Be yourself! Like I said above, financial freedom and personal freedom are not so unrelated. If I had done what other people told me my whole life, I would be where they are now. Instead I am now responsible for so much more than I ever imagined. The unknowns are far more exciting to me than the average path.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Colby Billhardt of Charleston Capital Management.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
I started my career in New York luxury real estate. I actually skipped my college graduation to move to NYC as soon as finals ended! The May before graduation, I interviewed with and subsequently received a job offer from a Top 5 Sales Team Nationwide ranked by the WSJ. Before the offer came in, a senior teammate and mentor to this day, said to me, “You will have no days off, your phone must always be on, you must ALWAYS answer any calls that come in and respond to all emails as soon as they hit your inbox. There is no salary, no benefits, no paid-time-off — you will be paid commission only. Are you sure you want to do this?”
I said yes. I knew if I worked hard and threw myself into the work and the grind, that it would pay off. As a former D1 athlete, I have always been goal-oriented, dedicated, and I have always thrived on fast-paced competition. I love to be challenged and I thought there was no better way to hit the ground running as a recent graduate, than to accept that job.
As the years in New York City went on, I started to realize I missed the south. Warmer weather, beaches, sweet smelling streets and smiling happy people were all I could think about, and I decided to move back to Charleston, SC. That is when I found Charleston Capital Management.
Let me pause here to connect — my whole career thus far in real estate had been focused on client interfacing, investment, market analysis/research, management and high-end sales. I dealt with my client’s emotional rollercoasters on a daily basis, compiled and presented massive presentations to numerous condo and co-op boards, was a matchmaker connecting attorneys and mortgage brokers and contractors and architects and closing agents to my clients based on their specific needs. Bidding wars were fought. Deals died at the last minute. All cash offers came in late in the game out of nowhere. It was the most emotionally stimulated I’ve ever been. Everything seemed to fall apart or come back together twice a day and three times on holidays or when I was on a rare vacation. The lives on the other end of my phone came before everything else and I was the one holding both ends of the tightrope everyone was balancing on. And — because I was in NYC — I was walking ten miles a day doing it.
All of those skills and qualities add up to Investor Relations. Charleston Capital was an obvious fit, they are the very best in this market and I wanted to be a part of that again. After a month of interviews, to my delight they agreed, and hired me.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?
What was most amusing and interesting to me was my transition from luxury real estate to Charleston Capital Management. From the outside, luxury real estate looks like the pinnacle of investment, while alternative asset management is a largely unknown area of finance. What I found inside Charleston Capital, and its affiliate, inFactor, was that these people were driving transparency and clarity across the entire market via a fintech platform they could have easily kept proprietary but chose to make available to help the entire industry. I’ve never seen that in real estate. As an insider now, I am so grateful to be part of our team. The next 5 years will be really exciting.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We at Charleston Capital think Fintech is the future of small business finance, and we are excited every day to be in the space. As an alternative asset manager, Charleston Capital makes senior loans to small business finance companies. Our edge is the proprietary technology provided to us by our affiliate, inFactor. This technology separates the origination and servicing of assets, providing clarity on performance.
We think clarity is essential to making good investing decisions. It is very exciting to be part of the team that aims to truly be selfelss and do good.
Also, small banks are in decline and cannot compete with Fintechs when it comes to data analysis and speed of underwriting. Large banks cannot profitably fund small businesses and are looking to Fintechs to fill the niche.
Small business finance is underserved — there is almost $100 billion of unmet demand.
I believe we fill this gap.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What stands out to me about Charleston Capital is the overwhelming feeling of respect, comradery and teamwork throughout our office.
Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
I think the image of Wall Street and Finance as an “all white boys club” is still pretty accurate. Just go to a financial conference and you will see the disparity of women to men. The only thing that has caused this image to shift slightly, is the strength, boldness and sacrifice of women today and of the past. Women who are not afraid to face adversity or discrimination that comes at them on a daily basis. Women who do not take no for an answer. I am so inspired by these women. We must keep working day in and day out to support other women around us and uplift and mentor those women and girls trying to break into the industry.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and /or c) society to support this movement going forward?
