Interview with SmartPath COO, Stuart Lawder
We recently caught up with Stuart to discuss his beginnings with SmartPath, the strategy for shaping our rapidly growing team and exciting service enhancements on the horizon for SmartPath clients in 2019. Let's dive in...
Stuart, could you start by telling us a bit about your background?
My dad was a banker at Wachovia (eventually absorbed by Wells Fargo), so I unknowingly grew up in a financially savvy household. I assumed most people had toy checkbooks and were frugal, but still enjoyed the niceties that my suburban upbringing provided. As I left the comfort of my middle-class bubble, I saw that not everyone had learned what I had about money, much less had the same financial opportunities.
While studying Industrial Design at Georgia Tech, I was fortunate enough to have parents who paid for my education, but there was a catch. Each semester I had to submit and review a budget with my father with school, living and social expenses well-formulated. To further career aspirations (and pick up some extra beer money), I also picked up various part-time jobs or internships, mostly with small companies or doing freelance web and graphic design work.
In 2009, I graduated into the midst of the recession and took a job at a startup focused on injecting the “triple bottom line” into companies (a focus on people, planet and profit). It was a fascinating time working with established designers and brand thinkers, while consulting with large companies and blooming “good” startup initiatives.
Over time I migrated into the software space and ended up working at Pardot, a B2B marketing automation solution eventually acquired by Salesforce. Joining Pardot’s rocketship ride into the Salesforce cloud provided me with amazing opportunities to see - and lead - a company evolving its practices and leadership through different growth points. At its core, Pardot was founded around values and thoughtful “people-first” principles that I’ve brought to SmartPath.
Will you share how you became involved with SmartPath and what attracted you to its mission?
When SmartPath started in 2010, it was a financial education company. By 2012, SmartPath founder Alok Deshpande was offering seminars to employers, which is where we met. Alok presented his philosophy at Pardot, after which my wife and I met with him 1-on-1 to review our finances. We were working on paying off a car and my wife’s student loans and wanted to make sure we were on the right track. Sure enough, Alok’s advice paid off, and we were debt free within a couple years.
Over those years I stayed in touch with Alok, providing consulting work for SmartPath. By 2015, I was helping Alok put the finishing touches on his book FUEL when we started discussing what it would mean to take SmartPath from an education company to a service company. That’s what we’ve been working on ever since - developing solutions that lead to meaningful change for the everyday American.
For me, I love the opportunity to build a great company doing great things. I am constantly inspired by the stories our clients share with us on how we’ve been able to walk with them and help guide them to a financial future they couldn’t previously imagine.
As COO, you are integral to the hiring process. What attributes do you look for in talent as you continue to shape a growing team culture?
Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock was incredibly informative to structuring a process that helps us answer the following questions:
- Can you do the job?
- Are you going to be passionate about the job?
- Will we enjoy you doing the job with us?
Additionally, by putting a framework around the hiring process and being mindful of biases, we’ve been able to hire more diversely than we would have otherwise. By nature, people default to associating with others who are “like us,” but that won’t work for SmartPath. Our clients are unique with unique challenges, so it’s important that we bring a diverse set of backgrounds and voices to our team to challenge our perspectives and deliver the best services we can.
You’ve been leading the work on our new client portal: what are your hopes for how it will further support and benefit the clients we serve?
While coaching thousands of clients, we’ve realized several things:
- People don’t have a centralized place for unbiased, clear personal finance content.
- People don’t have the tools they need to stay on track with their goals.
- People need to have a place to collaborate on their financial plans with their Coach.
Our new portal aims to solve all of those problems. What we’re launching is just the beginning, and we’ll continuously roll out new features, content and tools. We’re excited for what this means for our clients and tackling the financial pain points they’re facing.
What other exciting service enhancements or plans are on the horizon for 2019 that you can share?
SmartPath has grown tremendously in the last several years. I’m really excited about our ongoing progress and new customer launches slated for 2019. With everything we do, we’re aiming to measure and improve. This year will see SmartPath steadily building and evolving our services. For clients, that means better tools and relationships with Coaches, and therefore an even brighter financial future.