Editor’s Note: This article originally published in May 2012. Dates and ages have remained unchanged from the original piece.
Laura Vaughn doesn’t have pink hair. She doesn’t get around on stilts. And, to the best of my knowledge, she doesn’t wear dresses made out of meat.
But the 23-year-old advisor with North Star Resource Group in Houston will likely have a hard time blending in at her first MDRT meeting this month. As a young female producer, she’s a rarity in a traditionally male-dominated and increasingly gray (or bald) industry.
Even more novel than Vaughn’s youth or gender? Her success so far. Just two years after joining the business full time, Vaughn’s already an MDRT member, despite working in a field that has a notoriously high turnover rate for newbies of any age. She was also recently named Securian’s Diamond New Advisor of the year, the first woman to ever receive the honor.
“I really think that Laura’s somebody who’s going to have a long and successful career,” says Shaun McDuffee, Vaughn’s mentor and North Star’s senior vice president in Austin, Texas. “She’s a future leader and role model for years to come.”
Looking for work — and maybe a career
Vaughn had no plans to become an advisor. In fact, she had no concrete plans to become anything in particular. As she approached graduation from the University of Texas in 2010, “I didn’t really have any clue what I wanted to go into,” she says.
She started browsing the university’s job boards and saw North Star was looking for financial advisor interns. Vaughn was interested in a career that let her work with people, and as a finance major, she’d already completed a couple of banking internships. She went ahead and applied for the position, not really knowing what to expect. “I thought it was just something interesting, a little different,” she says.
Vaughn went through the initial interview process with McDuffee. He explained to her that the career was all about the three I’s — independence, income and impact — and Vaughn’s mere curiosity developed into passionate interest. (For more on North Star’s success in hiring college students, see: Recruiting Young Blood For an Old Industry.)
“[The three I’s] — that’s one of the biggest draws, I think, to this field,” she says. “You essentially own your own business, and you have the independence to kind of do it like you want. The impact that you can have — it’s one of those careers that has the potential to give back to you just as much as you put into it.”
Vaughn finished her senior year of college while working as an intern at North Star and then started full time after graduation.
Learning the ropes
To get started, Vaughn, like all of North Star’s interns, was assigned a mentor — McDuffee — and spent almost all her time shadowing him. “In your first nine months here, you’re pretty much stuck to the hip of your mentor,” she says.
Vaughn acted as “secretary” at all of their meetings, taking notes on everything McDuffee did. Eventually, she was allowed to start doing cases herself, but only small, straightforward ones.
Vaughn didn’t mind the training wheels, though. When asked if she could have been able to go it alone, from day one, she laughs.
“There’s no way,” she says. “You can only learn so much through reading and doing webinars and that kind of thing. [Mentors are] the ones who are going to help you from making a lot of mistakes in the beginning. Technically, they have the knowledge of the products and the plans and that kind of thing. They also know how to react in certain situations and what is prudent, and what isn’t, with certain clients.”
Vaughn also found that having a mentor helped her stick to her goals. “You have an accountability partner,” she says. “You have somebody kind of looking over you to make sure you are doing the right things and hold you accountable to the goals you set for yourself.”
Not that Vaughn needed much help in the goal-achievement department. “She was super driven, just really organized and persistent,” McDuffee says. Most first-year advisors at North Star earn anywhere from $60,000 up to the low $100,000s, McDuffee says; Laura took home $122,000 her first year.