From Chef to Financial Advisor — My Career Path and How I Achieved Success

Sponsored by RBC Wealth Management

Photo Courtesy of RBC Wealth Management.

Photo Courtesy of RBC Wealth Management.

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May 18, 2024 at 4:41AM UTC
Before she became a financial advisor, Darla Kashian did, “Just about everything,” as far as her career is concerned. Kashian is now Senior Vice President, Financial Advisor at RBC Wealth Management. She’s been with the award-winning financial services company for 16 years, and has worked her way up to her current role. She credits her background in the hospitality industry for much of her success. “I bring radical hospitality to my work as an advisor, which I honed in the restaurant business.”
Kashian was gracious enough to share with us her career journey, along with some and realistic advice on career planning and the need to work hard. Read what she had to say about how RBC Wealth Management supports women while being candid about the challenges, and why she recommends a career in wealth management.
What did you do before you became a financial advisor? 
Just about everything. I moved to Minneapolis in the early 1990s to explore a major career change, with a goal of going to culinary school. I love to cook but had never cooked in a restaurant, so I left my nonprofit management career in Miami and slept on my sister’s couch for a few years while I made near-minimum wage cooking in a few well-known Minneapolis restaurants. While I technically “failed,” I learned a lot about hard work and discipline. And, even though I am not “chef material”, I am still passionate about cooking.
How did you get your foot in the door at RBC? Did someone you know help you? Was there a training program? 
RBC is truly a meritocracy. I was hired into a training program essentially after meeting the ethical and technical standards required for the position. The training program is designed to prepare new advisors with the tools of wealth planning and investing, but the training program does not teach the entrepreneurial tools necessary to build a business. That’s on the new advisor to dig in and build their business. Honestly, the hard work and relentlessness of working in a professional kitchen really helped prepare me for the early years of building my business.
What about it made you first want to join? 
I’ve always been interested in the stock market, personal finance, wealth management and helping people with their philanthropic goals. Building a business is difficult, and the team at RBC was candid about the incredible challenge I was about to undertake.
Pivoting career paths can feel overwhelming. Why did you want to make this change, and what ultimately helped you do it? 
A few elements made this pivot more manageable for me. First, I had full support from my partner, who could see a future where I would be successful as an advisor. Second, I really wanted a career that put me in control of my business, my clients and my future in my own hands. One very important part of my decision was the idea that I would serve clients I liked, who shared my values and where I could help make a difference. Working as a financial advisor is a rare professional opportunity. Finally, the leadership at RBC made clear what I had signed up for. At no point did they sugarcoat the difficulty of building a successful advisory practice. 
What skills do people with a service and hospitality background like yours would you say are applicable to a role as a financial advisor? 
I once said to an old friend that what I love about cooking is delivering an experience for guests. I bring radical hospitality to my work as an advisor, which I honed in the restaurant business. It’s about the whole experience. We’ve all had phenomenal food from a roadside shack and terrible food in a 5-star venue. My takeaway from the restaurant business is rooted in delivering an exceptional experience, but unlike fine-dining, my practice is a circular experience. Sometimes the planning process is linear from appetizers to desserts, but often we start in the middle of the experience because life is not linear. On the best days, we’re focused on dessert, but sometimes we’re having a second helping of veggies. 
The other aspect of my work that mimics the hospitality industry is learning to grapple with the things we lack control over. Consider all the moving parts in a fine-dining meal. Lots of hands touch the finished product, and occasionally things go haywire. In this process, one learns to think on the fly, adapt to circumstances outside our control, and perhaps most importantly, apologize and regroup when the process falls apart. 
What advice would you give to other women interested in making a major career change, whatever that change may be? 
Perhaps because I’ve done it, I’m a strong advocate of change – but I’m also a realist. It is critical to plan for a significant career change. Take time to write out your goals and objectives. A written plan is critical, but it can be as simple as a few pages of a vision or as complex as a written business plan. Don’t let the planning paralyze your vision. Find a group of people who will support and challenge you and rid yourself of the naysayers! It’s also important to have a reserve fund. Anticipate your financial needs for the ramp-up period to bridge the transition so you’re not forced into decisions that conflict with your values. And, once you’ve made the move, make a quick note at the end of every day of at least one good thing that happened in support of your goals. It ends the day on a positive note, and when you transition from your workday to your family, you’ve ended on a sweet note. 
A lot of people believe that developing your career means changing companies, and not infrequently. What has enabled you to develop/advance your career without job hopping (mentorship, networking, professional development opportunities, etc.)?
Key to my development at RBC Wealth Management has been strong direct mentorship by a number of executives who have supported my career development. The Women’s Association of Financial Advisors has provided me with critical professional development, and my involvement in RBC’s PRIDE employee resource group has created natural networking opportunities. Lastly, leadership, from my direct manager up to and including our CEO, has supported and encouraged my career development at RBC.
Ultimately, what has led you to stay at your company?
It’s all about the culture and values of the company, and nothing has tested culture like the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March, we’ve seen leaders and colleagues all across RBC step up and demonstrate those values. RBC leadership has supported employees with additional paid time off; supplemental income for essential employees; online resources for parents and employees in the sandwich generation, managing both children and their own parents; and perhaps most meaningful to me, a regular check-in by my complex director to make sure we’re holding up during these challenging times.
Why do you think your company is a particularly supportive work environment for women?
Honestly, I think it’s because we talk about the challenges that uniquely face women in the workplace. Having a culture where open and honest dialogue like that is not only encouraged but expected brings the issues to the forefront, allowing RBC to grapple with the environment directly. 
What was the best quality of the best boss you’ve ever had?
Honesty and integrity, starting with my first boss. 
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
Take your own advice. Lots of financial advisors are like the barefoot cobbler, but I learned early on to treat my own family to our best advice.
How have you used your role to help bring up other women behind you? How do you build time into your schedule for this kind of work? 
Always say yes when someone asks for help. There’s plenty of time to help people, so I just make yes a priority. I’ve been an active part of the mentoring program through the Women’s Association of Financial Advisors. Right now, I’m strategizing with a colleague on how to engage her client associate more effectively. She and I regularly brainstorm ways to grow our respective businesses. Our relationship is particularly useful as we are in different markets, yet we take a similar approach to addressing client needs.
What advice would you give to young job seekers? What about those who are in a more advanced career stage?
Ruth Bader Ginsberg offered this advice to her clerks: If you want to be a true professional, do something outside yourself. I take that advice to heart, knowing that my work is not about me, but about helping others, whether it’s clients, colleagues, members of my community or my family. Act with the interest of others and success will be more meaningful. I take this advice to heart, and serve on several boards, including the Roosevelt Institute and GiveMN. 
You can learn more about Darla Kashian's career path here. 
RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.
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