039: Grandma’s Financial Devastation Altered the Course of His Life with Cody FosterBy Arwen Becker | May 4, 2021
When Cody Foster was a junior in college, his mom called one morning and told him that his grandma was losing her café, and that she was going to declare bankruptcy. She was 64 years old, divorced, and was about to lose her sole source of income for the last three decades.
This sent Cody on a quest to better understand money, which then led him to found Advisors Excel in Topeka, Kansas. Advisors Excel has grown from three founders to over 650 employees since 2005, working tirelessly to help the best financial advisors get even better. He is also the founder of AIM Strategies, where he uses his passion and knowledge for real estate and development to help others grow their businesses.
Today, Cody joins the podcast to talk about how he first became interested in learning about money, how his mission is to make sure that what happened to his grandmother never happens to anybody that he cares about again, and the power of creating lasting success in people’s lives.
Overcomer Playlist Recommendation
Pearls of Wisdom
- Be very aware and thoughtful about what you’re putting into your mind.
- Always pay yourself first. Automate and start saving money, as life inevitably gets tougher when you don’t.
- Live debt-free as much as you can.
Tweetables“I think people underestimate how much control they have over the outcomes in their life by just the investment that they're willing to make.” - @codygfoster Click To Tweet “Be aware of what you're feeding your mind.” - @codygfoster Click To Tweet “God’s going to give us certain gifts. One day, we’ll be held accountable to what we did with those.” - @codygfoster Click To Tweet “If people are growing and they love and enjoy coming to work, they’re going to do a better job of providing a great service.” - @codygfoster Click To Tweet “When your focus is on doing what is right, not what you're going to receive from somebody on the other end of it, everything falls into place.” - @LIFEwithArwen Click To Tweet “Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.” - John Wooden Click To Tweet
- She Handled It, So Can You!: An Inspiring and Empowering Financial Guide for Women
- Advisors Excel
- Cody Foster’s Twitter Page
- The Best Question Ever
- The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast
- The Traveler’s Gift: Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success
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Connect with Arwen Becker
Arwen Becker: You know, I was thinking about the title of this podcast, and I think many of you maybe don't know why I titled it She Handled It. So, actually, my first full book is called She Handled It, So Can You! but it came from a time where I was actually doing some unscripted video years ago and the producer had asked me about my mom. And so, we started talking about my mom and I was reliving a little bit of my past. And so, my mom, amazing woman, she worked as a lunch lady at my rival junior high. And the reason that she did is because she wanted to be able to have great benefits and the days off that my sister and I have and summers off. But yet she sacrificed so much because I had a dad and a stepdad that financially couldn't provide for our family.
And so, when I think about my mom and I talk about really the millions of women around the world that find ways to handle it, and that's what my mom did. If it was for sports, she would find a way to either make more money to go find a little part-time job, or she would sacrifice to be able to get me to be able to play gymnastics or volleyball or some of the sports that I was playing. Or it could be the fact that she made every single one of my homecoming dresses.
We couldn't afford to go to the mall to be able to get a dress, but she would find a way to handle it. She would go help me pick out the pattern. I get to pick out the fabric, which sometimes was better than others, but she would handle it. And yet my grandmother, her mom, was very much the same way. So, my grandmother, Hazel, grew up in the south. She was one of six kids, dirt poor, no running water. They used the phone book as toilet paper. That just sounds so awful. But she was this kind of woman. She was a woman who when her back was against the wall, she found a way to make it happen, to handle it.
And so, even in the last three years of her life, when she was battling ovarian cancer, by this point, she had already been widowed two times. And so, she was battling cancer alone, and yet she did it with great faith. She was a God-fearing woman. She loved Jesus. She lived this graceful life, just somebody that always made you feel good when you were around her. And yet she faced a lot of trials throughout her life but found a way to handle it. And so, that's where this term comes from and I think about my grandmother. I miss her so much and I admire the woman that she was, the things that she instilled into me, just that her faith, but her faith with hard work along with it really has just imparted so much into who I am today.
And my guest today also has a grandmother who is very much like that. Cody Foster is the founder of Advisors Excel in Topeka, Kansas. Advisors Excel helps the best financial advisors in the country get even better. Since they opened in 2005, they grew from three founders to now over 650 employees, one of the largest employers in Topeka, Kansas. And just this year, they were listed as 23rd on Fortune's Best Workplaces in the Financial Services Industry. I think that's a big deal. And it's through this company that I have had the privilege and Randy, my husband, through our retirement planning firm, Becker Retirement Group, that we have had the opportunity since 2011 to work with them, and that is how I have had the wonderful privilege to get to know Cody as well.
And Cody has also founded AIM Strategies, a company that brings a passion and knowledge for real estate and development to assist people and their businesses to succeed and grow. He's been featured in multiple publications, most notably my favorite is Success Magazine, and he owns the Cyrus Hotel, Pennant Bowling Alley, and Iron Rail Brewery, which have been a catalyst for the revitalization of downtown Topeka. All of his business success has given him a greater ability to steward resources into impacting the health of Topeka and invest in young people. Cody is proud to live out his faith with his lovely wife, Jen, and he's getting ready to celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary and is the very proud papa of teenagers, Dylan and Ella.
Arwen Becker: Cody, welcome to the show.
