John Chapman, financial advisor and WorthPointe partner, interviewed our founder Christopher Van Slyke on his podcast, “The John Chapman Show.” This episode highlights the wealth management journey of high-earning millennials and their mentors.
In this interview, John discusses Christopher’s “dream life,” living in Wyoming and working remotely with a flexible schedule. They talk about how Christopher’s love for working one-on-one with his clients, his natural entrepreneurial itch, his lightbulb moment along the way, and some poignant advice from his father led him to what is now WorthPointe. Listen to the podcast above or go to here to check it out.
Announcer: Welcome to the John Chapman Show, where we talk about the path of a wealthy millennial, uncovering the truth about building and protecting your nest egg. Join us on this journey as we hear the stories of millennials and mentors alike to help you plan, manage and protect your wealth. John is an employee of Worthpointe, LLC. All opinions expressed by John and podcast guests are solely their own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Worthpointe. This podcast should not be relied upon for investment decisions and is for informational purposes only.
John: Hey everyone, John Chapman here. Excited to have you with us for another podcast. Today we interview Christopher Van Slyke, CEO and founder of Worthpointe Wealth Management. During the podcast, Christopher’s shares a little bit of his upbringing, how he got started in the industry and how he eventually transitioned from being a financial planner into more of a business owner and when that light bulb moment happened for him. Be sure to check out the end, Christopher talks about the two most destructive things that he sees in other clients and entrepreneurs, so keep out, look out for that. We’re excited to have you here with us today, and without further ado, we’ll introduce Christopher. Hey Christopher, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Christopher: Thank you. I’m really excited to be here.
John: So Christopher, as a CEO, founder of Worthpointe, there’s so much that I’d like to hear from you about your background, your career path as an advisor, and then what it’s like to be a business owner. But I’d like to start just from the… Well, why don’t you give us an idea of what you’re up to today, and then we’ll start to hear about your background.
Christopher: Oh wow. I lead, at this point, what I would call the dream life. I live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with my four small children and work remotely, living up here in the mountains. And I have arranged my life with a flexible work schedule, and I’ve developed a great income and a great team that I work with that enables me to be very active with skiing and golf and hiking and camping and spending time with my family. So I hate to admit it, but I’m kind of living the dream life.
John: You’re totally living the dream. I think it makes me feel jealous, and probably some of the listeners too. And I imagine that probably didn’t happen over night. So-
Christopher: That’s a funny thing, because when people hear about my lifestyle they look at me funny. And I usually say, it didn’t happen over night.
John: And I’m sure you didn’t just find yourself there just happenstance. I wonder if this was a dream that you had earlier. Did you grow up in Wyoming? Tell me a little bit about where you grew up-
Christopher: No, no. I grew up in the warm, humid Houston, Texas, and I used to come skiing like all Texans every winter. And in the back of my mind, living up in the rocky mountains was paradise. So I think I always had a dream to live in a place like this.
John: So you’re-
Christopher: And I made it happen.
John: That’s neat. And being in the advisory business, thinking about your career path, tell me about where you went to school, and what was it that you were originally thinking that you wanted to end up in for?
Christopher: ‘m the son of a lawyer, so growing up I was taught that the way to be successful was a fairly linear process. So, make straight A’s, go to certain schools, got certain professional schools and your life will be great and will be paved with gold. It turns out that not everybody’s cut out for that kind of life. And my father actually, who was a lawyer wisely told me, “You don’t want to be a lawyer.” Yeah, he knew me. He knew me well enough to say that. He said, “Don’t get…”
Christopher: And I think he had some regrets about his own professional choices. He said, “Don’t get into a business where you’re trading your time for money, because your job will always own your time.” And I was 22 when he told me that, and it didn’t really make sense because that meant I had to go discover what I was good at and what my path in life was going to be. But it turned out that that was good advice. [crosstalk 00:04:27].
John: Trading your time for money, I guess explain that a little bit more for people that don’t understand what you mean.
Christopher: Well, if the way you make your income is just trading your own personal time for money, then the only way to make more money is to work more, generally. And I think you never get to a point where your money or your business is working for you. You’re always working for the money. And what he said was, “I work for entrepreneurs,” he was a corporate lawyer. And these people have learned to develop businesses which do their work for them, in effect enterprises, so that those businesses don’t own them and their time. Even though he was a really successful, highly paid lawyer, I think he was jealous many of his clients.
