PHOTOS BY BRODY WHEELER
Sandra Wehner, CFP® is a Financial Advisor and corporate vice president at Rochester-based Sage Rutty & Company, Inc. With over 40 years in the industry, she has worked at the firm for nearly three decades. Sandy firmly believes that investing money is critically important, but she knows that enjoying life is equally as significant. Her direct and honest search for answers allows for a clear path to helping her clients understand exactly what they need to do and why for peace of mind in retirement.
The epitome of success, Sandy is a shining example of what it takes to be successful in a male-dominated industry. While the number of female advisors remains low nationally, with some surveys placing the figure at 20%, over half of Sage Rutty’s advisors are women and Sandy attributes this anomaly to the influence of mentorship.
Her protégée, Teresa Robinson, joined Sage Rutty in April 2013. Earning her master’s degree in art therapy and counseling, a career in finance was never on her radar. Serendipitously, Teresa found herself as a Financial Services Associate and was quickly taken under Sandy’s wing. Her quick climb up the corporate ladder is evidence of the success that incredible work ethic and strong mentors can reward. Today, she’s a Financial Advisor on Sandy’s team, a Certified Financial Planner®, is licensed in New York State in Life, Accident, and Health Insurance and she holds Series 7, 63 & 65 licenses with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Sandy: I have been married to my husband, Kevin, for 21 years. We do not have kids but had two pugs until recently, Mabel & Blanche. Now, we only have Blanche. We love to travel and are avid scuba divers. On the career front, I started working at a local CPA firm in 1978. In 1980, I took on a part time job working nights at Lincoln First Bank’s check processing department to get into the banking field because I learned that the bank was good about promoting from within for more permanent full-time jobs. After 1 year of working both jobs, I posted for a job as a secretary in the Portfolio Department. After 11 years, many bank sponsored education courses, licensing exams and various promotions, I decided to leave the bank and join Sage, Rutty. That was December 1991 and I have been here ever since.
Teresa: I grew up south of Rochester and I’m the oldest of three children. I went away to go to school in Pennsylvania, came back for graduate school then lived in Massachusetts for work for a while, but ultimately came home to be closer to my family. I’ve been with Sage Rutty for over 8 years. My husband and I live in Brighton with our two dogs.
What made you decide to go into the financial services industry?
Sandy: I like math, was good at it and thought the financial field was one filled with opportunity and choices.
Teresa: I came into this business in sort of an “unconventional” way in that when I went off to college, I knew what I wanted to do and thought I knew what that would look like, but life doesn’t always unfold in predictable ways. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to help people and that has never changed. I went to school to become a therapist. On paper, it might seem like what I do now as an advisor is completely different than what my education was in, but the roles are not as disparate as you might think. The skills I learned in my educational training are very much applicable now.
What made you choose Sage Rutty, one of the oldest locally owned financial services firms in Rochester, NY?
Sandy: At the time, a friend and former colleague from the bank called me and asked me to join him at Sage, Rutty. He said, “this is a great company with so much more to offer your clients and I think we’d make a great team.” He was right, we were partners for 22 years, until he retired in 2013.
Teresa: I met Laura Parker, another advisor here at Sage Rutty, through networking and she helped open the door for me. I read about the firm at that time and thought it would be great to work for a place that is locally owned and has been part of the Rochester community for so long. Having been here just over 8½ years, I’ve gotten the chance to really see how deeply connected and invested this firm is with the community. People often talk about the importance of giving back, but Sage Rutty walks the walk on this. It is modeled through the leadership here, beginning with Wayne’s unbelievable generosity. He certainly inspires and encourages all of us to do the same and you see that reflected in the actions and causes of so many of my colleagues. I’m proud to be a part of this firm.
What are some of the things you find help you to be a successful businesswoman, especially in a male dominated industry?
Sandy: I worked hard to prove myself, I asked tons of questions and I went after what I wanted. So many people helped me along the way. People are willing to help dedicated workers and they seemed vested in seeing me succeed. A “male dominated” world is only a roadblock if you view it that way. I did not give that much thought.
