Lori Pilon (BA 2012 in History)

Financial Advisor at Merrill Lynch in Winston-Salem, NC

Tell us about your current job role and what you’re currently working on.

Lori Pilon Headshot

I’m currently working at Merrill Lynch as a Financial Advisor. I am part of a Wealth Management Group comprised of six members: four Advisors and two Client Associates. This particular team brought me in to enhance the relationships they have with their current clients and expand the capabilities of the team to focus on growth and servicing. Essentially, I was brought in to be a “relationship manager.”

What I quickly learned is that this business is always changing and change can be almost instantaneous. A few months in, our only assistant of eight years moved out of state, so I took over the role of servicing the day-to-day needs of the team and our clients until a replacement could be found. I then transitioned into more of a business manager on the team. More recently, I have morphed into becoming one of the planners responsible for running the retirement/planning analyses for our clients. I have found that my role is constantly shifting as I develop and learn and as the needs of the team change. One of my partners called me the Chief Operating Officer of the team the other day, so for now, that’s what I am.

What personal and/or career experiences did you have prior to landing your current job and leading to where you are now?

After I graduated, I worked at Wake Forest in the Admissions Office as an Admissions Counselor for one year and as Assistant Dean for another year. I was given the opportunity to work with a variety of professionals in the educational sphere, hone my presentation skills in front of parent and student audiences, organize large events and think critically about how to shape the best institution out there (although I admit a severe bias here). I even completed a couple of semesters of a M.Ed. in Higher Education, believing higher education administration was my calling. Soon I started to realize that change in higher education is slow and though I still have a soft spot for it, I decided to start looking elsewhere.

In honesty, I had no clue what I wanted to do. I was a history major with minors in Spanish and dance. That stinging question I hated getting in the Admissions Office seemed to hang in the air: “What in the world do you do with a history major?” I considered a Ph.D. in History and becoming a professor. Stereotypical. I considered becoming an account executive at somewhere like an advertising agency. A 180-degree turn from where I was. In case you haven’t noticed, I lacked direction and conviction. I’m not exactly sure what led me to Merrill Lynch, except for a connection that mentioned my name to someone on my future team. Thankfully, it developed into an opportunity that has kept me on my toes, challenged me and rewarded me.

What was the most challenging aspect of your first “real world job” and what did you learn from it?

As a newly-minted graduate, I was eager, asked a lot of questions and had high expectations that what I said would be immediately considered and likely implemented. I was shot down a time or two (or three) and of course, I realize now that those expectations were unrealistic. It was a challenge to be faced with the reality that I hadn’t earned my stripes and to realize that my indignation was, at times, misplaced – I don’t believe I did this until after I started my current job. But I also learned that the relationships you cultivate with coworkers, other professionals and your network can open your eyes to opportunities you hadn’t considered before. If I could talk to any student, I’d advise him or her to keep connections strong. You never know where an opportunity lies and who it is that might bring it to your attention.

What advice would you give to new Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college?

Balance. It is all about balance. It is surprisingly easy to forget the active, on-the-go lifestyle you had in college when you sit at a desk for however many hours a day. As young professionals, we have a tendency to try and prove ourselves by being the first ones in the office and the last ones to leave. I have seen 5am in the office, as well as 7pm, but I strongly believe that your work schedule must be sustainable. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key. I was fortunate enough to recently attend a seminar by Sarano Kelley, in which he stated the obvious: Each of the facets of your life – relationships, work, health, organization, spirituality, finances, among others – is intimately connected to the other. If you fail to take care of yourself in one of these areas, it has a direct impact on the others and your well-being as a whole. This really resonated with me. It is a simple concept, really, but it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. Take care of yourself first, then take on the world.

And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t say something along the lines of “save your money.” It is so easy to put off saving in favor of expensive trips and happy hours and say to yourself, “I’ll save later.” As someone who does a fair bit of retirement planning, however, I have seen first hand the dangers of that kind of thinking. Enjoy time with friends and coworkers and experience life, but also save for the time in your life when every day is Saturday (aka: retirement). Contribute everything you can to your retirement plan and make sure you’re getting the full company match. It’s free money, people. Take it and watch it grow!

Have you been mentored by anyone at Wake Forest or in your professional life? If so, what impact has that relationship had on you?

If I could write down every mentor I had at Wake Forest, I would. There were a lot. I had more professors take time to have that personal development conversation than I would have thought possible. I found great mentorship through the Office of Personal and Career Development and still do to this day. Patrick Sullivan and Allison McWilliams take on a world of student and alumni problems, gripes, failings, frustrations and raw emotion and somehow still found the time to offer me a word of advice, a helping hand, or simply an ear. I also found great mentors within the walls of the Admissions Office. Some of my young colleagues turned out to be my biggest cheerleaders and encouraged me to ask questions and not be afraid. I have also found great mentorship at Merrill Lynch. My teammates have let me flounder, have seen me make really stupid mistakes and have helped me develop a thicker skin. They have also taught me how to be more thoughtful, more thorough and compassionate. In each phase of my life, my mentors have helped me develop and grow and I am truly thankful for each bit of advice, tough love and encouragement. 

What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are about to start their first professional job?

Take advantage of opportunities. Be humble but have conviction. Talk to your colleagues. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Develop a thick skin. Don’t just talk but listen and listen well.

Finally, LEARN. Every job has something to offer in the way of life lessons or professional lessons. Even the “worst jobs” can teach you great lessons, so we must be open to them.

What are your future career goals or plans? How are you being intentional about working towards them?

One time-consuming short-term goal I have is to obtain the Certified Financial Planner designation, considered to be one of the hardest in the industry to achieve. I am partway through the journey and I hope to end next year with the designation. When I think about long-term goals, however, I tend to see one pathway: I intend to stay with Merrill Lynch and work as an advisor for the entirety of my career. The beauty of financial services is that I will always be learning something new. It’s an incredibly dynamic field and one I’m enjoying exploring. It’s also a beautiful thing to be in the unique position to truly help families through the good times and the bad. I’m well aware that the phrase “financial services” leaves many with a bad taste in their mouths, but I have been so very fortunate to be joined up with a team that cares and we do right by our clients. The human element of this career makes it so worthwhile and makes me feel good about going into work every day.

Story published in May 2017. For current updates about Lori, visit her LinkedIn Page.