Cody Foster: Thank you for having me, Arwen. You did expand on what I sent you so I appreciate that kind introduction.
Arwen Becker: Well, let’s see. I think you sent me two lines and said, “Ugh, having to do the bio,” and I'm like, “Okay. Fine. I'll just go search the Internet and make sure I get these things right.”
Cody Foster: I was maybe you can send me that after we're done. That way, if people ask for it, I'm like, “I got this great bio now.”
Arwen Becker: There you go. There you go, as things that you should really be proud of.
Cody Foster: I am proud of them. I just try and be humble about them, too. So, pride does go before the fall.
Arwen Becker: Yes, it does. But when somebody politely asks you to send the accolades or the things that you have done, the accomplishments in your life, I am proud to read them because you know what, the thing that I know that people will hear throughout our discussion is you are a very humble person and you have family always at the center of everything you do and always people's best interests at heart. Normally, I would kind of say these things at the end, but one of the things I am most grateful for you personally is that through our relationship that we have built since 2011, when Randy and I started with Advisors Excel, there have been many times where personally we've been facing significant challenges. And even though we were in a business relationship, you have always put our family, our marriage way before business and money and production. And that's just what makes you such a successful business owner and individual, really.
Cody Foster: Yeah. Well, I would say I think in the grand scheme of things, those are much more important anyway. So, prioritizing those and it's worked out. We have this kid named Morgan working for us that never would have been here had it not been for this relationship. Now, we just need to get E-Money working for us too. So, tell him we'll get him trained up, too.
Arwen Becker: We're going to be shipping him out to Topeka. Yes, that's funny, I failed to mention that, that our oldest son right now does work for you. Actually, it goes into your generosity because as we were trying to figure out where he could hang his hat for a couple of years before he came to work for mom and dad, the very first thing you said, we were sitting on a bus heading somewhere, and you said, "Hey, if he wants to come work for us, he has a place where he could get the education.” And so, you guys, you've taken such great care of him.
Cody Foster: Yeah. Hopefully, we're training him up and he'll be a good addition for you soon, too.
Arwen Becker: Yes, absolutely. Well, before we launch into today, I know you had picked a song to add to our Overcomer Playlist. So, why don't you tell us what the song was. Are you to sing it for us?
Cody Foster: No, I cannot sing. In eighth grade, I went to a small school and we had 28 people in my class. And eighth-grade choir, actually, I was the only person, Arwen, that they asked to not be in the choir but to just help set stuff up. That's how bad I am at singing. So, you would not want me to sing.
Arwen Becker: Oh, that's hilarious.
Cody Foster: And you know this. You and I have talked about this before. Lecrae, who's a Christian, he would describe himself as a hip-hop artist who is also a Christian. He has this song that I just love. It's called Fear, and it just talks about as we have more success, making sure that we continue to focus on the things that matter. So, I will read to you a couple of the lyrics but he says:
I'm quite scared of what's right and fair
How I fear an eternity
Will I hear well done when he turns to me?
Will I hear you care too much about
All this stuff that really doesn't matter?
You chase the wind and you didn't want it
Got to the top of a 2-foot ladder
What's after I can capture all this mess my heart was after?
Will I end up empty-handed when I stand before my master?
So, that is, one, I think one of the things that I'm always focused on is you and I've had this conversation a lot but the story of the five talents is like kind of the driving force in my life. I do think God's going to give us certain gifts and one day we’ll be held accountable to what we did with those. So, that song just reminds me that a lot. So, that's one of my favorites I listen to quite often.
Arwen Becker: I love that. And wasn't it about six or seven years ago that you actually hosted a big concert and had just a bunch of kids come out and he was the headliner act for it?
Cody Foster: Yeah. You know, actually, I had to go back and look because I was just having this conversation. It was right after, ironically, when you look at kind of everything going on in our country right now, it was right after the Ferguson riots and just was talking to some other friends in the ministry and community leaders here about something that we could try and do to bring our community together. So, had this idea to bring Lecrae in, yeah, and we put on a free concert. It was cool. We actually ended up doing it about four times total. Just about every other year, we would do it. We're probably overdue to do one now. Maybe we'll get another one but COVID kind of shut down concerts but, yeah, that's how I first kind of met him and built a relationship there. It was a lot of fun to see people of all ages and all ethnicities just coming together and having a good time.
Arwen Becker: Yeah, that's awesome. I love it. Yeah. Hopefully, when you do that again in the future, I can be a part of it because I remember seeing some of the postings about it. It looked incredible and the energy and the vibe in the room it was real significant.
Cody Foster: Yeah. It was fun.
Arwen Becker: That's awesome. Well, why don't you take us back? You know, I was fortunate. I think it was 2018 maybe. Maybe it's 2017. I think it was 2018 when you were on stage actually at a women's event and you were talking about a story about your grandmother that you really had never shared to that degree. And so, why don't you kind of take us back to that time period, paint a little bit of the picture of what was going on in your grandmother's life, a little more about her?