Teresa: I have been fortunate enough to have a strong female mentor. Sandy has been in financial services for 40+ years and certainly people like her have paved the way for other women to be successful in this business. When I first came to Sage Rutty, it was really my first true experience in a financial services firm. There are so many successful women here and female advisors. It wasn’t until later that realized the makeup of the firm and the number of female advisors here is not reflective of the industry as a whole.
If you could interview one of your mentors, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Sandy I asked my mentors so many questions over the years and made a pest out of myself, so I do not see a reason to interview any of them. I stay connected with many of those individuals and thank them from time to time for the knowledge and/or assistance they bestowed upon me.
Teresa: My path has crossed with several women who’ve helped me through school and work, but Sandy has been the most influential over my career. Over the course of 8 ½ years, I’ve asked her literally thousands of questions. She’s always taken the time to explain what things mean, her rationale behind decisions she makes, and what we can anticipate as a result. What’s great is that in working closely with her, I’ve seen her put everything in action, so it’s not just words. I’m sure I will still have questions for her as we move forward, but I cannot overstate the gratitude I have for all the doors she’s helped open.
Have you found social media to help or hinder you in promoting your services, especially during the pandemic?
Sandy I do not use social media to promote my business. Word of mouth does it for me. During the pandemic, we provided regular updates to my clients through email or US mail for those clients that did not use computers
Teresa: As a practice, we don’t use social media to promote our services. During the pandemic, it was vital to communicate with clients as we navigated that uncertainty, especially when we went to a remote working environment – unchartered territory for us. We communicated regularly through emails and phone calls to clients.
How do you juggle the fast-paced schedule of being a woman in business with your family life?
Sandy I do not view it as a juggle. As I mentioned earlier, I do not have children so it may be a bit easier for me as that is a missing component. My husband is fantastic partner. He is there for me and knows my workday is busy. He takes quite a bit of the home care off my plate. Often, if I work late, he will have dinner started, or it is ready when I get home. That is a tremendous help, and I do not take it for granted because I know that many women are not so fortunate.
Teresa: One thing that no one can do is add more hours to a day. I think it comes down to begin clear on what is important and making a conscious effort to see those things through be it at work or at home. I’m lucky in that I find a lot if purpose and fulfillment in the work that I do, but I also have interests outside of work that are meaningful and rewarding. I also have a supportive husband who is always encouraging me to take that next step or spend the extra time.
What challenges have you faced this year and how have you overcome them?
Sandy: Our business is busy and with so many people working remotely, I feel it has created a decline in service. When I need to call a company or provider in my role to service my clients, sometimes getting a return call or someone to even answer the phone is lacking. In a perfect world, I would love remote working to go away but I know I may be in the minority with that opinion.
Teresa: This past year, I sat for the CFP® exam. I had finished the course work at the beginning of the year and then really began to focus on the exam itself. It was tough, but it demonstrated to me the power of habit and routine. Having a practice around studying was key to being able to be successful.
What motivates you and keeps you moving forward?
Sandy: I love what I do, plain and simple. This business is great and working with different clients and helping them is even better. My glass is half-full, always!
Teresa: I try to always stay curious about things. I’ve never gotten to a place and thought, “here’s good.” I have always been self-motivated and constantly find myself in a place of wanting to know more. I feel like I could always be better and do better for myself, my family and my work.
Did anyone ever prepare you, or encourage you to go into the financial field?
Sandy: No. It just happened.
Teresa: No one encouraged me to go into the financial field, but when I got here, Sandy told me that this could be a job or a career for me. She said that it was a job, then that’s great, she would teach me everything I would need to know to be successful here. She also said that if I wanted it to be a career, then ask as many questions as possible and she’d help me along the way. I’ve asked a lot of questions over the course of the years and to her credit, she’s taken the time, even when she had none to spare, to answer every single one. It has made all the difference. Today, when I look back and think about where I started compared to where I am now, I sometimes can’t believe how much I’ve learned and accomplished.
