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Tips From The Top: One On One With Pam Krueger

I spoke to Pam Krueger, co-host of PBS's “MoneyTrack” and founder and CEO of Wealthramp, about her journey and best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Pam: At this point I’ve had three careers, but when I was a kid, I always felt a bit “average” in school, certainly not a super star in the classroom because it was impossible for me to sit still and pay attention. I think some people who worried about me and saw me as a laggard would be surprised to see me as a leader now. 

Adam: ​How did you get here? ​What experiences, failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Pam: In every way my career has come full circle. I’m now right back where I started when I began working in the financial services industry in my early 20s. I knew back then that something was wrong with the way financial services operated. So much of the work relied on making a sale, trying to persuade a client to purchase a product that ultimately benefited the salesperson’s wallet – not the client’s. But at the time, when I walked away from my job at one of the largest brokerage firms, it felt like a failure in some way. It’s only with age and time that you gain the wisdom that those moments in life are anything but mistakes. 

I spent the next 5 years producing and co-hosting PBS’s “MoneyTrack,” a show that provided the information consumers nearing retirement needed to make the best financial decisions. After the credit crisis and meltdown in 2012 viewers were asking me where they could find actionable advice; many wanted an introduction to a trusted financial advisor more than education – and yet I kept simply producing the show. I was going against the cardinal rule: listen to your audience. Putting the TV series on pause was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. The idea of transitioning from a weekly public television broadcast show carried on 250+ PBS stations and launch a startup seemed like a failure because I focused on what I was leaving behind.  But I knew I had to do it because the tone of the questions changed after the financial crisis. People were asking me about who they could trust with preserving their life’s savings. Wealthramp was born from viewer questions and built on the foundation of consumer advocacy. Turns out—I’m solving today the exact same problem I discovered when I was 24, which is people deserve qualified financial advice that is truly in their best interest. 

Adam: What are the best lessons you have learned from your transition from your career in business to your career in media?

Pam:  The best lesson I’ve learned is to stay tapped into your gut instincts and to believe they are true. As corny as it sounds, you need to find your true north. When I transitioned into media from the financial sector, I had to overcome false thinking that maybe I didn’t know enough to change my career, to do something that I’ve never done before. But I learned how to write, edit and produce a compelling news story, get in front of a camera, and produce my own weekly broadcast series. Lesson learned: get out of your comfort zone and trust your instincts.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Pam: The most effective leaders put their egos aside. They know how to listen and tap into the talent and desires of their team. At “MoneyTrack” I was responsible for managing 40 people, and I made a point to understand the unique challenges of each role and how I could help position them to pursue roles and careers they found rewarding. When people on your team know you care about developing them and you care about their goals, they will get a lot more joy in the work you’re doing together. 

Aspiring leaders can develop this capacity by sticking their neck out and doing things they aren’t comfortable doing. This was advice I received from Carol Bartz former CEO of Autodesk and Yahoo! and it stuck with me throughout my career. It’s about spending time with different departments than your own. It will teach you what you need to know about the culture within a company and it’ll make you a better leader. 

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Pam: For entrepreneurs, it’s all about perseverance, perseverance, perseverance. Push your idea until it can’t be pushed anymore. You’re either going to succeed or you will have true evidence that it won’t, and you can move onto something else. For executives, I’d encourage them to avoid becoming compartmentalized. The best executives I’ve worked with throughout my career are the ones who really listen to the marketplace and three to four levels below them. They stay close to the genesis of the idea that brought together the organization. Thought leaders and civic leaders should remember not to fall in love with their own message. Don’t become tone deaf. 

Adam: What is your best advice on building, leading and managing teams?

Pam: Play to people’s strengths – and you can only do that if you know what their strengths are. Seek out one-on-one conversations with your team members so you can better understand their unique skill sets and interests and help them realize these aspects about themselves. Regularly ask your team if they are getting the experience they expected and wanted. When you stop hearing this type of feedback, you know your team has checked out. 

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Pam: At some point in life, most people figure out that if they’re not pursuing something they feel is truly aligned with who they are, they will end up fighting themselves forever. They resign to hating their jobs. The best advice is to take the time to tap into what is in your heart and stay true to it. It’s not just about following your passion, it’s more about knowing that you have a passion. Use it to find your purpose and make your purpose your mindset.  I roll my eyes at the advice to make your passion your job. Because sometimes we can’t do that. But as long as you have some elements that are aligned with what’s in your heart and you carry a thread of it forward, your career will be so much more successful and rewarding. 

Adam: ​What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Pam: One of the best ways to pay it forward is to find ways to cultivate younger people that find what you do rewarding and have the potential to work for you one day. You have to go out of your way to seek out young people who are eager to learn. Create internships for them even if you don’t have anything open or nothing exists. 

And if you’re not in a position to create a business internship, you can still make a positive impression. I don’t have kids of my own, but I know there are so many teachable moments that happen in families. One of the biggest gamechangers in my life came from my dad when I was about to graduate from University of Colorado. He gave me the last chuck of money I would ever receive from my family, and I felt panicked.  He said to me: “I have faith in you.” That was the point my mindset shifted from seeing setbacks to seeing opportunities. 

Adam: ​What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Pam: I love being outdoors and active – it’s why I live on Cape Cod for half of the year and the other half in San Francisco to run Wealthramp. Something I do every day and it’s certainly shaped me is yoga. The spiritual grounding that comes from yoga helps me to take off the hard angles that get built up from social and professional stress – it polishes the rough edges of life. 

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Pam: I noticed the frustration intensify in the questions people where asking after the financial crisis in 2008 and there are some parallels to what we’re going through now with COVID-19. We as a society don’t grow up with serious financial literacy. We don’t have substantial classes on capitalism, economics, how money moves around the world. Perhaps if we had that in the fabric of our upbringing – in grade school and middle school – we wouldn’t be so insecure about how to manage our money. Those insecurities are derived from a lack of knowledge and they come out after major events like the one we’re seeing with COVID-19. We need better tools to operate in a society that is wholly dependent on capitalism. We must make financial education and empowerment a priority – it’s the only way people can financially thrive.

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