Emily Pitts, general partner at Edward Jones, relates how she found her calling in educating clients about financial planning.
I grew up in Chattanooga, Tenn. I was raised by my aunt who was a teacher. My grandmother, who also lived with us, was a teacher too, so I grew up with a teacher's spirit.
I went to Clark College in Atlanta and majored in business administration and marketing. A few years after I graduated, I joined Merrill Lynch and realized how much I liked the business. I left after three years and went to Dean Witter to work in operations with the hopes of getting licensed, but I couldn't get sponsored for my Series 7 license there; historically, this has not been a very diverse business. So I went to Charles Schwab where everyone has to be licensed. One day at a career fair I sat down with the Edward Jones recruiter and shortly afterward was hired as a financial advisor for an Atlanta branch office, which is where I found my home helping clients prepare for their long-term financial goals.
I remember as a young financial advisor, I had been talking with one prospective client on the phone for some time. Finally he said, "I'm going to come down and do some business with you." He came to my office, and I walked up to him and said, "Hi. I'm Emily Pitts." And he said, "You're black." So I held up my hand, looked at it closely and said, "Oh my God! Wait until I tell my mother!"
The moral to the story is that it's not what happens to you. It's how you handle it. If I'd said, "What do you mean, I'm black?" he would have been gone in a moment. I'm glad I was funny because it allowed us both to laugh and move on.
My area leader, John Beuerlein, was very supportive and instilled in me the need to focus on the things I could control, like the number of people I talked to about their financial needs, the information that I shared and the recommendations I made for my clients. That also really resonated with me. I had such a passion for educating not only people who had wealth but those who wanted to build wealth. I was able to build a very successful practice of more than 1,300 clients.
In 2004, I moved to St. Louis and was responsible for marketing our credit card and mortgages and was named the first African-American woman general partner with the firm. Three years later, I was named the partner responsible for inclusion and diversity. I have tried to approach this task in a way that makes people more receptive to the idea. Diversity can sometimes have a negative connotation. I wanted inclusion to be first in my job title because it's important that the environment is inclusive of everyone, not just women and minorities. By doing so, we can bring our services to even more long-term individual investors, which is our No. 1 priority.
As Told to Kris Frieswick