10 minute read

FAVORITE FEMALE FOUNDER

MICHELLE CLARY

What is the name of your business?

Piton Wealth- We chose the name “Piton” because it is a mountaineering tool meant to be jammed into a rock onto which a carabiner is attached. The piton is used to assist climbers in ascending more rapidly, while also keeping them from falling. The role of the piton is symbolic to what our practice does every day.

WHERE DO YOU CONDUCT BUSINESS?

KENNEWICK, WASHINGTON

11257 W CLEARWATER AVE; SUITE 110.

KALISPELL, MONTANA

18 VILLAGE LOOP RD RIGHT AT THE BASE OF THE BEAUTIFUL GLACIER RANGE!

WHEN DID YOU START YOUR BUSINESS?

August 2000, though I started working for my father’s financial planning business when I was 13 years old.

WHY DID YOU START YOUR BUSINESS?

I was initially attracted to my field because of my father’s impact on the clients he served. I grew up watching people put a huge amount of trust into my father, which allowed me to see the benefit of being blessed to have that trust and have the requirement of living up to what is being asked of us. I have the privilege to work with several multigenerational clients, in many cases the 3rd generation who first started working with my father. I am honored to have them place their trust in me just as they placed their trust in my father. Our clients inspire us, and it is truly a joy to help them accomplish their goals. The heart of our business is pulling relationships together and allowing clients to accomplish their goals faster. My team and I have the profound reward of guiding and walking with our clients as they achieve the life that they have always dreamed of.

WHERE ARE YOU FROM? WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN THE FUTURE?

I was born in Bozeman, Montana, raised in Whitefish, Montana and Lewiston, Idaho. I have lived in Queretaro, Mexico (external auditor for Arthur Anderson), Boise, Idaho (business intern for Micron technology) and Tampa, Florida (traded phosphate for Cargill). I’ve been in the Tri-Cities since 2002, started traveling the world in 2014 (with pause for Covid), but am ready to start stamping the passport again. After raising a family in the TriCities, our roots have grown deep. We hope to spend more time after our sons graduate from high school in Northwestern Montana, but Kennewick is still home.

ARE THERE ANY MAJOR OBSTACLES PROFESSIONALLY OR PERSONALLY THAT YOU FEEL PROUD OF HOW YOU HANDLED OR OVERCAME?

Two specific challenges immediately come to mind:

Challenge #1 It is common in any industry where children follow their parents down a career path to have a more privileged start that leads to poor work ethic and taking opportunities for granted. My father had the wisdom to let me gain a passion for the industry and mostly understanding the gift of serving the people who trust us. This was profoundly significant for me, and from there it was a path I forged on my own. For the first year I started my business in the Tri-Cities, I rented a tiny apartment with only 2 pieces of “furniture” ---an air mattress and a filing cabinet. The second year, I realized I couldn’t afford an apartment, an office and a part time assistant, so I gave up the apartment and slept in the back room of my office. Though meager, it worked fine as long as I woke before the sun came up, scurried off to the gym for a quick workout and a shower so that I could arrive back at the office in a suit and high heels before the offices around me were opening their doors. I actually loved this era of my life because I didn’t doubt the fact that my sacrifices in the short term would have long term results, and I knew I was making sacrifices people around me, my competitors, would not be willing to make.

Challenge #2 Early on last year, when the challenges of Covid began to present themselves, it was a very scary time for me, largely because of my concern with making sure we would be able to adequately serve and protect the clients who depend on us, and for whose well-being our business exists. Our service model is very teamoriented, and it was clear to all of us that everyone working from home would not produce the outcomes we want for our clients. Thankfully, it only took a short meeting with our team, where we unanimously agreed that it was our time to dig in and make sure our priority was to serve, reassure and protect our clients, and that we would best accomplish this if we were together. I am very proud of the commitment our team showed to our clients during the last year and a half.

Michelle with friend (and client) Kathy Conrad at the Share the Vote fundraiser at Meadow Springs.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR OTHER WOMEN WHO ARE ALREADY IN BUSINESS OR WHO WISH TO GO INTO BUSINESS FOR THEMSELVES?

You can’t have it all; anything and everything you prioritize will take a little bit away from other areas in your life. Thus, make sure you are real with yourself with regard to what you are trying to accomplish and what those pursuits will force you to sacrifice. I worked 2 days/week before my boys were in full day school, and my husband resigned from his full-time engineering job when the boys were in late elementary school so that we could spend more time with our children, individually and as a parent team. I am so grateful that we made these commitments at the time we made them because the time with them is so fleeting.

Beyond prioritizing time with children, my advice to female business owners is don’t give up! There are periods and eras and even days that are so hard, and with each of these experiences, you grow and learn how to build a better system or handle a circumstance more effectively next time. It is quite a journey and there are so many blessings in just taking it one day at a time and trusting that over time, the growth and maturity of dealing with all the circumstances that are thrown at you will make you a strong leader. Our world needs leaders, and remembering that all the while you are being molded into a leader who has an important place to fill helps you maintain perspective in the day-to-day challenges.

WE CONSIDER YOU A TRAILBLAZER… BUT TELL US, DO YOU HAVE ANY TRAILBLAZERS OF YOUR OWN THAT YOU LOOK UP TO?