Cody Foster: Yeah. As you were talking about your grandma, your mom and grandma opening up, I tell people my grandma is the driving force behind me being in this industry, financial services. I majored in public relations. I wanted to do like PR and marketing for a professional baseball team. It’s what I really wanted to do. And then when I was in my junior year of college is when some things happened with my grandma but I'll catch you up on that story. So, to give you the whole backstory of it that leads to kind of me getting into financial services, I guess, so my grandparents actually grew up in Southern California, spent most of their young adult life there, and then in the mid-70s, my grandpa had always been an entrepreneur. So, they owned a bunch of bars and pool halls and racehorses and different stuff like that in Southern California. And then in the mid-70s, 1975 to be exact, they decided they wanted a change of scenery. California was obviously growing. So, in what's probably one of the worst land deals of all time, they traded about 20 acres outside of Corona, California, for this 400-acre ranch in Western Kansas and picked up and moved to Kansas kind of sight unseen. I don't even know how you do that back in the 70s. Today, you do it online. I'm not sure how they even found that or what they did. So, they moved there. My mom had just gotten married. My dad met my mom. He was in the Navy stationed in San Diego. They just got married so they decided shortly after that they would move out to Western Kansas with him. My dad was actually born and raised in North Carolina. So, I didn't have any family in Kansas. My grandparents moved there on my mom's side then my mom and dad followed them out about a year later.
And so, they moved to Western Kansas, kind of start over. My grandpa being an entrepreneur, not only did they have this farm that they were farming, but they ended up buying a couple of businesses in this small town where I grew up. One was a restaurant or cafe, a pool hall. A pool hall was a common theme with them. And then there was a pizza place kind of sandwiched in between those two. So, I was born in Kansas, 1977, just kind of born and raised here, didn't know anything much different except for I had family on both coasts. And then when I was in sixth grade, so I mentioned one of the things that they owned was a pool hall, just being completely transparent and honest, and this is what I shared at that event that we were at together that I had never really shared before. I shared the story of my grandma in the cafe, but not this part. You know, my grandparents were alcoholics. Me and my grandpa still to some degree is but he's 95 years old, lives by himself, still drives. It's worked out okay for him but my mom had really been working on my grandma to start coming to church with her. And my mom grew up, she has had a younger brother which about seven years younger than her and her parents, my grandma and grandpa, were gone all the time. So, you're in a pool hall. That's a nighttime business. So, they were always gone.
So, my mom just kind of always hated that lifestyle and convinced my grandma to start coming to church with her and kind of changed her life completely. And so, they just grew apart. She worked on my grandpa but wasn't able to change him. So, I was in sixth grade, I think, and they ended up getting divorced. So, they've been married for I don't know exactly how long, probably 30, maybe 40 years that they've been married, end up getting divorced. My grandpa didn't take it well and moved away to another town. They ended up selling the pool hall and the pizza place but my grandma kept the cafe. And so, I was the oldest grandchild. Also, I forgot to mention that but if you are in a small town, you have a business like a cafe, it's kind of a family business.
Arwen Becker: How old are you at this point?
Cody Foster: Sixth grade. So, what would that make me? Twelve, 13 years old probably? I spent almost every day, especially in the summer, working in the cafe kind of side by side with her. So, I was always pretty proud of her, just kind of making this decision in her life and dealing with the challenges of that person and taking over this cafe. And I got to see how hard she worked every single day. And so, from sixth grade to I'll fast forward the story of my junior year of college, my mom called one morning and said, "Hey, your grandma is going to be losing the cafe and she's going to have to declare bankruptcy.” And long story short of being able to look back on it, my grandma had never really run the business. My grandpa was always kind of the entrepreneur and she worked in those businesses alongside of him. And so, when she took it over, just not really knowing enough about the business side, she kept doing the things that she'd always been doing which was a little bit everything, run the cash register, repour coffee, back in the kitchen if you have to. And through a series of what I would say are small but financial mistakes that compounded over time just got herself in this position where she couldn't keep the business going. It's a tough enough business anyway, right? If you really don't know what you're doing, it's even more difficult.
Arwen Becker: So, she was doing, I mean, just really out of sheer force because she didn’t have the educational background to know how to really properly structure running a restaurant or a café, right?
Cody Foster: Great way to describe it. And then if you pile on top of that, I tell people all the time, restaurants are maybe one of the worst businesses that you can actually own and operate.
Arwen Becker: Don't you own a couple of them?
Cody Foster: You would think I would know better, right? I do. And I still tell people that and they think I'm joking but they're hard to operate. The margins are not great on a restaurant. And it's a small town, so it's not easy to do anyway. So, now my grandma, I think she was 64 years old at the time this happened. She's divorced, bankrupt, and the sole source of income for the last 30ish years of her life has now been taken away, 20 years, however long. And so, I grew up in a family without much money and didn't know much about it. And so, that just kind of sent me on this kind of quest, I guess, to learn more about money. So, I went and got a job within a few weeks of that phone call at a local bank. I was a teller in a drive-through and then my senior year of college, they opened up this call center. So, I went to work there full time, took my classes, and also worked full time. And then actually, right as I was getting ready to graduate, Dave, my partner here, who you know well, I was working at this company called Personalized Brokerage Services and said, "Hey, we're getting ready to hire a few people. I know you want to learn more about money. We work with these independent financial advisors and help them find the best products for their clients.” So, I went, applied, and got a job there, and rest is kind of history as far as working there for a while. Then Dave and I and Derek leaving to start Advisors Excel, which thank God we did. Never would have met you and Randy probably had that not happened.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. Did your grandmother, how old was she when she passed away? Because she's not living anymore, right?