John: Yeah. That’s really interesting. So you said earlier that he told you this at the age of 22. And so many other podcasts you hear are like, entrepreneurship being part of the DNA inside you. So I guess first, do you believe that entrepreneurship is part of your DNA? Did you see that in yourself? And then second, what once he told you that, what sort of career path did you think you were going to go down?
Christopher: In retrospect, I do think it is in my DNA. I don’t think that you don’t necessarily have to be born an entrepreneur. To be honest, my entrepreneurship was born out of desperation. I really was not a particularly good worker bee. I have a lot of my own ideas, and I like to try them, and I like to question authority, and I’m not afraid to be different. And those things don’t work very well in a corporate environment. So I found, after cycling through several jobs in corporations in my 20s, that may be the best path for me was to start my own business. That’s what led me there, was not some grand plan, wasn’t some brilliant decision.
Christopher: I will say that growing up in a professional world where my father occupied, being an entrepreneur was looked down on. His class did not look at entrepreneurs as being as well respected as the professions. And I think it was so far outside of my dad’s experience that it was difficult for him to encourage entrepreneurial type skills. So it wasn’t a possibility for me. That door was not open for me as a young person. I didn’t see that. I didn’t see that possibility until later.
John: That’s really interesting. Was that part of a… You said his class. So is that part of his status or the those people around him, or is that, dude, you’re his generation and being part of the great generation?
Christopher: No, no. It was his group, because he was a lawyer. In a strange way, people with advanced degrees think they’re better than people like Steve jobs who went to junior college. Actually, I’d rather be Steve Jobs than be a PhD from Harvard. Because I think it’s a cooler path. I think it’s a cooler life. So there’s that tension between the highly educated achievers and just the regular old achievers.
John: Yeah. That’s really interesting.
Christopher: That’s my perspective.
John: Still thinking about part of your childhood and growing up, how did your parents interact with money? Were there chores or a budget around the house that you interacted with and [inaudible] as a spender or a saver? What was money like growing up?
Christopher: I did learn very good habits from my father. There are work shores, highly regimented chores, and there were financial rewards for many things. There was a lot of opportunities to earn money around the house, and my father had extremely and has very good money habits, and I would say that that I have carried over in into life. I had credit cards, I think… I think I got a credit card in junior high that I had to pay off every month because he wanted teach me about debt and spending and that kind of thing. I’m pretty sure I had bank and savings accounts when I was under 10, so-
John: Super young.
Christopher: … that’s something that my father did a great job of teaching.
John: That’s interesting. So, when was it that you felt like personal finance or becoming a financial advisor was really the career path for you?
Christopher: Well, I was working and I had a degree in finance, so it was easy to get a job in that field, and I was working on the institutional side of the business for a big money manager as a trader. And I really have always enjoyed economics and finance, but something was missing in that role, and it turns out that the missing piece for me was people. I really enjoy getting face to face with people, I love having conversations, and I enjoy the emotional rewards that I get from earning people’s trust and helping them solve the problem. So-
John: How old were you in your first became a financial advisor? What year was that?
Christopher: An advisor? Probably about 26. 26 years old. At about 23, I was working in finance. But at 26, I… This will tell you the story. I actually went to business school, got an MBA, because everybody in the institutional side of the business was like, “If you’re going to work in a corporation, you need this [inaudible] degree.” So not knowing what to do, except I didn’t want to stop progressing, I went to grad school. And most people who go to a good graduate business school go work in consulting or finance in Wall Street. And I actually went and worked or a retail financial advisor because I really liked the interaction with the clients. And it did not pay well. But I learned a lot. And a lot of these independent financial advisors were pretty entrepreneurial. So I really thrived in that environment.
John: That’s really cool. So I guess, in the years since you first started in the industry, the shape of financial advising or financial planning has changed so much. So I guess, give us some context for what was a normal financial planning or financial advisor relationship like when you first-
Christopher: Well, there really was no financial planning. The certified financial planner designation was in its infancy. And most people in who got help at the retail level with their money were getting it from a broker. So you had to get your help from one of the Wall Street firms. And there are a lot of problems with that business model. I had come from the institutional side of the business, where the firms were regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and they were fiduciaries, which meant that they had to put their client’s interests before their own on the institutional side. On the retail side, they weren’t fiduciaries. And I was very uncomfortable in that environment. So that’s one thing I discovered right away when I started working with clients as an independent advisor.
John: That’s interesting. So, we hear the term broker’s still floating around all the time, even though that still invokes memories of Wall Street from the 80s and things like that. So can you just … What’s the definition of a broker, and how would that be different from a financial planner?