I would like to see more nice people like me succeed, I would like to see the more diversity, and I truly hope to be part of that change. When nice girls forge the gates of the finance industry, I will feel like we, as a country, will have become better. The stereotype that a woman has to be mean and unlikable to be successful and in the C-suite is outdated.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.
1. Establish credit as early as possible. Even if your parents are still helping you with some, or all, of your bills, sign up for a credit card and pay for a low-cost utility as early as possible. I got my first credit card when I was 22, and it was only by the skin of my teeth that I got it! At the time, I had already established my career in real estate and had a hefty bank account thanks to that. I went into my usual bank branch thinking it would be easy to sign up for a credit card, and I was mistaken. I was told that I had no credit, so I couldn’t get a credit card. My reaction was, “Well duh! I’ve never had a credit card! Let’s establish some credit!”. It wasn’t as simple as that. I received so many no’s that day. Finally, for better or worse, I threatened to pull all my cash out of their bank that very day if they didn’t approve me for the credit card. I don’t want my children, or others, to go through that.
2. Save as much money as you can. I’m not kidding. Save all of it. Forget about the Celine sunglasses, the Stuart Weitzman boots, the…. My dad has ALWAYS said, “There is nothing you can buy that is more satisfying and rewarding than having a huge, full bank account”. Trust me. When times are good and cash is flowing, you think it will always be that good. Take it from someone who had six horses right before the crash in ’08. Just when you think life can’t get any better, the market crashes. And what do you have left to show for it? As history has proven time and time again, good times don’t last forever. The market is cyclical. When things are going well and money is flowing in, remind yourself — as good or great as it is right now, it can very easily and very quickly be equally as bad. Don’t put yourself in a position where you are hemorrhaging and living with regret when the dime drops. Be the person who lives frugally, maybe the person who even is made fun of for keeping their funds so close. I promise you, you will have the last laugh when times get tough and you’re still swimming in it.
3. Resist the urge to impress others. This goes back to the previous point, but it’s that important. The biggest financial advantage you can give yourself whether you are working in your teens, your 20’s, 30’s and beyond, save your money and resist the urge to “Keep Up with The Jones’s”. Keep your wardrobe simple, drive a modest car, live in a home that covers the necessities but is not too big for you. Train yourself to live with less when you’re young and accumulate assets that will give you financial freedom for the rest of your life.
4. Make bold decisions. I promise you, smart girls who are nice like me can do this. So can you, there is no excuse. Following your passions will lead to financial success. So many people believe the opposite. Passion leads to financial success, not doing what everyone else believes is the right answer for you. If I had trusted my high school guidance counselor I would be a teacher right now.
5. Be yourself! Like I said above, financial freedom and personal freedom are not so unrelated. If I had done what other people told me my whole life, I would be where they are now. Instead I am now responsible for so much more than I ever imagined. The unknowns are far more exciting to me than the average path.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am particularly grateful to my mom, Kara Billhardt! Let me preface this — both of my parents have been integral in helping me achieve success — my dad is quite possibly the coolest man on earth.
In the eyes of my mother, there has never been anything I couldn’t do. Her intense belief in me allowed me to eventually believe in myself — although it took her pushing me out of my comfort zone many times before I fully got onboard. She taught me to work hard and stay quiet — to let my results show for themselves. She required me to play sports all year long and facilitated every practice, tournament and match — so that I would base my self-worth in my work ethic and athletic abilities instead of boyfriends or beauty. In high school, she told me to remain a mystery — meaning never gossip and never share overly personal information. The amount of drama I was able to stay away from throughout those years and to this day still amazes me. My curfew throughout high school — and even college when I occasionally came home — was 10:30pm, because nothing good happens after 11pm (she is right).