Cody Foster: Yeah. So, yeah, it was about ten years ago now so she was probably late, late 70-ish, maybe early 80s when she passed away.
Arwen Becker: You know, being in the financial industry, did you intimately know what her financial situation was after bankruptcy? Was she paying into Social Security? I mean, as you know and I know, a lot of entrepreneurs keep putting money back in their business. They don't give themselves adequate wages, they don't put into retirement plans, a number of those things. I mean, certainly, bankruptcy is one thing, but did she even have those other pieces?
Cody Foster: So, a little bit of Social Security but you're right, all those other things were as an entrepreneur and especially not known was really, really bad at. So, after that point in time and we were fortunate in a way that everyone was able to kind of help her pay off her house and was in a big house and small town, cost of living is a little less, but yeah, I mean, she pretty much from that point on lived off of Social Security and Medicare or Medicaid, not the lifestyle probably anyone dreams of doing. But on the flip side, I don't think for her it was actually that big of a deal. I mean, just the lifestyle that they lived and I don't think it was a huge issue for her. Family was around there. But the other thing, being able to look back on it, to be able to take yourself out of a situation, that was probably a really difficult situation and still take that on. It's one of the things I say is so even though the ending probably wasn't how you would ever script it in a book, I think the choices she made and the effort that she put out is pretty admirable, too.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. And just like you, I see many women who are in that same position. I mean, gray divorce is the largest segment getting divorced, people who have been married longer than 25 years, and women fare very poorly when they get divorced at that age just because of the fact that many of them, they were either in a support role or they were at home with kids. They weren't putting into retirement plans like their spouse was. They were not putting in as much to Social Security. And so, it really affects women in a very significant way. And I do commend your grandmother, just like so many women who willingly extract themselves out of a situation, knowing that what they're facing is a tough row to hoe, you know what I'm saying? But to still do it, I mean, that's the nature of this podcast. I mean, your grandmother still found a way to handle her own situation, and that was a ricochet effect into your life. But I do commend her for being willing to do her best to reinvent her life, especially when she… Did she have faith? I mean, you say you're your mom kind of pulled her into church and everything. Was she a believer at that point?
Cody Foster: So, I don't know. That's a great question. I should ask my mom that sometime. So, they grew up Catholic but we're not really practicing in any way, shape, or form, I guess I would say. But I do remember vividly her getting baptized. So, I don't know what her faith was leading up to that point. That's a good question. I'm going to ask my mom at some point. I've never asked her that before but I do know if she had it, she had a newfound faith is probably what I would say or a renewed faith that maybe she didn't have before that.
Arwen Becker: And what was her attitude like in those later years, I mean, after the bankruptcy had occurred? You know, what was she like as an individual once that had happened?
Cody Foster: Maybe not what you would think. So, I think a lot of times I'm sure there was some disappointment and frustration, embarrassment, all of those types of things. But the reality is you know what I think she felt more than anything was relief because she had worked so hard in a business that I don't even know she did it necessarily because she loved it. You know, they probably bought about the business because my grandpa liked buying businesses and that had always been in his blood. And she kept doing that for another ten years where she was showing up to work every day early and it's a hard business, especially in a smaller town where it's hard to find good help, things like that. So, in some ways, Arwen, I think there was this sense of relief with it that she had struggled, I think, for years just carrying this burden of trying to keep this business alive. So, I do think there was a relief to it. I'm sure there were all those other emotions too but I think for her she was kind of at that age where most people would think about retiring anyway and had worked a pretty physically demanding job for a long time. So, I think for her, just getting a break for a while was probably a good thing, actually.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. Absolutely. Was she able to stay in her own home or did she lose her home?
Cody Foster: Yes, she was. No. You know, Kansas, I think most states are pretty good at this, have pretty good protections around kind of homestead. So, she was able to keep her home, which was great. I think everyone was kind of able to help out. But it is even as we were talking about this, I mean, it kind of triggered for me too. I admire what you're doing and trying to empower women and help them make smarter decisions. I've said all the time here at Advisors Excel one of the things I remember vividly still to this day from that phone call is I said I want to make sure that what just happened to my grandma never happens to anybody that I care about again. And I think that's why what we get to do in supporting all of you is so fulfilling because the more that we can support you, the more that you can go help people like my grandma, too. So, it's funny how life has played out I guess since then from that. The impact that that situation has gone on to have and helping so many other people has been pretty neat to see.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. She got to see some of your success, right, before she passed away?
Cody Foster: Yeah. A little bit of it for sure. Probably not like it looks today because probably her last three or four years kind of had some early-onset dementia. But probably was in pretty good spirits the first five years or so of the business. So, got to see really kind of starting to take off and start to have some success and was still at an age and would travel down here with my mom quite a bit. So, that was fun for her. Hadn’t got to see it all but definitely got to see some of it.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. Did the two of you ever get the opportunity to sit down and really talk through why you got into this business?