Christopher: A broker is facilitating a transaction, so it’s like buying a used car. When you go to the car lot and you ask the car salesman, you say, “I need a car,” they don’t have a duty to sell you the car that’s at the best price, or might be right for you. But you understand that. They’re there to sell you a car, and that’s what a broker is. They’re there to sell you a financial product. Right?
Christopher: And that’s very different than when you go to a physician or a lawyer, where they are expected to do what’s right for you, legally. So that’s really the two sides of our industry, the advisor side, which is fiduciary oriented and the broker side, where it’s, I’m here to sell you something.
John: Yeah. Right. Okay, good distinction. And when you were getting started and somewhat in the first phase of your business career, what were the type of clients that you were associating with and what were some of the things you were helping them on?
Christopher: My early clients were younger baby boomers, successful younger baby boomers. So I had to… I didn’t have a big name on the door. I was working for myself, and I had to find a niche of people that would start working with a newer advisor, and who didn’t have a lot of clients, and didn’t have a big name behind them. So I targeted what I would now call high potential baby boomers. So these were boomers in their 30s, who had complicated… their families were starting to grow, their jobs were very demanding, and they were beginning to hit that part of the curve, the ascendancy of their careers where they were making partner or where they were making a lot of money and life was getting complicated, but they didn’t have enough money to command the attention of a more experienced advisor or one with a big name on the door.
John: Yeah [crosstalk 00:14:26].
Christopher: That was my initial target.
John: So that niche. And did that shift over time? You said that was your initial. How did that transition as those-
Christopher: No, no. I stayed with that group. As they became wealthier and wealthier and began to refer their friends, our business really exploded, basically because I had gotten it on the ground before. My pitch was, “Look, I’ve got a lot of education and training. I’m really good at this. I don’t have a lot of experience. You are clearly on the path to success, but you don’t have a lot of money yet. So let’s work together and become successful together.” That literally was my pitch, and it turned out to be a great formula.
John: No successful entrepreneur or even financial advisor makes it without any of the scars. So what were some of the challenging things or the hurdles, the obstacles that you had to overcome even in your own personal business or just in dealing with clients?
Christopher: Where do I begin? Well, when I started out on my own, I decided to hang out my shingle as one of these fiduciary advisors and not someone working for a bigger organization. And there really was no blueprint. There was no roadmap, there was no software, there was nothing. There wasn’t the infrastructure to help you do it. So I literally had to figure everything out. As I was bringing in new clients and helping the clients we had, I had to be the chief cook and bottle washer, but I also had to literally invent most of our business process at the time.
Christopher: So this was at the beginning of the creation of what we call the RIA business. But just the basic blocking and tackling of running that business was… it was a huge task.
John: Yeah, definitely. And so you lived through two major recessions, market meltdowns, the tech bubble and the ’08. What was life like during those times, and what were the some of the conversations that you were having with your clients?
Christopher: Well, the tech bubble, the good news was I didn’t have a lot of clients with a lot of assets. So when there was all that volatility, I didn’t have too many people that I had to pay attention to, and I was able to get most people through that. The difficulty of my story in the late ’90s is I was preaching this story of diversification and longterm focus and financial planning at a time when people just wanted to buy Amazon and retire next week. So it was very difficult to raise client money in that period.
Christopher: Now, later, a couple of years later, a lot of those people came back to me and said, “Hey, you know that stuff you were saying about being diversified and sensible and longterm and doing financial plannings? Well, we think now that we’ve seen what happened, we think that’s a good idea.” So right around 2002, 2003, our business really took off because in retrospect, I had been proven right about what I was talking about in the 90s.
John: Yeah. Wow. What a learning experience. If you put on… So you’ve been an advisor for many years, but eventually, you switched hats and then taking on the role more of a business owner. So walk us through that process. How did that take shape in your life?
Christopher: It’s one of those moments that we all have where the light goes on. I’m literally sitting here in a conference room, I can remember it like it was yesterday in the Hyatt Hotel in San Diego in 2003 or 2004, and the speaker was Michael Gerber who wrote a book called the E-myth. And the E-myth was all about working on your business, not in your business. And he stood up there and stomped and screamed at us and said, “You guys are not business owners. You’ve all created high paying jobs for yourself. You have not created business.” And he was right.
John: What was that like to hear that though? After putting in blood, sweat and tears for so many years, and then to have [inaudible] Michael Gerber be stomping his feet, what was that feel like?
