When I first met Cathy Curtis (and yes, we met on Twitter, where I meet so many amazing people) we bonded over food. Cathy is quite the foodie, in addition to being a fashion queen and super-smart entrepreneur. Anyway, we were both tweeting about Gather, the then new farm-to-table restaurant in Berkeley. We met at Gather for a delicious power lunch shortly thereafter, where we discussed everything from finance to social media to sustainable food. Cathy is a lovely, inspiring woman…I feel fortunate to know her.
Bio: Cathy Curtis is an independent fee-only Certified Financial Planner™ and Investment Advisor. She opened her firm, Curtis Financial Planning, in 2000 and specializes in the finances of women, their families and businesses. Her firm, based in Oakland and serving the wider Bay Area, offers comprehensive financial planning, investment management services and financial consulting. Prior to her career in financial services, Cathy served as a sales and marketing executive for Fortune 500 and private food companies in a career spanning 20 years.
Cathy enjoys living in the Oakland Hills with her husband of almost 10 years and is an avid swimmer, regularly indulges in pilates and yoga, and loves to cook and dine out.
Peggy: You started your own financial planning business after working in corporate America and hitting the so-called glass ceiling. That was a bold move. What gave you the courage to take the leap and branch out on your own?
Cathy: I had a career in the packaged food industry starting right out of college, moving from customer service to sales and marketing management. At my first company, Potlatch Corporation, I was the first woman to be promoted onto the sales team – it was a big deal. Like many industries then, men dominated the key decision-making positions and tended to stick together. My biggest leap in pay and responsibility was when I had my one-and-only female boss. So, when I decided to change careers (after 20 years!) and pursue my passion for personal finance and investing, there was no doubt I was going to do it on my own terms. I knew going out on my own as a financial advisor was going to be tough, but I was very determined and soon realized my business experience combined with some key personal traits were well-suited to being an independent advisor.
Peggy: Why did you choose to specialize in women clients?
Cathy: I didn’t start out specializing in women clients. I didn’t have a niche for the first few years. If there is one piece of advice I can give to aspiring entrepreneurs, it is to define a niche from the beginning. The financial services industry is very competitive. There are advisors everywhere: banks, insurance companies, brokerage firms, and smaller advisory firms.
It was a struggle to attract clients as a small fish in a big pond with no particular marketing message. When I decided to re-brand my company a few years ago, I knew I wanted to focus on women’s unique financial needs. It just made sense. I had my own personal experience to offer. Furthermore, many women feel comfortable talking to other women about money and women are not afraid to admit they don’t know something and are open and willing to take advice. Once I made the decision, there was no looking back. I love helping women get their personal financial acts together.
Peggy: What makes you excel at what you do?
Cathy: I think I have a unique blend of personal qualities and smarts that are suited to being a trusted advisor. A former boss once told me, “you have this great ability to make people feel comfortable in your presence”. When people are comfortable, they open up and aren’t afraid to reveal personal information. There aren’t very many subjects that are more personal than money! The more I know, the more I can help someone. I also enjoy the “nuts and bolts” of my profession…I guess you could say I’m kind of a personal finance geek. One of my favorite Saturday morning activities is reading Barron’s magazine over a cup of coffee.
Peggy: What were you going to be when you grew up?
Cathy: I thought I was going to be an environmental lawyer. I was headed in this direction in college and wrote my senior thesis at UC Berkeley about energy policy in the United States.
However, that meant going to law school, and as I pretty much supported myself through school, I needed to work for a while to save up some cash. But I never went back and I have no regrets about this. I enjoy being a businessperson, especially in my capacity as a financial advisor to individuals. I still care about the environment and related issues very much. I’m on the board of CUESA, The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, and also on the Advisory Council for CAFF, The Community Alliance for Family Farmers, and support other non-profits such as The Women’s Earth Alliance.
Peggy: Is there something you do every day that helps you stay grounded?
Cathy: I enjoy a really good glass of Pinot Noir ☺, eating healthy food every day, and being fit so I can feel good in my body.
Peggy: How do you get out of a funk?
Cathy: Physical activity is a happy-drug to me. The resulting endorphin high is all I need to get out of a bad mood. I swim, do pilates and kinesis at the gym, and hike outdoors. My husband is an especially optimistic, even-keeled person…he is my wise counsel when something is bugging me. And lastly, the social media platform, Twitter, provides endless opportunities to connect with people, make friends, laugh and learn something new. It’s a great distraction.
Peggy: Do you have a favorite inspirational book or quote?
Cathy: “80% of success is just showing up.” (Attributed to Woody Allen or Mark Twain, depending upon the source.)
So many great things have happened to me by deciding, even when I didn’t feel like it, to follow through on things I planned to do. I met my husband on a stormy San Francisco night – I could so easily have stayed home and almost did. I’ve met some of my best friends by showing up at social gatherings that could so easily have been dismissed as inconvenient. I show up on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin regularly and gain friends, clients, business partners, and various interesting opportunities to promote my business. “Showing up” in a myriad of ways and consistently is key to my success in life.
Peggy: Are you a morning or a night person? How much sleep do you get?
Cathy: Neither. I like my sleep and I like to get at least 8 hours. If that means going to bed early or sleeping in a little later, I almost always get 8 hours. I think it’s a defense against one of the least flattering comments a person can make to another: “You look really tired.” I like to avoid that. ☺
Peggy: Dark or milk chocolate? Do you have a favorite brand?
Cathy: I like both. One of my favorite brands is Poco Dolce, especially the tiles. I also like Belgian chocolate, specifically the Dolfin brand. I just tried a new bar by Dolfin: 52% Cocoa Dark Chocolate with Pink Peppercorn that particularly appealed to my tastebuds. I like spicy and chocolate together.
Peggy: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?
Cathy: To be truly successful, I believe that life needs to be balanced. Yes, a satisfying career is a great thing, but so are good friends, a loving family, interesting hobbies, vibrant health, and community involvement. I try to lead my life where I can integrate all these things into a whole that makes sense for me and makes me happy.
This leads me to the one other thing I’d like you to know about me. I am writing a book, on a personal finance topic, that I think will resonate with my clients and prospective clients. I have never done this before and it’s very exciting. Stay tuned…it will be out in ebook format soon!
Peggy: Wow…I can’t wait to read your book! Cathy, thank you so much for your time here. ☺