Cody Foster: No. Actually, I probably didn't. I think it was something after the fact I realized like this is really kind of what drove me into the business but it was also kind of remain this passion or fuel for continuing to grow, grow the business like we have. So, no, I never had that conversation with her. That one will be someday in the future.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. You know, one of the things that I've always admired and you continue to do it as a company is something I alluded to earlier, is the fact that you do so much training of the employees, the people that you're fortunate enough to be able to open up a company and provide not only a paycheck, I mean, the bare minimum, but you really provide so much more. And when you look at what you have created as a company, why has that component been such a big piece for you, not just creating this company, but really creating a company that has lasting success for people's lives in general?
Cody Foster: Well, there may be a couple of reasons for it. You know, let me give you I'm going to call it the selfish reason. We are a service-based organization, right? So, we don't actually make things like our jobs to support these great independent financial advisors like you and Randy. So, we've always had this simple philosophy that if people are growing and they love coming to work and enjoy coming to work, that they're going to do a better job of providing a great service to you. So, from a selfish standpoint, I feel like the better we are as a service-based company, the better the business is going to do. And the best way for us to be great there is to have happy, healthy, engaged, growing employees here that come to work every day, want to do a good job in supporting all of you. So, I would say that's like just this kind of basic philosophy is like people have come to work, they're going to do a better job, and the business will do better. I think the second one, I don't know that I would specifically tie it into my grandma but we help advisors like you who are helping people make that transition into retirement and enjoy retirement. You've heard us say this a few times, but our mission is to help good advisors become great business owners so they can help people have an amazing retirement.
Arwen Becker: For those people out there that are listening, that don't have a company that pours into them that way, what's like the simplest way to start learning and growing? What have you found that’s most beneficial for you?
Cody Foster: So, first, I'll say it's never been easier to grow personally than it is today. Like I mean, it's the easiest it's ever been and I’ll maybe explain what I mean there. I say all the time like came from family without a lot of money. I'm the first person in my family to go to college, so first person to graduate. So, I'm also the first person to graduate from college but one of the things that my mom just instilled in me, she loved to read and always got us reading a lot. So, I've been a reader all my life. I read all the time and someone asked me I spoke to this Washburn, which is our local university here, class last week, and they asked like, "Do you have any mentors?” And I said, you know, as an in-person mentor, I said, “I really never have them. I've never had anyone that's just been this person I've leaned on.” But I said, "If you were going to ask me who the biggest mentor in my life is, I would probably say Andy Stanley,” and Andy Stanley runs North Point, a huge pastor in the Atlanta area, but I love everything he's about from a leadership standpoint. And I say he would probably be the person that I would describe as my biggest mentor, but I've never met him. But I have read every book he's ever written. In fact, there's one book called The Best Question Ever that I read every single year. And then I listen to his Leadership Podcast. During COVID, I've watched a lot of their actual services, also as we weren't able to go to church.
So, there is just so much wisdom at your fingertips now and free. When I was younger, you had to go to the library and check out books and you would read them that way where now Amazon's really going to get you whatever you want or audible or podcast. I use Andy Stanley. I used to have to buy his books. Now, his Leadership Podcast is free. Anyone can go listen to it. So, I think there are just so many resources available for you. And I always use this. This is what I shared with the group last week. I stole this from Darren Hardy, but he talks about gym time and drive time. So, when you go to the gym, I don't necessarily do it if I'm lifting, but if I'm on the treadmill or rower or something, throw on my EarPods and listen to a podcast or any time I'm driving. Like I take my daughter to school every morning and we listen to DarrenDaily every morning on the way to school, and then when I drop her off, I flip over to another podcast. So, there are just these ways that I think you can use these downtimes to invest in yourself. So, if your business isn't doing it, it's pretty easy for you to do it, too.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. Absolutely. And I would say for women out there that have to get ready in the morning and maybe it takes a little longer than five minutes, that's a perfect time too, putting on makeup, doing your hair. A lot of people just say there was a term that Pastor Christine Caine use years ago when I saw her preach and she said, "Don't devalue the seed.” And sometimes like what you're talking about, when things are free, when things are easily accessible, we downplay them and we're like, "Oh, that thing, it needs to be harder to really be able to get what you need out of it.” Sometimes it's just not that hard. It's just taking the step of saying, “Okay. I could listen to music this morning,” which I have my overcomer playlist. That's probably the thing when I do listen, when I do listen to music, it's really encouraging, uplifting music. And yet to be able to just listen to a 15-minute podcast while you're getting ready, because during COVID, as we realize, a lot of people didn't have drivetime, right, and they couldn't go to the gym either. So, going for a walk or going for a run or getting ready in the morning, just putting it on, even if your phone if you don't have, even EarPods, just putting it on speaker because I got into Andy Stanley's podcast because you recommended it. And some of them are real nice and short and succinct and so I think it's really important that people don't devalue the simplicity sometimes, that it really is pretty easy. You just have to start.
Cody Foster: And I do think it is, just constantly being aware. I caught myself in COVID doing this like falling into some I don't want to say bad routines, but it was easy to get caught up in all the fear-mongering that was being pushed at you 24/7. So, just being very thoughtful about what you're putting into your mind. And I share that in our all-employee meetings that we did every month. I'm like, "Just be aware of what you're feeding your mind.” And it's just so easy to choose to feed the good stuff or to feed the garbage. So, I think using the time that you have to feed the good stuff makes a big difference.
