THE BLOG
12/09/2013 01:22 pm ET | Updated Feb 08, 2014

Women in Business: Q&A with Michele Lee Fine, Guardian Life Insurance Co and Cornerstone Wealth Advisory LLC

Michele Fine is the first female financial representative at Guardian Life Insurance Co. to snag the title of top producer. Ms. Fine also established her own firm, launching Cornerstone Wealth Advisory LLC in August 2013.

How have your life experiences made you the leader you are today?

My upbringing and core values, as well as the challenges, opportunities and victories I've experienced throughout my life, have brought me to where I am today. I've learned that being a leader encompasses tenacity, dedication, integrity, vision and a relentless work ethic. You can't waste time on things that do not matter, but rather, should elevate yourself to a higher purpose and standard of excellence. My experiences have made me stronger and better by helping me focus on taking great care in what I do. I have learned the importance of significant relationships and how to nurture and celebrate great people. I always look to bring out the best in my clients, staff, and family along with the work I do for them. This has helped me realize that what matters more than "dollars" is touching people's lives by making a positive difference. Providing consistent results and value in the services we provide is our true legacy.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Cornerstone Wealth Advisory LLC?

All of my work experience has contributed to the skill set needed to thrive in my business today. I've had the opportunity to learn about everything from analytical and research skills, to dealing with people to managing a business and being in a leadership role. Now that I have established Cornerstone Wealth Advisory LLC, I truly feel that all of my past work experiences make me a stronger, better professional and provide me with a broader depth and range of practical knowledge and skills.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I am very clear on what my priorities are: FAITH, FAMILY and PURPOSE. Anything that does not fall into those three categories is not essential to me. My faith is my spirituality and connection to G-d, which is what rules me at my core. When push comes to shove, my family will always come first, and I will always do what I need to do and be where I need to be for them. My purpose is what I do through my professional and charitable activities. These three areas of life consume me. That does not mean that I never take time for myself. I enjoy golf, among other hobbies, and always try to make time for lunch with friends. While these activities are not always essential for me, when I am able to make time for them, I enjoy and appreciate it even more. I also work to set very clear professional and personal goals. I believe goals need to be big and grand for them to be meaningful and impactful. I have learned to really challenge myself with my goal setting. I put them in writing and review them each week to make sure I am constantly in touch with what I am looking to accomplish for myself.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Cornerstone Wealth Advisory LLC?

The most significant highlight for me is that after nearly 13 years of working at Strategies for Wealth, one of the largest independent, privately held financial services firms in the country, I was able to start my own company. It had always been a dream of mine to have my own business and to be able to brand myself professionally. I am very proud to be a part of Strategies for Wealth, but founding Cornerstone Wealth Advisory gave me the opportunity to build my own team, define the services we provide, and maintain control of my own brand name and reputation. I have been fortunate to hire exceptional talent and we are always looking to improve, develop and strengthen our clients' experiences and ensure that we are delivering impeccable results on an ongoing basis.

As for challenges, I would say my biggest obstacle was allowing myself to open up and expand my sense of self and what I am capable of accomplishing. I needed to learn how to give myself permission to dream bigger, set higher goals, and track and execute against them. Today, my biggest challenge is time. It can be difficult to find time to be able to do everything I would like to accomplish in the course of a day, week, quarter and year. I am very spiritual and dig deep within myself to pray for the strength, humility, patience and wisdom to face each moment of my life and overcome challenges with honor and purpose.

What advice can you offer women hoping to establish a career in the financial industry?

Envision who you want to be and what you want to build for yourself. Align yourself with a great company and with great role models that you admire and respect and who will serve as a strong foundation for you to grow and evolve both professionally and personally. Never forget that handling people's money is a tremendous responsibility. Their finances affect their family, their business and their future. A career in the financial industry offers significant substance and impact. It takes an immeasurable amount of time, focus and commitment to be at the top of your game, so expect to work harder and give more than is expected to be able to achieve the best results.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

I like to think there aren't any hindrances or obstacles for women in the workplace. There are challenges in managing competing commitments to professional life and family life and ensuring success on all fronts. You need to be productive, have a strong work ethic and surround yourself with supportive people at home and at work. I have four children and have managed to consistently achieve top rankings within the industry. While some people may have issues dealing with women in prominent leadership roles, frankly, that is their problem. I think that standing on merit, accomplishment, and the results of your own work will set clear benchmarks that speak volumes and give you the strength and focus to break through any ignorance that might exist and pave a path that propels to leadership.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?

I was actually invited to be in a 'Lean In' group this year. I like it a lot. We meet about once a month and there is a very specific curriculum and outline for each session. For me, it provides a platform to verbalize what took me years of progress to realize. I commend Sheryl and her deliberate efforts in putting out powerful tools and raising awareness, which is important and empowering.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I work in a male dominated industry, so there weren't many female mentors available for me when I started out in this career. But, I never saw gender as a disadvantage at all. I had an array of very charismatic leaders and personalities at my firm that each were important to me in different ways and taught me that there are different ways one can express and articulate their message.

Today, I do my best to pay it forward and work to inspire, support and guide the women and men that reach out to me in a variety of different ways. I encourage them to lean on me anytime that I can provide them with feedback or support. I also look to recruit good people to my company that I see have exceptional talent and character and try to enable them to develop and grow their business, which in turn, helps me expand my own business and personal growth. The premise of all of this is to do great work for people, make a valuable difference in the lives of those on the same path as you, help them protect and grow their money, and provide them with ongoing guidance, results, peace of mind and service.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox, once said "Where you are, is not who you are." I love this quote and feel that it says a lot in only a few words. It reminds me how important it is to define yourself and choose who and how you want to be, and not let it be a result of the circumstances you face. So if you're down, that's not 'who you are'. And if you've accomplished and reached very high levels, you can't let it go to your head. Life is not about 'finding yourself', but 'creating' yourself in each and every moment. Ultimately, I admire women that embody personal strength, substance and wisdom. I have a great appreciation and thirst for wisdom. The type of women I admire most could be leaders of countries or companies. But I also admire leaders of great families who instill respect and honor into home life and raise their children to grow up with character, integrity, and values.

What are your hopes for the future of Cornerstone Wealth Advisory LLC?

My future vision for Cornerstone Wealth Advisory is for it to be a premier, nationally sought after leader for financial services, wealth management, retirement planning, estate planning and insurance design and implementation.

I want our reputation to precede us. I want Cornerstone Wealth Advisory to be known for our integrity, great results and comprehensive planning, and of course, our relationships with our clients and advisors. My most important focus is on quality and integrity of experience and results.

I work with high-net-worth individuals, business owners, professionals and motivated individuals that care about their families and their businesses. These people want to take the time, effort, and care to protect these priorities. Life is filled with so much uncertainty today. The economy is constantly stressed by a multitude of factors, there is a tremendous amount of global tension, interest rates are at historical lows and in the past decade people have witnessed two major market corrections. My clients crave more certainty in an uncertain world, want to eliminate or minimize risk and create lasting growth and results. It is my and my team's responsibility to care about each of our clients, spend time to get to know them and what is important to them, and support their goals, priorities, and opportunities. It is my personal pledge to deliver results, exceed expectations and serve my clients with distinction and honor.