Stuff happens that you can’t control. However, you can control your response.
Always do the right thing.
Personnel can make or break your business — choose them wisely.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charles Reiling who serves as President and CEO of CoastalOne, including Coastal Equities, Inc., a FINRA registered broker-dealer; Coastal Investment Advisors, Inc., an SEC registered investment adviser; and Coastal Insurance Services, a division comprised of several insurance agencies providing access to a number of fixed and variable personal lines and business insurance. An entrepreneur, Charles formed, acquired and sold several companies in the financial and food industries after previously serving as President and CEO of a Delaware trust company. Charles earned his BA in Political Science from LaSalle University in 1991 and earned his JD from Widener University School of Law in 1997, and is admitted to the bar in Maryland.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I think like a lot of things in life, it had to do with recognizing an opportunity. I met my wife, Julie, while I was attending law school at night. Back then, I was working full-time as a caseworker with the Pennsylvania Welfare Department, at first in Philly and then later in one of the surrounding counties. I took that job because I knew I wanted to go to law school and I also knew that I couldn’t afford to go during the day, so I needed a job where I knew I could get out in time to make it to evening classes. I was living in Philly then and my wife was in Annapolis, Maryland, which is where we decided to settle after I had finished school. In anticipation of that, I quit my job and moved down to Annapolis with a year to go for my degree, commuting back up for class. I needed income, and a friend of mine who had introduced me to Julie suggested I come work with him. He was a broker at Merrill Lynch. I didn’t know the first thing about stocks, bonds, or business (I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two since then!), but he suggested I give it a shot anyway, as he thought I had the personality for it. Eighteen years after that, with more than a few “learning experiences” under my belt, I was running a financial services firm, CoastalOne.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
When I first started my career, the norm for a financial adviser was to build a business by cold calling and networking. My background was in the working class in Philly, and I found myself trying to build a business in Annapolis, where I knew very few people. I found it extremely difficult to break through and I had very little confidence in myself. I did meet some great people along the way though, and I learned a little something from each of them. The most important lesson was simply to stick with it — I think perseverance begets success.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I had a mountain of law school debt, a wife, and, ultimately, three kids to provide for. That’s what drives me more than anything.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
I’ll let you know when I get there! Seriously though, I don’t think I’ve achieved true “success” yet. I’m still building my company, and grit and resilience have gotten me this far. We’ve had some very difficult times along the way. Early on, we had two partners in the firm that misappropriated client money, and I wasn’t sure we’d survive those incidents. That’s when it occurred to me how important it was to understand that many things are simply out of your control. What you can control — maybe the only thing — is how you react to those things that happen to you. Once I understood that I couldn’t control partners, clients, victims, or regulators, and that I could only control my actions and my reactions, it was like a weight had been lifted. That’s one less thing — one less BIG thing — that I didn’t need to worry about, and I could then focus on MY actions. What can I do to improve my situation, particularly one not of my creation? You will find yourself in situations not of your making countless times, and it’s best to focus on what YOU can do to resolve the issue and worry less about what others may do. It’s important to realize that while the outcome may not always be the one you want, you still have the power to make the best of any situation, and your response is entirely within your control.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early on in my career, industry lingo really threw me off. I’d hear terms that I thought I was supposed to understand, and I’d sit through conversations and then leave them having no idea what everyone was talking about. This goes back to my early days and lack of confidence then.
So one day, an industry partner made several references to his “vig” in a particular institutional deal we were working on. I had no idea what he meant. After the third or fourth reference, I stopped him and said, “What does vig mean?” He explained that it meant his cut. I then asked him, “Where does the term come from? How did ‘vig’ come to mean your cut of a deal?” He thought about it and said, “I really don’t know. I have no idea where it comes from. I just know that’s what it means.”
I think the lesson here is to not be afraid to ask questions when you don’t understand something. I ask a ton of questions now and I find that I understand things a bit more as well!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
At CoastalOne, the management team and I are fully committed to the people we serve. My colleagues know they can (and often do) call me in the evenings and on the weekends to talk through issues they may be facing. I like puzzles and playing chess. I love it when I can help someone solve a problem, particularly a complex one.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Ask for help! Ask your peers, ask your industry partners — ask your spouse! Talk with them about what’s keeping you from hitting the next level or closing a deal. You’ll find that most people really like to help. And don’t underestimate the power of talking about things with your spouse or partner. Even when that doesn’t lead to a solution, it may help them better understand any stress you may be under.
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?
Frank Skinner is our Chief Legal and Compliance Officer at CoastalOne. Frank and I met in law school and we’ve been friends for over twenty-five years. When our company ran into a significant legal issue several years back, I asked Frank to help me by joining the firm. He didn’t hesitate, and we wouldn’t have made it without him. Treasure those people who don’t hesitate to help you when you find them in your life.
There are so many others that have been there for me at various times along my journey. Another is Av Shiloh, who is a former business partner. He is the most honest and ethical man I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. There can be times when one may be faced with a “gray” area. There is no gray in Av’s world — there’s only right and wrong. Sometimes when I’m not sure how to handle something, I ask myself, “What is the right thing to do here?” The answer usually reveals itself pretty quickly. I’ve learned from him to always do the right thing.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I always try to “pay it forward”, donate to just causes, and give back whenever the opportunity presents itself.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
I think I’ve pretty much covered the stories and examples via the conversation we’ve had so far, so how about I simply recap the 5 things in a more simple fashion, for the record, now:
1. Stuff happens that you can’t control. However, you can control your response.
2. Always do the right thing.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
4. Personnel can make or break your business — choose them wisely.
5. If you have kids, remember that they grow up very fast. Don’t miss out on that — you can’t get that time back.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
That’s a tall request! I’m a big fan of helping others succeed. Maybe if we all allocated an hour or two per week to helping someone else on their road to success. An intentional period of time, without distraction, focused on someone else and what’s important to that person, mentoring and helping them through whatever it is that they need at that moment. It could start with a call, maybe out of the blue, to someone to whom you offer help with no expectations in return. If we all did that for an hour per week, we could all potentially help 52 people every year. Devote one hour each week to helping someone else succeed.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!