What makes the services you provide to your clients unique and stand out from others?
Sandy: I am not just a salesperson or financial advisor. I am a Certified Financial Planner and more importantly, I would like to believe, a friend to most of my clients. We help clients navigate through all facets of their financial world and much of that is just being here to answer questions and point them in the right direction or simply to listen.
Teresa: I started out at the firm as an assistant and so I know the client service end of things on a very detailed level. Having an operational background, knowing how things work behind the scenes and how to get things done, I think makes me better able to serve the client. One of the things that guides Sandy and something she’s taught me is to think as a consumer first. Thinking about a situation from the client’s perspective first, drives the type of service we provide. It sets a high bar and we strive to meet it.
What are some of the pros and cons of being a female business leader in 2021?
Sandy: The pros are endless – having the knowledge to help others and the pride when people tell you that you have changed their lives or helped them to reach a goal, the freedom & flexibility. It is hard to think of any cons because it has been so long since I have had to deal with any.
Teresa: I think there are so many opportunities for female leaders in 2021 and when we work in community and collaboration with others, the possibilities are endless.
Do you have any helpful advice to someone interested in joining the financial services industry?
Sandy: Find a mentor, ask a lot of questions, and work hard. Be willing to start at the bottom. You will find the climb to top of the ladder incredibly rewarding. Also, do it because you love it, both the finance field and working with people. They go hand in hand.
Teresa: Do not be afraid to ask questions. The learning curve in this business is steep and this industry is ever-changing. Finding a mentor could be the key to success. The value of finding a person who can support, guide and challenge you can be immeasurable.
What type of schooling prepared you to be where you are today?
Sandy: I graduated from high school in 1978 and college did not interest me. I entered the work force and grabbed every opportunity to learn by taking classed offered by the bank, taking various exams, and sitting for the CFP® exam. That was then, I was lucky. Not sure if that could happen today without a college degree.
Teresa: I got my licenses when I began at Sage Rutty and then decided to pursue the Financial Paraplanner Qualified Professional™ designation from the College of Financial Planning. More recently, with the support of Sandy and the firm, I made the decision to become a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional. I learned a lot throughout the process, and I know that I am a better advisor as a result.
If you needed to start it all over again tomorrow and you had just one thing to change, add or subtract, what would it be?
Sandy: Not a thing. I am who I am and where I am because of opportunities I took advantage of and mistakes I made throughout the years. Changing any of it, may have altered the direction of my life and career and honestly, I love where I am today.
Teresa:: I don’t think I would change anything. I could not have asked for anything more in pursuing this career and subtracting anything would have changed the trajectory. I’ve learned a lot from the successes I have had thus far, but have learned just as much, if not more, from the obstacles I’ve faced along the way.
What makes you an expert in understanding the needs of individuals to and managing their financial wellness?
Sandy: I am a good listener and now, I have years of experience. Working with so many clients over the years and hearing so many of their personal stories has been a huge part of my success. So many times, I have been able to help guide a client because of a similar experience with another client.
Teresa: I’ve seen and experienced a lot through the lives of clients over the years and can draw a lot from that. If someone asks a question that I’m not sure of, I have no problem saying I don’t know, but I’ll find out. I want to be confident in the information I provide. I’m able to tap the experience of my colleagues at the firm. We have a wealth of knowledge here at Sage Rutty.
Did you always know you wanted to be in this field and help others?
Sandy: No, but I was young when something clicked. I think when you are eighteen or so and you go off to college, you have no idea what you want to do. Young adults and their parents get frustrated that they cannot figure it out and when are they going to choose a career; but so many do not find their passion until they are in their late 20’s or early 30’s and even then, I consider them fortunate if they do. I have worked with lots of people over the years and many never enjoyed what they did for a living. It was a means to pay the bills and put food on the table.