She has always told me that I could do anything I set my mind to and talked myself into. Her mantras throughout my life lead me to believe that, and to be fearless in setting my goals and working to achieve them. When I told her I wanted to pull the rug out from under my life in New York, she helped me pull it. Her goal for me at the end of each day, is to be happy. Truly happy. Successful, yes. But if I go though life incredibly successful but equally unhappy, she would feel like she failed.
Finally, the two most important things she taught me were:
1. Be bold. Go after what you want and do whatever you need to achieve your goals. The worst thing that can happen is that it won’t work out. But if you don’t go after your dreams and take the chance, you will always live with regret. That is how I achieved my successes. I asked for the position and was not afraid of a potential rejection. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t put myself out there.
2. It is ok — better yet, it’s cool — to say NO and to stand up for yourself. There will be many, many times when someone is asking or pressuring you to do something you know is wrong. It doesn’t matter if your “no” embarrasses them or ruins a deal. Whether you are being pressured, whether someone is asking you to lie or to cheat, if you are in a hostile workplace, dealing with inappropriate colleagues or clients, or an investor has other ideas as to why they want to work with you — stand up for yourself and say NO. If a scenario feels weird, it probably is! If it feels wrong, again, it probably is! It is always better to trust your gut than to be sorry because you think a deal is important or your boss will be mad. Unfortunately, you are the only one who is always 100% looking out for your best interests and safety at all times. Trust your gut. Who cares how your “no” makes the other person feel? If they feel bad or embarrassed or try to cover their tracks, they probably know whatever they were doing or asking you to do was wrong. Look out for yourself and remove yourself from the situation. No deal, job or relationship is worth going against your morals.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Visualize your highest self and start showing up as her.” This goes back to my mom and the ways in which she has inspired me. The thoughts in your head can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you see yourself as weak, dumb, lacking, or tell yourself, “I will never be happy” then that will most likely be the case. Your thoughts control your life. If you fill them with positivity, powerful self-talk and inspiring mantras, those thoughts and feelings will radiate out of you. Everyone has the power to visualize their highest self and to take steps to reach that version. That does not mean to go out and buy a Ferrarri or spend thousands of dollars on a new wardrobe. It does allow you to walk with confidence, strength and the mentality that you are good enough.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
It would bring me the greatest happiness to inspire a health and nutrition movement. The negative and disease-causing effects of processed food and sugar in the average American diet is wreaking havoc on our health and in our bodies. Dr. Mark Hyman said, “In the 21st century, our taste buds, our brain chemistry, our biochemistry, our hormones and our kitchens have been hijacked by the food industry.” It pains me to see what children and teenagers are being offered in cafeterias across the country. Most schools only have a microwave or deep fryer and supplement hot meals with chips, cookies, brownies, sodas etc. My dream would be to inspire a culture of healing ourselves with good, nutritious whole foods instead of medicating the symptoms of diseases caused by poor diet.
Thank you for joining us!
About the Author:
Tyler Gallagher is the CEO and Founder of Regal Assets, a “Bitcoin IRA” company. Regal Assets is an international alternative assets firm with offices in the United States, Canada, London and United Arab Emirates focused on helping private and institutional wealth procure alternative assets for their investment portfolios. Regal Assets is an Inc. 500 company and has been featured in many publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg, Market Watch and Reuters. With offices in multiple countries, Regal Assets is uniquely positioned as an international leader in the alternative assets industry and was awarded the first ever crypto-commodities license by the DMCC in late 2017. Regal Assets is currently the only firm in the world that holds a license to legally buy and sell cryptos within the Middle East and works closely with the DMCC to help evolve and grow the understanding and application of blockchain technology. Prior to founding Regal Assets, Tyler worked for a Microsoft startup led by legendary tech giant Karl Jacob who was an executive at Microsoft, and an original Facebook board member.