Meet Engage Ambassador Shannon Edwards
Get to know the latest Engage Woman!
Please introduce yourself to the Engage community! Who are you?
My name is Shannon Edwards. I am the wife of 29 years to my best friend and high school sweetheart, Corey. I am the mother of a 25-year-old financial advisor, Jordan. I am the mother-in-law of an incredible nurse and Jordan’s new wife, Miranda. I am the mother of 21-year-old construction science major and member of the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University, Jacob. He is contracted with the Army and is on a 4-year ROTC scholarship. He will serve in the Army after graduation. I am the mother of high school freshman and 14-year-old, Abby, who plays golf, basketball, and softball and recently started her own Etsy business. I am Sooner-born and Sooner-bred, and I am a diehard OU football fan, as well as an adopted Texas A&M Aggie. I love to go four-wheeling in the mountains, sit on the beach, scuba dive, and play golf with my family.
What is the one change you believe would lead to the biggest improvement for women’s economic security?
One change that I believe would lead to the biggest improvement for women’s economic security is to begin teaching financial literacy classes in grade school. Teach them about finances early in life. Teach women how to run and manage businesses before they get to college. The younger we start the better. Then reinforce what they have learned every year.
How did you get to where you are in your career? Why do you do what you do?
I got here first by accident and then by sheer stubbornness. I wanted to be an artist when I was in high school. My father told me I had to major in something that would pay the bills. I chose accounting mainly because he was a CPA, and I had grown up working at his firm on the days that I was out of school since I was old enough to read and reach the file cabinet drawer. I did all of the horrible jobs that no one else wanted to do. As a college freshman, I started interning at his firm. Soon after that, we got our first really large retirement plan as a client. That became my full-time job in 1988. By 1992, I had graduated with my accounting degree, my manager at the firm had moved on, and I was managing the retirement plan department at the CPA firm making $22,000 a year. We only had a few clients at the time.
In 1995, I had my first child, and my father sold the firm to his tax partner. I was given the choice to leave and take my 45 clients with me without charge. However, I was scared and felt like I needed the security of a pay check. My father gave me a raise to $30,000 a year before he left. In January of 1996, after taking three different exams and studying for a year and half, I earned my Qualified Plan Administrator designation from the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries. By October of 1998, I was working 300 hours of overtime a year. I had not had a raise since 1995, and I had grown the department to approximately 150 clients on my own with basically no cross referrals from the CPA firm. I completely ran the department, which included handling all of the billing, managing staff, approving expenses, and writing payroll for the entire firm, including my boss. When I needed to hire another team member, my boss hired a man older than my father to work for me in my department against my wishes, and when he did not perform, my boss refused to let him go.
In October of 1998, after completing our filing season, I went to my boss with all of the metrics on my department, including gross revenue, total expenses, and how much it had grown since I took over in 1992 and since he purchased the firm in 1995. I asked for a production bonus. He refused, and I informed him that I would be leaving on January 1, 1999 to start my own firm. I offered him a more than fair price for my clients and purchased them from him. My husband had been begging me to do this since 1995, and, finally, with his support and love and borrowing a lot of his courage, I was ready to do it on my own. Ultimately, I was tired of being taken advantage of. The rest is history. I started TriStar Pension Consulting on January 1, 1999. I created a family-friendly firm, where moms could work and build a career and have flexibility when they need it. I created a place where 300 hours of overtime was not expected each year, and, if there was a lot of overtime, we tried to figure out how to get rid of it.
Why do I do what I do?
I want everyone to be able to retire. Not only do I want them to be able to retire, I also want them to be able to retire with dignity and enjoy their life after working hard for so many years. I want them to have financial freedom. I do what I do to help as many people as I can and to give back to the world the gifts that I have been given. I want to share my blessings and bless others. I also do what I do to create a place where women can grow in a fulfilling and engaging career without having to choose between work and their family.
What do you wish you knew when you were a 20-something starting out?
I wish I had known to always be brave. When you know you are being taken advantage of, stop allowing it. Be brave. I also wish I had known how important it is to have other women to lift you up and to mentor you and how important it is to lift other women up. It seems like when I was 20-something, so many women battled each other to get to the top of the ladder. Now I realize that there is room for all of us at the top. We will all get there if we lift each other up and offer each other a hand when it is needed.
What role do politics or policy have in your life? What are your legislative priorities, if any?
I have not been personally involved in politics in the past, but I vote, always. As I learn more about getting involved, I have become far more interested. My legislative priorities are improving the private retirement system for all Americans, but especially for women, so that people can retire when it is the right time for them and do so with dignity.
What attracts you to Engage? If you have already co-hosted an Engaged Presentation, what was it like?
Engage is amazing to me because it is non-partisan and focuses on women. As a woman, I know how much we give our energy and lifeblood as wives, mothers, bosses, co-workers, managers, etc. It can be exhausting to just get out of bed some days. So many women have to take breaks from the workforce to take care of their children and/or their parents. They lose valuable time that they could be saving for retirement, etc. To have an organization focused on women’s health and economic stability that brings together people from all over regardless of their party affiliation, race, or religion is incredible. It shows how powerful we can be when we work together.
I hosted an Engage event, Engage Oklahoma, with Rachel. It was so much fun and so engaging. Rachel’s energy and her passion for the mission of Engage is contagious.
Who are you most inspired by right now?
One person that I am inspired by right now is my daughter, Abby. She is very creative, and she decided she wanted more spending money. She found something she was good at and enjoyed making, figured out how to start an Etsy business, and went for it. She has had some bumps in the road, but she has learned some valuable lessons, and she is making a go of it. At 14, I would have never had the courage to do that.
Another person I am incredibly inspired by is Lynn Young. She has mentored so many women in my industry. She is amazing at bringing women into volunteer work and promoting women. She has touched a lot of lives, and she does it without even knowing that she is amazing.
What is one thing you have seen, read, or heard that you would recommend to everyone?
I read Matthew McConaughey’s book, Greenlights. It was fantastic. I would definitely recommend it to everyone.
If you could have any job in the world for one month, what would it be and why?
I love to travel. I would love to have Samantha Brown’s job. She is a TV host on the travel channel, and she travels all over the world. I think that would be amazing. I love to travel, and I love to plan the trips.
Who do you love to follow on social media and why?
On social media, I mainly follow gurus in the retirement plan industry. I follow people like Matt Jackson, Jake Rushton, Michael Webb, the Retireholics, Nevin Adams, Sheri Fitts, etc. All of these people play different roles in our industry, but they teach me so much every day, and, most importantly, they love to share and collaborate. They share value without expecting anything in return and with the true hope that they can help you. The way we improve the private retirement system for all plan participants is by collaborating, not competing. They understand this and live it.
Why do you think it’s important for women to engage with the political system?
Because the policies that are being made affect our economic stability and our health. Women need to be aware so that they can be a part of forming those policies instead of reacting to them.
Shannon Edwards is the founder and CEO of TriStar Pension Consulting.