Teresa: I always knew that I wanted to help people, but what I didn’t know is that I would end up in this field. I studied to become a therapist and thought I would help people in that way. But finding myself as an advisor in financial services, I believe I’m fulfilling that goal of helping others. As an advisor, you are asked to provide guidance and support. You are meeting with clients during all stages of life. You are there to help people to save and help to grow their money. Along the way, you get to share in their excitement as they enter retirement, when they help a grandchild with college tuition, when they gift to a child, when they reach a new milestone. You are also there in difficult times, helping them in periods illness, of grief and loss, of adapting to unexpected life changes. It’s very rewarding.
Name one defining moment in your career that was your ah ha moment.
Sandy: That is a good question. One day while at work in the trading room at Lincoln First Bank, it hit me. It was a large room filled with 12-13 people, an open floor plan, no walls, I was aware of the buzz. Many conversations going on at once, some serious and quiet, some laughter, much sharing and I got the sense that my co-workers were important to the person on the other end of the phone. They meant something to those random mysterious people, and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be them and so it began.
Teresa: I don’t think I have one singular, career-defining “ah ha” moment. Instead, I think I’ve had a series of learning experiences – some easy and some painful – that have led me to where I am today. There have been a lot of opportunities presented to me, especially here. Thankfully, I have had the support of Sandy, the firm and my family to pursue many of them. Nothing has come easy, and it has been challenging for sure, but worth it on levels I never could have imagined.
Tell us about one moment in your life that has had a lasting impression on you and formed who you are today.
Sandy: Nearly 20 years ago my mom died very suddenly. She was only 71, a major influence on me and it was devastating. That event shined a bright light on how fleeting life can be and changed how I looked at things. One important take away was finding a balance; not just for me but for my clients. My motto became “Live for Today, Invest for Tomorrow” and it works. I have found a balance of enjoying a blessed life while saving for retirement and I would like to believe I have played an integral role in helping my clients do the same.
Teresa: I would not define myself by a single moment. The greatest impact on who I am today is not a what, but more a who. My parents modeled for us hard work and humility.
What do you attribute your success to?
Sandy: My upbringing. I am one of six kids, and my parents were hard working people. My Mom taught me so much about being true to myself, honesty, friendship and to stand up for what you believe in. My Dad was all about work ethic. His motto “work hard, play hard” and if you played too hard, you still got your butt up and went to work the next day, on time!
Teresa: I have put in a lot of time and hard work on an individual level, but I’ve also had the benefit of working for a firm that has supported my professional growth from the very beginning. There has been a lot of
Tell our audience one thing about yourself that not many others know.
Sandy: My husband told me not long after we started dating that “I was a teddy bear.” He said I had a reputation of being tough, but I am not.
Teresa: I dedicate a lot of time to my work and professional development, but I have a lot of interests outside of work. I love gardening and flowers. I fly fish with my husband. I am always reading or listening to at least one book. I love cooking and baking.
If you wrote a book and could only use 1 word for the title on your life story, what would it be?
When you began your career, did you ever imagine that you would have a leadership role in this profession/organization?
Sandy: No, I was a kid with great optimism but where I am 40+ later is beyond anything I could have imagined. I am truly Living the Dream.
Teresa: No. I remember being the newest member of firm, looking around and feeling overwhelmed with how much I had to learn. I poured my heart and soul into this job. I believe you get out what you put in and, over time, I gained tremendous knowledge and confidence in my work.
What factors do you feel impact a woman’s ability to lead others?
Sandy: Their fear to speak up. I am a big believer in having a voice. We all have an opinion and men tend to be more vocal with theirs. I am not sure if women feel intimidated or embarrassed that they may be asking a stupid question. I never cared about that. If I had a question, I asked it. I tell women I work with to have a voice. It really does matters.
Teresa: I think women’s empathy make them great leaders. I have found that my most meaningful relationships and opportunities for growth have come from leaders who demonstrate empathy and perspective. The best learning experiences I have had were the ones where I was faced with a challenge, knowing that I had support behind me as needed, but given the space to try to figure it out. Then having the chance to debrief afterwards is key.