With nearly three decades of financial advising behind her, Mary J. Howard knows a lot about helping others navigate uncertainty and plan for the future.
Her daughter, Megan, is now learning the same alongside her as their team has been working closely with clients to help them position themselves for success during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Howard Group of Baird is a private wealth management team that has a particular passion for advising women and couples. Together, Mary and Megan are helping others create a foundation for their future financial success. That’s as critical now as ever, with many people realizing you never know when major disruption could occur.
We caught up with them to talk about advising during these unprecedented times.
First, let’s talk a bit about your background. What in your experience do you believe positioned or led you to your role in business today?
With our roots planted deep in the “America’s Heartland” and the Midwest mentality of work hard and succeed that has been embedded into our blood and business. Everything that matters to us in life boils down to relationships. First between God and then through relationships we have with others.
Mary’s prior military service taught her and her family how to work hard and be of service to others. Through her career, she attained rank as an Army captain and her service included the Airborne Parachutist Badge “jump wings” at Fort Benning, Ga., along with serving as an air defense artillery officer in Germany in 1984 during the Cold War.
Mary’s unit was responsible to protect and defend the NATO airways on the East German and Czechoslovakia border. She was commander of an ADA HAWK missile battery comprised of 167 soldiers and 54 live missiles. When she and her husband, Dave, stationed stateside, she served as a military intelligence, counter intelligence officer in Fort Hood, Texas.
Military service taught Mary how to be tenaciousness, the power of passion and how to be an influential, stable leader. Mary transitioned from military life to civilian life and began her financial advising career in Houston, Texas. Early on, Mary felt a pull to helping women understand their financial and investment life. As she helped her own mother navigate managing finances as a widow, she got to see the magic of women becoming empowered and enlightened that they can take control of an area of life many women are not comfortable with. We are in the business of building lasting relationships and making money meaningful.
What have the past few months been like at The Howard Group? What kinds of concerns or opportunities have you worked through with clients?
The three words we’d use to describe 2020: unpredictable, cohesive and people-centered. Our first and foremost priority is to make sure the people that are special to us and that we work for are OK. Our team huddled every morning to discuss markets, clients and our “to-do” list. “Dividing and conquering” was our strong suit, and having a strong and resilient support staff is critical to our business. Our client assistant, Tyler Osterloo, did a phenomenal job managing the incoming needs and helping with making sure our clients were seen and heard.
We believe wealth is so much more than money. With the forced “slowdown,” this gave us more time to work with clients on items that had been on the back burner. Examples include updating estate plans, tax planning and leveraging the market cycle to positive outcomes for our clients. Using the lemons we were given, we were able to make some sweet lemonade. We were given the chance to strengthen our bonds with our clients and be seen as a value add.
What trends are you seeing in your industry as people and economies attempt to rebound from the pandemic?
Trust and relationships above just obtaining investment returns. Our industry has a wide variety of business templates, and during the pandemic, it has solidified that our approach of relationships first wins every time. As in life, there are a lot of variables we have no control over.
Using the full picture and planning ahead is the key to be able to adapt quickly in our industry. A business centered on humans, markets and law changes forces us to be in a position of ebb and flow. As an adviser, if you can’t adapt or be willing to be open-minded, you will be left behind. The other trend is embracing technology, which likely will only continue.
You’re both passionate about philanthropy. How do you enjoy giving back and why do you feel it’s a key part to your professional lives as well as personal missions?
As women, we have to be selective with our time, resources and energy. We both align with our philanthropy missions with our strengths and talents. Mary likes to use her many years of experience and knowledge to effect change. She enjoys being a part of a team to lead and direct change for her alma mater and the children in our community. As women, we understand that we all maintain a balancing act as a wife, mother, daughter, friend and successful professional and that we must take care of ourselves to be able to serve others.
What has it been like working as a family business yourselves through the pandemic? Are there experiences or takeaways you could share with others?
Megan: I personally have learned a great deal of the reasoning behind the investment strategies Mom has set up for our clients. As the younger generation, sometimes we think our folks or business colleagues have certain ways of doing things without full comprehension of the “why” behind it. Mom has lived through many bear markets in the last 30 years, but this one caught everyone off guard and happened within a month’s time. I know now the “why,” and it will forever be burned into my personal investment philosophy.
The most rewarding part of our business is the smiles, hugs, tears and celebrations we get to experience alongside our clients, who we view as a part of our extended family. We’ve had clients cry and send us sweet notes thanking us and telling us how grateful they are that we help them and knowing they aren’t alone to make big decisions.
It has been fun to form my own relationships with our clients and becoming one of the people they trust most. These people have known me and watched me grow up since 5 years old in pigtails running around the office. The intrinsic values that my mom has given me have proven that our clients are very comfortable and know that they will be taken care of as Mom would. That is something I do not take lightly.
You’ve both been involved members of the Prairie Family Business Association. How has it strengthened your family business in addition to allowing you to connect with other families?
Megan: I’m in an Affinity peer group and for the last three years have become very close with my fellow members. I really enjoy pushing the pause button of the day-to-day business and am able to connect and work on myself and my business with people who know or have been through what I have. There’s no one else in the business community that can relate at that depth. Having a support team outside of the office is essential to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Mom and I have made a point that we have strict rules of no office talk around the dinner table. Let’s be honest — our family doesn’t want to hear about it anyway! At the end of the day, we have always made sure our mother-daughter relationship comes first since that is the one title/relationship that will be with us for life.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
These last six months have reminded us what is truly important in life and who you choose to walk by through it. Keep your loved ones near and dear, and never take life for granted.
Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. Proverbs 15:22