From a degree in Geology to a career as a Business Consultant later a Financial Advisor, Sandra Schmidt has always been a master of change. Now, she embraces her most recent endeavor - retirement.
A native of London, Ontario, Sandra describes her upbringing as akin to a Norman Rockwell painting. The third of four girls, Sandra, reflects on her childhood as warm and loving. Her father was an actuary with London Life and her mother, trained as a teacher, chose to be a stay-at-home mom, as did many of that generation. Attending church was a big part of Sandra’s childhood, given that her father was a soloist in the choir, and her mother ran the Sunday school. Mostly, Sandra recalls both parents always encouraging their daughters to find their passion, to do it well and to remember that in life, there are no limitations – you can do anything you choose.
Inspired by her parents’ words, after Sandra graduated from high school she followed her father’s example and attended university at Western. There she received her Bachelor’s degree in Geology. A short stint in the Arctic, however, convinced Sandra that spending over half of each year in remote locations wasn’t all that appealing. She decided that a business education might be a path to consider and returned to Western, this time as a student in the Business program. It is here she met the love of her life, Duff Schmidt,
who hailed from the Okanagan in British Columbia. By January of the following year, the couple knew wherever they would go; they would go together. When asked how they decided between British Columbia and Ontario, Sandra says, “Duff said he wanted to be where the skiing was, so
away we went to Vancouver!”
Almost directly out of school, Duff started with Mutual Life in the Estate and Financial Planning Services (EFPS) area. Sandra accompanied him to various corporate events and conventions, and it was there she began to notice the
opportunities available in the financial services industry. Through the years, Sandra continued to develop close relationships with management at the local branch of what is now Sun Life Financial, who would consistently tell her,
“When you get tired of what you’re doing, come and work for us.” Fast forward five years, Sandra knew it was time for a change and left her role in Strategic Planning consulting and in June 2000, her career as a Financial Advisor began.
Though a logical and natural transition, Sandra describes the first few years as an Advisor being “really tough.” Similar to what most advisors experience, Sandra also quickly exhausted her natural market. Prospecting was tough and, in need of people to talk to, she developed a game plan that was strategic and proactive. Scouring her Rolodex, Sandra approached individuals who were well-placed HR managers and could get her in the door for a 45-minute “workplace solutions” presentation. Attendance was high during these
sessions, and Sandra’s genuine approach and willingness to invest her time with clients resonated well and served as a foundation for her future success. At that time, the Financial Centre offered a mentorship program that paired new advisors with more tenured campaigners. It was during this program where Sandra met Al. Al not only served as Sandra’s mentor but soon became her friend and eventual business partner. In 2005, with the
partnership flourishing, they moved to a new location in downtown Vancouver.
In 2008, Al was approaching retirement and in the early stage of his succession plan, which included transitioning out of the individual business. Sandra had already been helping to service many of Al’s clients over the past several years; still, the formal transition was a significant change and Sandra felt that she needed some additional guidance and support. She reached out to a colleague who had been in a similar situation who referred her to The Personal Coach. Sandra says she has always treated her business like a business, but working with Juli Leith offered her a very different perspective on how best to organize, structure and manage her practice. This new relationship eventually led to an even higher level of success for Sandra. “Working with Juli ensured that I didn’t simply double how hard I worked just
because I had doubled my business” Sandra reflects. With her business bustling, ensuring her work-life balance became an even more significant challenge and necessity. At the end of each busy day, Sandra would come home, kick off her heels and sit on the floor in the kitchen and talk to her dog, Molly. “I would tell her all about my day - she won’t share my secrets.” Sandra’s business would continue to grow and flourish and the next 11 years flew by.
During the summers, Sandra and Duff would take some much-needed downtime to recharge their batteries. In 2017, Sandra found that she was growing increasingly less enthusiastic about returning to work. That’s when she knew it was time to start thinking about and planning for her succession strategy. Sandra’s daughter, Leigh, had worked for Sandra’s team as a summer student while studying business at the University of Victoria. Also, Leigh had covered a year of maternity leave for one of the staff. When asked if she would consider becoming an advisor, Leigh replied: “no thanks” – déjà vu from when Sandra was first asked! Leigh and her husband John followed their dreams and moved to New Zealand for two years for John to pursue a degree in winemaking. After returning to Canada, they settled in the Okanagan wine region, and Leigh decided the timing was right and pursued a career as a Sun Life Advisor. She has since taken on Sandra’s Okanagan clients as well as Lower Mainland clients Leigh was already supporting. The balance of her business transferred to colleagues whom Sandra had worked with for years. Citing as the vital element to choosing a successor, “We already had a great rapport, I knew who they were and what their values were. I knew my clients would receive the same level of integrity and respect
as I had shown them”. Sandra is so proud of Leigh and the Vancouver advisors. After her clients had moved to their respective new advisors, Sandra stayed on for three months to ensure it was a smooth transition. In May of 2019, Sandra officially retired. She has since run into former clients and receives emails and cards saying thank you for picking such great advisors to carry on the legacy.
Receiving accolades from her clients isn’t surprising. You only have to hear Sandra speak about her time as an advisor to understand how she cherished the relationships she built. She had several families where she serviced four generations! In her own words, Sandra shares, “It is such a privilege and
honor to participate in a small way in a family’s life – and with such an intimate topic. To be a steward is such an honor”. Reflecting on one family in particular, Sandra can’t help but become emotional. In 2004, the file of two clients was passed on to her - a husband and wife. Eventually, she gained the business of his mother, and then their children and grandchildren, too. One year, Sandra noticed a change with the wife; that she didn’t seem herself. It was then, when the client was in her early 50’s, that she received a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s. Amid this turmoil, it was comforting that the planning work done with Sandra allowed the husband to take his retirement early to care for his wife up until her passing. When asked what her guiding principle is, Sandra humbly shares, “you must have a solid sense of what is right and wrong. Be kind to one another and do the right thing. Show up when you’re supposed to show up and mostly, be the advisor you’d like to have”. What started as an attraction to business turned into a genuine love for people. “I had no idea how much I would fall in love with the clients. It was never about me; it was always about them”. For anyone thinking about becoming an advisor, Sandra shares the following sage advice “be prepared for the roller coaster. It’s not easy, and there are two tracks on the roller coaster; emotional and financial – they go hand in hand. Know what an honor it is. Clients will tell you things they won’t share with others; it’s all about trust”.
“What we do as advisors matters.”
Since May, Sandra has been enjoying every moment of retirement. She reflects, “I used to hear from retired people and they would tell me how busy they were, and I wondered, how can they be so busy? I don’t wonder that anymore!” With Duff also retiring in the Fall of 2018, their days are spent
enjoying the outdoors, loving time with their expanding family, reconnecting with friends, traveling and truly living in the present.
Sandra, on behalf of The Personal Coach, congratulations on a magnificent career and your retirement!