Meet The Female Leaders Of Finance: “We won’t achieve parity by accident.” with Amy Phelan and Tyler Gallagher

Be intentional — Moving forward, I feel that it’s critical to take a proactive approach to diversity and inclusion. We won’t achieve parity by accident. It takes the passion of individuals, companies, and our society as a whole to really make an impact. I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Phelan. Amy is a Shareholder at tonneson + […]

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Be intentional — Moving forward, I feel that it’s critical to take a proactive approach to diversity and inclusion. We won’t achieve parity by accident. It takes the passion of individuals, companies, and our society as a whole to really make an impact.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Phelan. Amy is a Shareholder at tonneson + co, where she has worked for over 24 years. She has expertise in working with high net worth individuals, business owners and their families on tax planning, retirement planning, trusts and estates, and more. Amy is a CPA who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Massachusetts at Isenberg and a master of science in taxation from Bentley University. She is a member of the Boston Estate Planning Council (BEPC), American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and the Massachusetts Society of CPAs (MSCPA), where she also serves on the education committee. Amy is also involved in the firm’s mentoring activities and supports charitable causes, such as North Reading Relay for Life, Catie’s Closet, Merrimack Valley Food Bank and North Reading Food Pantry.

Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?

I am a person who likes stability. As I started to think about college and my future profession, I felt that pursuing an education in finance would give me opportunities far beyond the numbers. Every company, industry, organization, and family needs the expertise of someone with a business mind. Academically, the math and logic involved in the technical aspects of accounting came naturally to me. I completed my undergraduate degree in finance at UMass Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management. The education I received prepared me for opportunities that ultimately led me to a career in public accounting. I earned my CPA and went on to earn a master of taxation degree at Bentley University. I have been with tonneson + co for more than 20 years, working with families and closely-held businesses across a range of industries, and playing a leadership role in our firm’s operations and growth.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to meet many wonderful families. Through the years, I have experienced things that I never would have expected way back when I first entered the accounting profession. While there are many stories, one particular family stands out in my mind. For many years, I have worked with a large family with multiple entities, family members and complex structures. One of the siblings married a cow farmer in the Midwest. He is truly a salt of the earth, hard working individual who is very proud of the business he has grown. Over time, I developed a strong working relationship with him. As he approached retirement, he invited me to visit his family home, experience his world and share with me, in person, his wishes for his family and his business. During this visit, I got to know his wife, each of his children and their spouses. He took the time to take me out into the pastures, show me how his business worked, share his thoughts on the future and discuss how he wanted to transition his business to his children. I learned about grass cycles, the difference between a Heifer and a breeding cow and so much more. To my surprise, I even branded a cow! This experience was one of a kind. My client and his family trusted me to be a part of their world, allowing me to bring value that was beyond anything I had imagined.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am proud to be able to work on the advancement of work-life balance as a core element of our firms culture at tonneson + co. I came into the accounting profession back in the early 90s when there was no voice mail, no email and we wore suits to work each and every day! Public accounting was known for long hours, and wearing jeans to work or having flexible schedules was unheard of. Twenty plus years later, I am working for the same firm and have been lucky enough to play an influential role as we develop and implement our firm’s vision for the future. That vision is one of a culture that allows people to have a successful career as well maintain wellness and balance in our personal lives. Advancements in technology have allowed us to offer our employees flexibility and opportunities to work remotely. Parents can balance raising their children while still being available for their clients. We offer generous paid time off and support our employees as much as we can in every aspect of their lives. Happy and healthy employees are our firm’s most valuable assets, and I really enjoy being a part of helping our employees succeed inside the office and out.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Social responsibility is an important part of tonneson + co’s culture. We are dedicated to giving back and supporting those in need, not just financially but also with our time and hours of service. For example, our firm works in close partnership with Catie’s Closet, a nonprofit organization that provides basic necessities to students in need. This organization sets up “closets” in the Greater Boston-area schools that give students living in poverty the ability to discreetly pick and choose the clothing and basic necessities they need and are proud to wear. Each summer, tonneson + co employees participate in a “Fill the Bus” event for Catie’s Closet. Our staff bring in their own donations to fill an entire school bus with clothing, toiletries, and other essential items for back-to-school. We also organize an annual 5k run/walk to benefit the Wakefield Food Pantry’s Kids First Program, which provides food to families in need during the summer months. I’m proud that our firm has created a culture where giving back is encouraged and appreciated.

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?

This change is the result of many passionate people in the profession who have worked extremely hard to make people aware of the strength that diversity and inclusion can bring to a company of any size. Young people see diversity and inclusion as a natural part of their lives. I had a young woman tell me recently that she never thought that a man would be smarter or more successful than she would be. It just did not cross her mind that people might think that way. This empowerment is the result of the education in our colleges and universities, as well as mentoring programs and cultural organizations that promote the talents of all genders, races, cultures, and ethnicities.

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?

We as women need to continue to achieve! I don’t believe our goal is to “prove” ourselves. There’s nothing to prove because we know that we are just as strong and just as capable and valuable as the men in our lives. Three things I think we can do are:

1. Be open — It’s important not to be afraid to take on new career opportunities that make us strong, successful business leaders. It’s equally important to have balance in our lives so that we can be who we want to be, inside the office and out.

2. Be flexible — Companies must continue to foster an environment that allows women to thrive at work and in their personal lives. Creating a culture that allows women (as well as men) the flexibility to achieve success in their careers and in their families is a win-win for all.

3. Be intentional — Moving forward, I feel that it’s critical to take a proactive approach to diversity and inclusion. We won’t achieve parity by accident. It takes the passion of individuals, companies, and our society as a whole to really make an impact.

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. Work hard — A strong work ethic is something that cannot be taught, only emulated. My husband and I have always worked hard, and my children have experienced the importance of hard work throughout their lives. There were times where work had to take priority, but also many more times where my husband or I were in the stands watching their games or keeping time at their swim meets. As parents we were present, but we also communicated to our children that our work and profession was an important part of all of our lives.

2. Pay yourself first — This sounds cliché, but the results speak volumes. Save what you can, and your future self will thank you.

3. Strive for balance — Financial literacy is largely defined as the ability to not let money to get in the way of happiness. It is important to be responsible, but balance is key. My mother used to often say when we did something special like a vacation, “You can’t take it with you”, and I live by that. There are times when splurging is worth it, but saving and planning for your future is also important.

4. Don’t be too afraid of risk — Be willing to take risks when it comes to investing. For example, investing in a home is a big financial step that is not without risk, but is also an investment in your family and your future.

5. Invest in yourself — Education opens doors. Never put yourself in a position that you look back and say, “I wish I had invested the energy and or money in the extra courses to earn a degree.” Such achievements will never be regretted, and the investment is well worth it.

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?

There are many people who helped me along the way in my career. It was not easy, and at times I admit I hated every minute of the experience, but what I do know is that these individuals brought out the best in me and made me the advisor I am today. I learned from their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Most of all, they believed in me and continue to believe in me even when I question myself. I will always be grateful for the mentors in my life that saw in me what I could not always see in myself.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” ―Eleanor Roosevelt

I truly believe my own success, happiness and destiny is up to me. I am responsible, and each of the choices I make along the way defines my path.

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. 🙂

Kindness. Be kind to one another. How can we go wrong in any aspect of our lives if we respect each other and we are kind?

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