Tough love is something Erinn Ford learned at a young age, despite her folks owning their own RIA, Pacific Financial.
Ford, now president and CEO of KMS Financial Services, recalls that at one point in college when she was short of funds, her parents told her to “figure it out” by herself, which she did by selling her books back early and eating ramen noodles.
“The last thing on my mind was joining the family RIA,” she said in an interview. But after graduating with a communications degree from the University of Washington back in 1992, she couldn’t find a job and turned closer to home.
She knew there was an opening for a receptionist and asked her parents if she could work there for a year. The answer: She needed to apply like everyone else, as well as get a Series 10 and a Series 24.
“I quickly learned I was the only candidate who had those requirements, … but it taught me you have to earn the right,” Ford said. She got the job, and she hasn’t left the business since.
She was at the family firm — working all parts of it, from back office to front — for 22 years when, in 2012, Cetera Advisors did a “representative introduction agreement” (akin to an acquisition), and she ended up working for the firm (which today has $30 billion of assets under management). She was named vice president of advisor relations, and two years later she became president.
In 2018, she moved to KMS largely due to wanting to devote more time to her two teenage daughters. “I was traveling 120 plus nights a year … and KMS was this beautiful combination of being able to be back in the hometown, only 12 miles away from the office … and being able to fulfill a succession need at KMS for both the president and CEO who are retiring,” she said.
KMS is a Seattle-based advisory firm with $16 billion in assets under administration that’s part of Ladenburg Thalmann, which was recently bought by Advisor Group.
Despite the tough love she received from her parents, Ford’s 82 year-old-mother stands out as her role model. “She was such a pioneer because she started in the business in 1975 — talk about a male-dominated profession,” Ford said. She remembers the impact that situation had on her career, but her mom had it even harder, she adds.
What did she learn from her mother that has helped her in advisory work? “The way that she would deliver hard messages or hard information, so whether it was about regulation or change that the advisors needed to go through, she always did so with honesty as well as compassion,” Ford explained.
Her mom also dedicated herself to the profession by volunteering for organizations. “She had a work hard, play hard mentality, so she taught me not only how to have fun along the way, but how that creates special and meaningful experiences. Because when we serve independent business owners, it makes them feel important [which they are],” the KMS leader shared.
What have been your biggest challenges?
When I went to Cetera, the challenge was really how to find and have confidence in my voice in a much bigger organization. You learn to adapt and really lead more by influence vs. directly by being able to walk down the hall and talk to your colleagues or your employees.