Arwen Becker: And garbage just like junk food feels good for a moment but it doesn't do well for long-term health, mental health, or physical health.
Cody Foster: And we're seeing that, Arwen. I mean, you look at just anxiety, suicide rates, everything right now, I mean, I don't think it's a coincidence at the end of this twelve months of the year that we've been peddling and just you look at the last year, it has been a crazy year. I'm not discounting some of the things that have happened in our country. There's a lot of serious things but it's a lot of traumatic things that have been happening. And if you chose to just let that invade your mind nonstop, it's not where I think it's why we're seeing some of the issues we are.
Arwen Becker: Right. I had a podcast guest who use the term intrusive thoughts and she realized because she has OCD issues that not until her therapist used this term that she recognized those thoughts that do come in, which they're going to come one way or another. I mean, we have to recognize you can't stop bad thoughts from coming. But are you recognizing them and are you giving them power or are you finding other things that are going to overcome those intrusive thoughts and guard your mind against them? And that's just what you're talking about. You can't just keep consuming social media, consuming news, and not have it affect you.
Cody Foster: Yeah. Well, and it's big right now. You know, we've had a really awful situation here that was mental health-related with a good friend and so I've studied it a lot in the last six weeks. We talk about the COVID pandemic but some of the fallout from that especially with people with anxiety or depression, some of those, man, you've got to be really careful. I know you've had people on here to talk about it on the podcast, but just seeking help, if you need it, is so important.
Arwen Becker: Yeah, absolutely. So, when you look back at this experience that you went through with your grandmother and being young and kind of growing up through this, what would you say are the three things that you really took away from that time period?
Cody Foster: Wow. So, three things. One of the things that I've learned is that you are in control of the outcomes in your life. And I had seen that maybe two ways, right? I think I saw that in the outcome that my grandma ended up at, which was not a positive one. But I've also seen it on the flip side of the outcome, I guess, in my life, for the success that we've had at Advisors Excel and the big difference between those two is like I realized that there are so many things I didn't know and I'm constantly investing and trying to learn, grow, and understand what those are. So, I think people underestimate how much control they have over the outcomes in their life by just the investment that they're willing to make. And back to what we were just talking about, you can almost tell by your daily habits what your outcome is going to be. So, I think that is one big takeaway and something that I try and tell everyone is like you are in more control of your outcome than you think. There was nothing in my background to really prepare me for this or something I say better than this is probably longer than 15 years ago but like they say in that moment, my junior year of college, had you looked at everything that had gone on in my life up to that point, you never would have guessed I'd be where I'm at today, and that was part of it.
I think the second thing kind of tied to that exact same thought that I just shared with you is that paranoia or a circumstance that you don't like or something bad that has happened in your life can serve as amazing fuel to change that too. So, when I say that, if you would have went back to my junior year of college, probably nobody that knew me at that point in time would have said like, "Hey, one day I'll bet Cody's going to run this big company and have this impact on the community, stuff like that.” But I think it was that. I made that kind of declaration that I don't want what just happened to my grandma to help happen to anyone that I care about again. So, in a way, I say I've always got this healthy paranoia, paranoia may be too strong of a word, or just this healthy fear of not ending up in that situation she was in that just constantly fueled me to not get complacent and not settle to constantly striving and pushing to get better. So, you're in control of a lot more than you realize you are. If you've had a situation that you don't like, you can use that as fuel to really drive you and change the outcome.
And then this is one that not only I think I would tie back to that, but it's just been a really big lesson, I think, over the past few years. We were talking a little before this, just some of the crazy things that both of us have dealt with over the last few years. And it's one that has really given me a piece around a lot of the things, but that is as a Christian, I say all the time that I know God has a plan. But then there were times where things would happen that I didn't necessarily like and I would start questioning or I would forget about that comment that I always make. So, I just really come to, I think, realize and this is I use my grandma situation is that what happened there was awful and I would never wish the outcome of that on anyone but now to see how God started working things out after that, I got interested in financial services purely because of that situation and then just happened to be Dave, who was my roommate at Washburn, had started to work at this company. And it's the industry we're in now. So, I've seen how at the time when you're in the middle of the storm, it's easy to question and it's hard to maybe see that there is a plan in place. But I've just started, I think in everything that happens, good, bad, indifferent is that I'm going to hold to the fact that God has a plan. And I may not understand what it is, but I'm going to work really hard to figure out what it is and how I can play a role in that.
I heard actually we're talking about Andy Stanley. He had this back-to-back series where he interviewed his dad, Charles Stanley. And Charles Stanley was talking about this very, very concept. He said, "Now when something happens,” he goes, “I start to get excited just thinking about what God may be up to.” So, I think as I go through that and I have the ability to reflect back on just seeing how God does use some negative things that seem negative at the time but they do work together in the future.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. And current problems are temporary. They always are. I mean, it does. It can feel like they're going to go on forever.
Cody Foster: And it can stink in the moment.
Arwen Becker: Oh, absolutely. I told you the last eight weeks I've cried more probably than I have in the last ten years. So, I totally know what you're talking about. Before I get to the rapid-fire, I wanted to ask you one more question just because of the industry that you're in and you, of course, know how passionate I am about empowering women, especially empowering women surrounding finances, just like what you're talking about with your grandmother.
Cody Foster: Maybe the most passionate I've ever met around actually.