Theresa Richardson. She is a former executive director for Habitat for Humanity, and she is currently running for Richland City Council. She is a remarkable woman and a fantastic leader. The way I would describe her to strangers is graceful, yet tenacious, and is unwavering in her Christian faith and a wonderful wife and “mother of boys.”

WHAT VOLUNTEER PROJECTS HAVE YOU DONE IN THE PAST FOR OTHERS? ARE THERE ANY OTHER FUTURE PROJECTS THAT YOU ARE PLANNING OR LOOKING FORWARD TO?

Share the Vote (2018): Share the vote was when we had our clients choose by on-site text vote how $40,000 worth of Thrivent’s fraternal money was allocated between four local charities. Clients were able to vote on their phones, with the final donation amount to each non-profit based on the percentage of votes each organization received. The charities were TriCity Union Gospel Mission, Habitat for Humanity, Boys & Girls Club of Benton and Franklin Counties, and the Phyllis Meyer Tennis Association.

Apostle’s Build (2017): The Apostle’s Build was a project created by our Piton team to sponsor and build a full home through Habitat for Humanity. We recruited the help of 12 local churches to participate in fundraising efforts and construction. The end result… blessing a family in need with a home!

Second Harvest Tri-Cities (2018 and 2020): Second harvest is a local food bank in Pasco that help feeds hungry families and individuals. We recruited about 100 of our clients, their kids and grandkids, and our team and spent an evening packing food at the warehouse and then enjoyed a casual dinner together.

Semi-Annual Team Volunteer Day (Union Gospel Mission in 2020 & Grace Kitchen in 2021): Our team has had the opportunity to volunteer with some of our local non-profit organizations. At the Union Gospel Mission, our team members volunteered by serving food during lunch. Grace Kitchen is a non-profit that employs and empowers women out of poverty by helping them gain confidence and gain skills. Our team was able to volunteer by helping them package their Pasta Mama’s pasta.

Community Shred Days (annually since 2017): Once a year, we put on a community shred day where we invite Tri-Cities and the surrounding community to bring their old documents to our Kennewick office and securely dispose of them into shred bins and an on-site shred truck. During our shred days we encourage members of the community to bring canned and nonperishable food items to donate to Second Harvest. This last year we filled the shred truck twice, served over 500 people, and were able to donate 874lbs of food.

Backyard Concerts as fundraisers for Habitat for Humanity (annually since 2017): We put on an annual benefit concert, Kennewoodstock, where we raise money for our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate. We invited clients, neighbors, and friends to our home to enjoy live music, food, and each other’s company. We went virtual in 2020 with Covid, but plan on an in-person concert again for the fall of 2021!

Operation Christmas Child boxing and collecting with our team, families and clients (2020 and 2021): During the month of November, we ask our team, clients, and community members to bring in shoeboxes full of toys, school supplies, accessories, etc. as Christmas presents to children in need. Once received, we drop them off at local churches where they are collected and processed, and then shipped to children in over 100 countries. 

MEET MICHELLE CLARY

(FIVE FUN FACTS):

 Michelle Clary of Piton Wealth

ONE

I enjoy just about any physical activity and love outdoor adventures, especially with my very adventurous husband and teenage boys. I bike, ocean surf, Nordic and cross-country ski, wake surf (behind a wave created by our boat on the local rivers), play tennis and golf. This year has been special because after waiting for 15 years for a time in my life when I felt I could carve out regular and consistent time for myself, I am playing in a Thursday morning 9-hole golf league. It feels so rebellious (though I am back in the office by 11:30am) and I absolutely love playing with this group of ladies and having a great balance of social time and competition.

TWO

I am a world class sleeper. Though it seems superfluous, I actually consider this my “superhero trait” as an executive because I recharge very efficiently and am ready to join my family on an adventure or dive into client work. My husband gets very upset when I am asleep before my head hits the pillow!

THREE

With life being so busy, my husband and I have found some of the best ways for us to unwind and relax is to spend an evening or weekend at some of the local lodging treasures: The Lodge at Columbia Point, Marcus Whitman in Walla Walla, and SageCliffe Resort in Quincy.

FOUR

At the end of the summer of 2020 when the schools all went virtual, our family and three other families formed “Sageland Center Learning Pod”. We each committed to forming a collaboration of teenage students and learning coach parents for the fall semester. Our kids were reluctant at first, but when posed with the alternative of simply staying in their bedrooms all day ended up quickly recognizing the value in community and the need to physically leave the space where you wake up each day to optimize performance. Parent teams each had one day each week to join the students as they each connected individually to 5 different on-line high schools. We invited virtual guest speakers to join us for presentations to the kids in areas where they had career and academic interests. It was an amazing way to encourage each other in a challenging time. We all ended up making sweet, sweet lemonade from lemons!

FIVE

My husband and I, along with our business partners, Morgan and Stacey Neal, purchased C&M Nursery from an amazing couple who operated the nursery for 60 years. My dear friend and business partner, Stacey and their son Ryan are doing an amazing job running the nursery. I am amazed at how much they have learned and how much the nursery has changed in such a short period of time. They definitely serve with a heart for the community and a passion for providing joy to customers!

Michelle with her husband, Andy, who is the Chief Operating Officer at Piton Wealth.