“He’s going from a reliability engineer to a financial representative? Yes, I want to talk to him!” I really wanted to hear why. After all, maintaining Hardy Asset Management Consulting has allowed me to expand my business interests. My goal is to add to that not abandon it. Why would an engineer with oversight of eight power plants, who is marked for upward mobility, leave such a bankable reliability engineering career to embrace a financial representative position? I thought, Maybe it’s a physical versus financial asset thing? Well, it bent my world. So, another task went on my publications to-do list; rather, it went into Taskary, an android app on my phone.
I spoke with Brett Chestnut over the phone January 30, 2016. He graduated from Clemson with a degree in Electrical Engineering. He has an MBA from Mercer University’s Stetson School of Business and Economics. In addition to professional licenses in engineering and project management, he attained a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Series 7 license to trade stock. The somewhat short answer to the question of why leave a career path so closely related to physical asset management: one can like a career, even be passionate about it and committed to it. Then, there is that thing... that one thing... a slow burn beneath whatever is visible. Chestnut allowed that flame to catch an overtake his original career choice of engineering. Even so, it wasn’t an easy or inevitable decision. The idea smoldered in the back of his mind for years.
When I asked how his love of financial services came to be, he blamed his mother. “She gave me $500 to put in the stock market.” She had no strings attached, no demands other than learn - even if he lost all the money. “I did have some losses. By the time I reached my senior year as an undergraduate, I had gotten pretty good at making money. Eventually, people started asking me what I was doing. I really could not advise them. The only thing I could do was thank God for my mother and freely share what I had done - not what they should do.
“After graduating, initially, I worked in South Carolina in power distribution. In 2008, I moved to Atlanta, GA with another company. I remained in electrical power transmission, eventually transitioning into an electrical utility cooperative. I worked my way up through the power company, getting more and more exposure. It is very possible to retire from there with this type of career path.
“The first opportunity to move into the financial world came when I graduated from Mercer with an MBA. I started to get recruited to enter into the commercial banking industry. The timing and circumstances just weren’t right.”
Chestnut continued his career at the power company. Part of his responsibilities was contract management for his company’s stake in the Edwin I. Hatch Nuclear Generating Station. His last position placed him as Program Manager of Performance Reliability for eight power plants: five combustion turbine, two combined-cycle, and one hydroelectric. “We dealt with many partners. We did trending and analysis to find the root-causes of outages in order to solve and prevent re-occurrences. Reducing outages helped improve customer service and added money to our bottom line.”
“And then?” I asked.
“Little things started adding up.” These little things lifted his dream of a career in financial services from the corner of his heart to actively planning a path. “There was this one particular thing, actually, one of the most important of many little things. I wore this Polo shirt into the grocery store one day. It had the logo of a financial services company. I had gotten it after playing golf with my academic adviser and a friend of his in the industry. The cashier asked me questions about finding someone to help save for her son’s college.
Shortly after that, “I went into three months of meditation looking for a transition. At the end of that three months, I met the managing director of the company for which I now work. I looked at other companies.” It was a close-up view from outside-in that brought Chestnut to Northwestern Mutual. “The managing director and I had some key interactions before joining. One of them was sitting in a sales team meeting before making the decision to come aboard. I felt that the company had a soul and was very conscientious about its clients. I wanted to be a part of that… a company really helping clients make good decisions.”
Not that Chestnut needs any affirmation for me. But, as explanations go: to pursue a long held passion for a personal approach to help others have better outcomes with financial assets – I nod,smile, and shut my laptop computer thinking, That’s a very good reason, #motivated.