Christopher: Well, I was young. And I think I was one of the younger advisors in the room, and I think it was easier for me to switch gears than a lot of my coworkers. I still remember a lot of the older advisors objecting and arguing with Michael. And if you look at the landscape for the business, I don’t think that many of them did decide to remake their business into an enterprise in a way from what Gerber calls a high paying job.
John: Yeah. Gotcha. So you made that transition, and then it’s taken, I imagine, some time to define it up. So just walk through how your business has taken shape since you made that decision to work on the business rather than in the business.
Christopher: Well, my journey is I was working for these big companies, and I hated it because they were really bureaucratic. I worked for huge fortune 500 companies, and I loved it when I started out on my own as an advisor because I didn’t have to answer anybody, but I was also lonely. Turns out I like working with other people, I like collaborating, I like building something together. So, from that standpoint, it was a pretty easy transition. But what Gerber was saying is, your business has to be repeatable, has to be process oriented. And what I was doing was… it was a different financial planning technique for this client, then this client, and this person would have just slightly different investment strategy then this client.
Christopher: And so I built a very idiosyncratic business that was not repeatable and required me to be there to do almost everything because most of the idiosyncrasy was in my head. So it was about defining clearly what a financial plan was, what an investment strategy was for the firm, and then really thinking about what is it that I’m actually best to do? Because I’m not good at 98% of what goes on in our company. So what are those 2% things that I can do?
John: Yeah, what is that 2%?
Christopher: Yeah, what is that, and how do I move this 98% away from me? And that’s called… That’s leverage. And so I really had to think about, what would we look like in five years, in 10 years and what things can I give away, and what kind of things people do I need to work with in order to leverage my little 2% so that I can do my thing and we can all specialize in what we do well? I know it sounds not that revolutionary, but it really was. I had a master’s in business administration from a highly reputable a business school, but I never… The light never really went on until this moment.
John: Yeah. So I’m curious to learn a little bit more about that. And as you started to take yourself out of the bigger equation and you shrink down into really pinpointing on the things that you started to do well, who else was filling the gap? So how many employees did you start to bring onto the company and what type of job functions were they fulfilling?
Christopher: What I’m clearly not good at is administration. I’m not a detailed person. So literally the first person I hired was much better with details than I am, and he is still with the firm. He was hired in 2003, I think. So it’s really obvious, when you’re just one person doing everything, it’s pretty easy to look at all the things you’re doing badly and saying that, “Wow.” But probably, if I just hired someone with the opposite personality type, this would get a lot better.
John: That’s great.
Christopher: So the first leap in productivity is gargantual because you’re literally taking the third of the work you do badly and you’re handing to someone that does it well. And as you go along, as you get bigger and bigger, there’s a bunch of stuff, if you’re left with two thirds, that two thirds… So you gave away a third to the first person, what of the remaining two thirds do you do maybe serviceably, but not great? So you just peel off.. I used to do my own books. I did my own payroll. I did my own trading. I did my own trading. Those were specialized personalities.
Christopher: I will say… You didn’t ask me this question, but one of the traps that entrepreneurs fall into and advisors fall into is they go around looking for someone like themselves.
John: Okay. [inaudible] about that.
Christopher: A lot of founders like me say, “I’m just looking for some advisors, and I want them to go around and beat the bushes for clients. And I want them to make no money while they’re building their business.” But basically, you’re saying, “I’m looking for someone like me,” but the business is already off the ground. You don’t need that same personality. You need people that can deliver, that can think, that are more organized than you are. Your primary benefit is you’re crazy enough to start it. You don’t need more crazy people. I’m saying crazy in quotes.
John: Are you sure?
Christopher: That was really big for me is to stop looking for people like myself and say, “Well, wait a minute, why would you need more of that? You need more of all the things you don’t have.”
John: Yeah. Well, so that’s a really good point. And so for thinking of the other entrepreneurs out there that are listening, you brought up a really good nugget of some things to watch out for, which is in regards to the hiring process. What else comes to your mind as some wisdom for a young entrepreneur who is looking to leverage his time?
Christopher: Well, I think you need to do a skills analysis on yourself and say, “Look, where are the areas… What does that first hire look like? Is that an organized…” Frequently, it is an organized administrative person who can think about the business in terms of how it’s set up and how efficiently it runs while you’re thinking about innovation and new clients. So it really depends on what stage you’re in. In terms of how we have found the people, once we determine the skillsets that we were weak on, most of our people have come through referral from our people, to be honest.
