put back exactly as it was when they arrived no matter what. Attention to details matter.
I hear you on that. How’d you get into the financial field?
Well, I didn’t take a straight line, but it was all leading to where I am today. I was inspired early after watching Oliver Stone’s 1987 classic Wall Street in my high school business law class. No, I wasn’t focused on the “greed is good” line. It made me want to understand markets, how they worked and how I or someone like me could be a part of them. I was enamored with the excitement and energy- the intrigue of a world so different from where I was growing up. In my small town, there were no investment firms. I knew I wanted to learn more about the financial world and what it meant to everyday people.
I became pretty focused on getting a degree in finance. I got a bachelor of science in finance from Ithaca College and a masters of arts in media studies from The New School. While at Ithaca, I had interned at a Smith Barney office. I had no connections and sought this internship out on my own knowing I wanted to be in New York City. I went to the career services office and started going through these binders with info on alumni and where they worked. I sent a cold letter to an alum who worked at Smith Barney in Midtown Manhattan who connected me with a broker who was looking for an intern. It wasn’t so glamorous, but I did experience the bright lights of NYC and midtown corporate life.
Why did you decide to go from larger firms like Smith Barney and MetLife to creating your own smaller firm in 2012?
I formed Impact Wealth Strategies (IWS) to better achieve and ensure success for my clients. I later rebranded it to what it is now: SDA Wealth Strategies — the “SDA” standing for Simplify, Design and Advocate. The name is also an anagram for my first initial and my children Daniel and Alexa. I wanted to better control the experience my clients had. I had a vision that was influenced by my varied life and work experiences – small town and big city, not for profit, small business and large Fortune 500 corporations.
The reason SDA exists and our vision for the future today is pretty similar to when I started in 2012: “to empower people and businesses to consciously be proactive to thrive today, tomorrow and beyond.” SDA’s vision, to quote it directly, is “built for growth and innovation in the next era of financial advice. We’re integral to clients’ lives and they know our passion is helping their health and wealth in harmony.” In other words, our highest priority is always our clients’ best interest.
Shifting gears, SDA Wealth Strategies has a sister firm, SDA Divorce Solutions.* How did that come about?
I’ve added a niche to the focus of my work - the matters surrounding marriage and divorce. Having been through my own divorce I understand the struggles and hardships that may arise when a marriage is dissolved. As a parent with joint custody, I can relate to the sensitive issues and emotional struggles felt by all in these circumstances. I earned the designation Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDDA) to fully build out SDA Divorce Solutions as a separate business.*
Keeping with that, do you have any words of wisdom you try to live by that helps you in your business and with your clients?
As I excitedly watch the ongoing rebirth of my hometown, I can’t help but see its connection to things I think about. Keep those roots well nourished. There may be rough patches along the way and it may take time, but you can come back reimagined and better than before – taking advantage of opportunities that come your way.. Find your strengths and hone in on them. Know your weaknesses and how you can mitigate them by surrounding yourself with the right team. I try to live by and tell my kids, my clients and others— “One step at a time.” It’s so easy to get ahead of ourselves especially in today’s distracted world we live in. We have to plan for the future, but if we don’t get through each step along the way it will all fall apart.
Lastly, you mention your childhood a lot. How has having your own kids impacted your life in and out of business?
My greatest joy is being a dad to two amazing kids who inspire me every day to be the best person I can. They come first for me always- above all. I spend as much time as I can with them, but finding the elusive work/life balance so many of us struggle with is a never ending challenge.
*Divorce planning services offered through SDA Divorce Solutions, LLC are separate and unrelated to Commonwealth.