Arwen Becker: Well, because mine comes through my history, too. You know, I draw off of that feeling of I just hated that feeling of not having enough and being the kid who couldn't do things and getting foreclosed on as a seventh-grader and having to move into a rental and just those memories and things of that nature. But in the fifteen years, is it fifteen years?
Cody Foster: Sixteen now.
Arwen Becker: Okay. Sixteen years.
Cody Foster: Yeah. Just had our 16th year anniversary.
Arwen Becker: So, 16 years is a good amount of time. We've got more than a decade and a half. Do you feel that you have seen a tremendous change or impact as it relates to women and how the financial services industry is continuing to rally around the largest segment of our population and the people who now hold more wealth than men do, as women do? Have you seen an improvement? And do you still feel that there are areas in which we need to continue to blaze the trail?
Cody Foster: Yeah. Well, so I'm going to answer that in two ways. Without question, I think there has been a tremendous amount of improvement. I think we talk about it with a lot of the events that we do. We have some specific events where we just bring our women advisors together to learn from each other. And I think the understanding of the fact that women do control a large majority of the wealth, especially as you get into kind of that retirement age, I think there's more of a focus on trying to support the female demographic better. So, I think we've definitely made a lot of strides in the awareness of that. On the flip side, I would say we've got a long ways to go also. I think there's a lot of areas of improvement still to be made. I think just a little bit of how we approach financial planning, specifically retirement planning could and should be a lot different for women than it is for men, one, purely because of life expectancy. I mean, they're going to outlive men by quite a bit. And I don't remember the exact statistic, but I think the female outlives the male.
Arwen Becker: Seven years, I think, on average.
Cody Foster: Yeah. I was going to say I was thinking almost ten, but yes, seven years. So, I think we are seeing more and more products being built that are designed to make sure that that income lasts, and it lasts for a long, long time. I think we're seeing more products that are also figuring out some unique ways where that income can increase if the person needs home health care or help with those assisted kind of daily living activities. So, I think we are seeing some innovation and we're seeing the industry realized that they have to do it better but I think we've got a long ways to go. And then I think the other way and I think this is one of the things that you've done such a good job of inspiring, not just here at Advisors Excel, but in the industry, is we need more women to realize that the financial advisory industry is such an amazing opportunity to help other people. I don't know that I really realized that when I got into it. I think I just wanted to learn more about money candidly and then I saw it as a good opportunity. But just seeing the impact that you can have on people and we need more women that see that. I think I feel like at AE where we've got a higher percentage, but it's still what do you feel like your 10%, 15%, maybe 20% when you come to an event. So, I think there's a lot of opportunity to increase the amount of women that go into financial services and I think that will make a big difference too.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. It's finding a way to inspire them as well, inspire college graduates to thinking that that's actually a viable career for them. And I think that's really what I've seen more than anything is that I had to be able to get to a point where I was able to do my job as a financial advisor in the way that felt authentic for me as a woman. And yet the challenge was those people around me, including my husband, who's an amazing advisor, who has been doing this for 33 years, still didn't do it the way that felt right for me. And so, there's this kind of this disjointed I'm trying to do it somebody else's way. And I think just being able to get more visibility for women to be able to see that is like, "Oh, wait, I could actually still be me and provide the help and the service and the direction, especially because there are still so many women that are they’re not answering the call to get the education because they're fearful or they have shame from their past or they haven't addressed it so they're terrified as to what they're going to find. And so, there are all these things that stop them from even going into getting educated.
And then certainly if there's a disconnection between the advisor and that individual in the way in which she needs to hear the message, it's just going to fall on the ground. It's going to fall flat. She's not going to make the changes or she's just going to do enough to kind of get out of the office and not truly make the changes that are legacy, that then she can pass to her kids and they can be passed to the next generation so better financial decisions are going to be made. Yes, I know that your kids are going to have a better idea of how to handle these things, just like our kids, because they're getting educated along the way.
Cody Foster: And I think that's right, wrong, or indifferent. I think financial services has this reputation of like a sales-y profession, right? It can be. I'm not saying there's not those I don't even know if you want to call them financial advisors out there that are better salespeople than they are advisors but it is also and I think this is where we have this opportunity to educate women about. I would say it's one of the most noble professions that exist, being able to help people put themselves in a position to be okay when they retire and then make sure that that money is going to last. I don't think that's a story that we tell enough and I think if we do a better job of telling that, there would be more women that are attracted to this industry because it's a great way to serve and help people, and like not hide, and create a great income lifestyle as part of that. So, because what I've always said I think you're usually, I don't know if compensate is the right way to describe it, but you're usually rewarded in direct correlation to how good you are at helping other people, and this is one of those industries that you can really have a huge impact.
Arwen Becker: Right. And our mission as a company is to always leave people better and I know one of your founding principles is always do the right thing. When you do those things, when your focus is do what is right, not what you're going to receive from somebody on the other end of it, everything falls into place. It's not seamless. It doesn't mean it's easy by any stretch but it certainly makes you feel fulfilled when you do see people be able to live out a great, healthy lifestyle that they have been accustomed to while they were working when they're no longer working. You get to enjoy that. So, the last rapid-fire three questions. So, the best piece of financial wisdom that you've been given?