John: Yeah. Yeah. Well, that’s really interesting, and I appreciate you sharing some of that perspective. With some of the time that we have left, I’m interested to hear too, putting back on the hat of, let’s say, the financial planner, what’s some of the advice out there that you feel like is just stuff that people should be steering clear of or have a red flag go off? We’re bombarded by supposedly “investment advice” online every single day. So what are some of the cautionary things that you think stand out that people should be taking note of?
Christopher: Two things, remind me what they both are, but one is the investment unicorn and the other is the idea of beginning with the end in mind. So the two things I see that are the most destructive is people cycling through advisors, firms, et cetera, looking for investments that have high returns and low risks. And [crosstalk 00:26:10].
John: That’s a conclusion, right? Isn’t that [inaudible] that everyone wants?
Christopher: We all want that. Absolutely. And the little girls want unicorns. I know, because I have two. They’re always talking about unicorns. But we know they don’t exist. And high return, low risk investments don’t exist. Disciplined, longterm investing works, and it exists. And first of all, you need to get your mind straight with that. And secondarily, I think the biggest tragedy I see, and I’ll say that the most profound common in my career, was someone looking across the table from me and lowering their glasses and saying, “Gosh, I wish I had met you sooner.”
Christopher: And I think what they’re saying is they see the power of looking 20 years down the road and thinking about what we need to do today to get us to a point out in the future where they’re secure and happy. And you can’t do it in your 18 because all those earnings have already passed you by and all those decisions have been made. The planning process itself is miraculous in its ability to get people to dream big and put in place a plan to achieve those dreams. I can’t tell you how powerful it is. I was thinking it’s the Stephen Covey, begin with the end in mind.
John: Yeah, exactly.
Christopher: So the investment Unicorn and planning itself-
John: That’s so cool.
Christopher: … they’re magical.
John: Totally. Well, I guess in that brings us full circle, and that’s why you’re living in a mountain town, raising your family, and you’ve got a successful business run. So, clearly, it’s something that you’ve adopted in your own life.
Christopher: I was thinking about this the other day, actually. One of the greatest gifts of my career is I got to sit around in my 20s and talk to people about their lives. And I got to talk to people at the beginning of their life cycle and at the end of the life cycle. And I got to see people who had made really good decisions and people that had made really bad decisions. And I created my own dream in this process because it forced me, at a pretty young age, to think about what would my perfect life look like? And I’m not saying my life’s perfect, but it allowed me to create a dream and to begin to act on the dream, because I was talking to all these different people about their dreams, and it-
John: That’s awesome.
Christopher: … made it very top of mind. That’s probably the greatest gift that this business has given me is that I got to learn about people’s mistakes and successes and dreaming big through these conversations I had tried to help them.
John: Yeah. That’s so cool. Wow. What a special gift and what a cool chance for a young person to be around some successful people, and to be able to learn those lessons.
John: So let’s transition, and as we’re wrapping up here, give me a sense as you look towards the future, both with your family, with four young kids, as you mentioned, what are some of the things you’re looking forward to? What’s your future like for your family and even for your business?
Christopher: My business is now focused on the transition from me to the future owners. So our company is very successful, it provides a nice income, it’s a great place to work. It is not ready to live without me. And I think every day about how I will transition this company to the hands of younger, and I will transition the equity into my own personal situation out of the corporation. So I am in this stage of building the infrastructure and success necessary to let the baby bird fly out of the nest. And for my family, I have four young kids. So my legacy for the next two decades is going to be there to raise awesome kids and be a great husband.
John: Hmm. I love it. That’s super good. Well Christopher, this has been really fun to hear about your upbringing, your career path, and a little bit of what the future looks like. Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you feel like you want to share about your journey?
Christopher: No. I always think about the saying, “This is not a dress rehearsal. This is your life.” So if you have dreams, if you have things you want to do, start right now doing the things required to get you to where you want to go. And if you need help, find the people that you need to help you on your journey, and find them today, because that really helps propel success. We don’t get where we want to go by ourselves. A lot of people help us along the way.
John: Hmm. Super encouraging. I love that. That’s a great pearl of wisdom. Christopher, thanks again. Hope to have you back on the show.
Christopher: Thank you.
Announcer: Thanks for tuning in to the John Chapman Show. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or Spotify. We encourage your questions, comments, and feedback. For additional information, check out the JohnChapmanShow.com, or look for John on LinkedIn and Twitter. See you next week.
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