Georgia Lee Hussey is the Founder and CEO of Modernist Financial, a B Corp wealth management firm dedicated to helping progressive people structure their wealth around their values. Her mission is to build a world where smart, creative people feel permission to enjoy today while providing a stable financial base for our common future. Before launching Modernist, Georgia worked for national and local financial firms as a CFP. Prior to working in finance, she was a sculptor and writer.
1. How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I started my career as an artist and writer; if you told my 19 year old self that I would be running a wealth management firm 20 years later, I would have cussed you out. But my artistic background is what has shaped me into the leader I am today and definitely informed the type of company I have built.
I graduated college with creative ambitions and zero understanding of money since the financial world wasn’t speaking to me. Instead of continuing down a path of poor financial decision making, I decided to dive into finance so I could serve others with similar values.
Today, I’m still an artist at heart and bring that to everything from how we approach financial planning and investing, to how we structure our internal teams, to the content we create to arm others with the financial resources they need.
2. How has your previous employment experience aided your current role?
In my early 20s, I ran scrappy galleries that taught me how to build around community ideals. When I became a Certified Financial Planner and saw the reality worked in larger and traditional wealth management firms, I was inspired to start a different kind of firm – a B corp that is boldly progressive and also really good at managing wealth and investments.
3. What have the highlights and challenges been during your current role?
In terms of highlights, starting a company that had a philanthropy model from day one has been something I am constantly energized by. Hiring people that think differently or have different backgrounds, has been so helpful as we build the company. Of course, prioritizing aesthetics and design has been fun given my background.
In terms of challenges, I realized I was an introvert a couple years after becoming a Founder and CEO of Modernist Financial. My days were stacking up with client meetings, staff conversations, interviews, and business development, all of it very outward facing. I am still seeking that balance of internal and external focus.
4. What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Find allies and be an ally. There are very few women in leadership roles in my industry and its critical that this changes. However, approaching underrepresentation through an intersectional lens is also critical. Even though women may be a minority, as women it is important to be aware of how race intersects with gender and other forms of difference.
5. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
Creativity drives innovation. When I first landed in finance, I worried my background and core identity as an artist would be a negative, but I have learned that it allows me to be a very creative problem solver. Thinking differently is my superpower.
6. How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It is a learning process. I don’t answer emails on weekends because there is rarely a fire drill that requires that level of connectivity. I also actually take a vacation – in fact, I am taking a 3-week vacation to the Venice Biennale for my 40th birthday. Sure, I have tried to cancel it twice, but I keep reminding myself how important it is to take time for myself and enjoy the relationships and, especially art experiences, that fuel my creativity and innovation.
7. What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
In finance, women are heavily underrepresented. This has a plethora of negative results. When there is only one woman in a meeting, she is usually asked to take notes even if she is more senior than other attendees. This means she has more hoops to jump through to get a word in or present. When there is only one woman on leadership, she is typically tasked with fixing the ‘diversity issue’ as a second job without additional pay. This is why it is important to think about workplace inclusion vs. just diversity hiring.
8. How can we encourage more women to start their own business?
9. How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship made the greatest impact when I rethought the concept. I realized that I was actually building a network of friends, both younger and older, and we were learning from each other. I have learned a lot from friends in their 80s and 90s about being a professional woman, as well as friends in their 20s. Intergenerational friendship is critical.
10. Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
In my backyard, Rukaiyah Adams is an Oregon treasure. She is Chief Investment Officer for one of our biggest foundations, she chairs our state pension fund, she’s envisioning a new path forward from the horrific impact of urban “renewal projects” on our African American community through Albina Rising, she’s got fab style, and she’s beautifully kind to others.
11. What do you want to professionally and personally accomplish in the next year?
Professionally, my goal is to build a team of kickass experts that align with our values and who can be mutual thought leaders in modeling a new way for wealth management to operate. Personally, I want to maintain my quarterly silent meditation retreat schedule. Silence and spiritual practice are instrumental to my well being as a leader.
12. What are the top three tips you can offer to an entrepreneur starting out?
Look to other industries for inspiration: I’m hugely influenced by Social Art Practice and regularly use Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ work as a touchstone.
Commit time and budget to building a fabulous team: As a leader, you need to arm yourself with a team of professionals to support your climb towards your goals. My team includes: Team Modernist, my therapist (and couples therapist), my naturopath who specializes in working with professional women, my personal trainer a block from my office, my acupuncturist, esthetician, hair stylist, and many more. (You now know where all of my disposable income goes!)
Make a cash flow spreadsheet: Cash is queen, treat her as such. Project the next 16 months of cash in your business. You should be able to say how much cash you will have at the end of every month. I have a 2 year cash flow spreadsheet which I look at 3-4x a week as info changes in the company.