Cody Foster: So, maybe one of two things. I would say either the idea to pay yourself first, which our friend David Bach talks about a lot, right? If you don't automate and start saving money back, it's going to be tough. But I would also say, like the one that in my own life I've seen probably be the most important is to live debt-free as much as you can. You know, we would not of you know kind of the origin story of Advisors Excel, but the three of us pulled together what was kind of our life savings at the time of $135,000 to start the company. The only reason we were able to do that, and ironically just looking back, all three of us were debt-free. I went to a college that wasn’t necessarily been my first choice, but the scholarship made it free. So, I went to Washburn. My wife and I, the only debt that we had, I should say, was our mortgage but we paid our cars off, had no student loans, and it put us in a position. So, I think not having debt is one of those things that just frees you up to so many other options. So, either pay yourself first and/or live debt-free, those are probably the two foundational pieces.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. Agreed. So, what about a recommended book and why? I know you've mentioned a couple and we'll put them in the show notes, but do you have another one?
Cody Foster: Yes. So, the one I mentioned from Andy's family was The Best Question Ever. And the synopsis of that is basically too often we ask ourselves, "Is this wrong or right?” versus asking ourselves, "Is this a wise choice?” So, based on the person that I want to be today and the person I want to be in the future, is this a wise choice to be making? So, that's a great one I love. My favorite book of all time, though, is The Traveler's Gift by Andy Andrews. I say it because it's this kind of mix of fiction, nonfiction, and personal development all tied into one book where this guy goes back in time and meets seven different people throughout the course of history who all imparts just like these words of wisdom or kind of these guiding principles in his life. I love Andy Andrews. I think he's an amazing storyteller but The Traveler's Gift is my favorite book of all time.
Arwen Becker: What was the one you say that you read every year?
Cody Foster: That's The Best Question Ever by Andy Stanley.
Arwen Becker: Okay. But then the second one that you were just talking about, what was it called?
Cody Foster: The Traveler's Gift by Andy Andrews.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. Is that a good one to - because some of the books that I know you would recommend aren't necessarily books you would read as you're going to bed at night, are they? Or they get the mind thinking, which isn't what I need before I go to bed. Is that second one a good one to read before you fall asleep?
Cody Foster: Yes, it is. Now, I mean, it's a little bit of an adventure but he goes back in time and meets Abraham Lincoln and Christopher Columbus and Anne Frank and these others and learned the lesson from each of them. So, it's a great nighttime reading book, in my opinion.
Arwen Becker: Perfect. Yeah. Because of when it's like here, use these five steps to be able to do that to increase your business, that is not what I want to be reading for.
Cody Foster: Yeah. You know why I like it is you're getting some of that like you're getting some of that wisdom but it's more in this fiction setting that is a little more entertaining.
Arwen Becker: I love it. And then finally, a quote?
Cody Foster: Probably, and I was going to see if I can even see it on my - trying to find where it is. So, I have it on my wall but it's a John Wooden quote. It's out of my picture frame, but I just love this. It says, "Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.” So, I just love that quote from him because it's going back to what I said at the beginning, the story of the five talents, to me, it’s you're going to be given certain abilities so the goal is not to measure yourself by what you accomplished, but did you actually make the most out of the things that you were given? So, that's the one that’s in front of me at all times.
Arwen Becker: I love it. And how can listeners get a hold of you? What's the best way to follow you? Where would you like us to go?
Cody Foster: I was going to say I actually try and purposely make it hard to get a hold of me. You know, I think Advisors Excel has most of the social media pages, so it's just AdvisorsExcel.com like Facebook, that type of stuff. I'm not on social media a lot. The only one I spend some time on is Twitter and I think codygfoster is the Twitter page or handle or however they describe that. That's about the only one I spend much time on just because I like being able to find some articles and stuff that I can read there. And then, yeah, that's probably the best way. If you're ever through Topeka as you can, we have a boutique hotel here called the Cyrus Hotel you can stay at too.
Arwen Becker: It’s a great hotel, too.
Cody Foster: It is. Yeah. Probably not the best thing to open right before a global pandemic that shuts down travel, but it's what it is.
Arwen Becker: And restaurants, breweries, all that kind of good stuff.
Cody Foster: Yeah. Great timing.
Arwen Becker: Hey, you've employed a lot of people and you continue to. I'm so grateful for the partnership that we have been able to enjoy with you and the company that you've created because you have poured into our life. You have continued to support us as friends. And you are a perfect example, Cody, of somebody who continues to live out his faith even publicly and knows why God has put you here. He didn't give you a bunch of resources to just have a bunch of really cool stuff. I know there's a lot of people who, if they met you wouldn't know that you're the head of this big company and have all the accolades that you didn't want to send to me, but you really do. You have used your resources and continue to use your resources to build people around you, and I just commend you and I thank you for that.
Cody Foster: Thank you. Well, it's been a mutually great partnership. It's been great to get to know you. And when you said that, I can't believe it's been ten years, but it has been now. We haven't seen each other as much because of the lack of travel but looking forward to seeing you here in a few weeks when we get a chance to get together.
Arwen Becker: Me, too. So, well, thank you very much for joining us on the show today, Cody.
Cody Foster: Thank you for having me. And keep up the good work.
Arwen Becker: Thank you.
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