10 Questions With Paul Fox, President and CEO of Skylight
Paul Fox who emigrated from Belfast, Northern Ireland has, since joining Skylight Financial Group in 2000, been instrumental in the development of the current financial planning model and infrastructure of the firm. In 2007, he took over as the President and CEO where he continued to grow the firm to one of the largest locally-grown financial planning firms in Ohio. Paul’s drive and determination have resulted in the firm receiving multiple honors and awards for excellence in a variety of areas from the top workplace, retention, and development of new planners, marketing, and contribution to the community.
In the first of our “Making it Personal” Q&A series, we catch up with Paul.
What originally attracted you to America?
Growing up I watched a lot of American TV programs at a time when anything American was glamorous. I was a big fan of Starsky and Hutch and religiously watched it every Saturday evening. For us young kids, one of the big debates of the 1970s was who was cooler, Dave Starsky or Ken Hutchinson? For me, Starsky came out tops. He could pull off perfect handbrakes, then vault the trunk of the famous Ford Gran Torino while whipping out an automatic and yelling “freeze”. What was there not to love! There was even something glamorous about the American junk food he ate. Burgers, pizza, and popcorn still hadn’t really hit Belfast at that time. I guess it was through watching the likes of Starsky and Hutch that I built up an impression of what America was like. I was attracted by the accent, the lifestyle, the weather and it all seemed pretty glamorous and different.
My granny always spoke passionately about America. When she was 28, she moved to New York in search of a better life than she had known growing up in a remote, bleak, rural farm in Co. Armagh in Ireland. She had never even ventured as far as Belfast until she went to catch the boat to the States. So a whole new and exciting world opened to her and it was in New York that she met and married my grandfather (who was also Irish) and started a family. Then in 1934, they returned to Ireland at my grandfather’s request. He didn’t quite share her enthusiasm for America. She didn’t want to leave and always told us so. She loved the vibe of New York and the opportunities it offered. Even in her 90s, when her short-term memory started to fail, if you asked her about her time in America she would happily reminisce for hours! My mum always joked with her that it was all her stories about America that filled my head with glamorous notions and took me away off to the States. It most likely contributed but maybe not quite as much as Starsky and Hutch!
When I was still at school, a good friend of mine, Shane, received a scholarship to go and play basketball during the summer in Cleveland. He came back buzzing about his time there. He told us how much we would love it and then he made arrangements for a gang of us to go out that following summer and play Gaelic football. We had a fantastic summer and everything about Cleveland and the States felt right. It lived up to all my expectations. I was dying to get back so once I finished college and got my green card I packed my bags and headed off. It’s funny nearly all of the original gang that I went out with also now still live in Cleveland or close by.
When you first arrived did you ever think you would end up heading up a leading financial firm in Cleveland? What was the journey like?
No, I didn’t but I did think about being a business owner. I didn’t particularly have the financial industry in mind but felt I could run a business and be good at it.
When I first came to Cleveland I spent the first two years figuring things out. I explored new food, learned how to drive on the other side of the road and how to use the road grid. I found out how government worked, tackled the fundamentals of social security and bank accounts and worked on how to get credited. And crucially I changed how I spoke so that people could understand me!
Once I got the lay of the land, I started looking to build my career. I wanted to get into business and as I had a degree in banking and finance it seemed to make sense to explore a career in the financial services industry. At that stage, I didn’t really know if it would work out or not. I started off by working for American Express which involved calling thousands of people a week. I quickly developed a passion for uncovering what clients were looking for and helping them learn but, in addition to helping clients, I knew I wanted to help individuals develop their business. This led me on the journey to Skylight where I took on a management role. Very quickly I instinctively found that I not only wanted to help individuals within the firm but I wanted to see the entire firm grow to become one that offered excellent customer experience and supported our community.
What’s your biggest accomplishment at Skylight?
That’s an interesting question. I think it has been creating an organization consisting of people with shared values. People who truly want to help others determine and work to achieve their financial goals but who are equally passionate about helping those in the community that are less fortunate.
Skylight moved its headquarters last year to Ohio City. This wouldn’t have been seen as a conventional move for a financial firm – what motivated your decision and what do you see as the key advantages of being located in Ohio City?
I didn’t want the firm to just be in the midst of a business community but a community. I wanted us to be involved with people and be able to interact. Ohio City is a community that has everything in it. There are schools, small businesses, the West Side Market, the Urban Farm and it’s connected to downtown. It has such diversity, it’s expanding rapidly and is full of forward-thinking and exciting people. The building itself, the Old United Bank building where we are located, made it a perfect choice. The building has a lot of history attached to it so I liked the feel of that. With its great views, it lent itself to creating a space that the public could use and experience regardless of whether they work with us or not.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Probably my granny’s advice to come to America!
I don’t know that anyone sat me down and gave me advice. I think I’m most impacted by watching the example of others. My father, for example, was a successful businessman in a tough social/political environment during some very difficult times in Belfast. Regardless he was successful and respected by everyone. I watch and listen to all that goes on around me and adopt pieces and parts of the many things I observe and hear. People have an impact on me without even realizing.
What motivates you to get out of bed every morning and find the energy for the demands of your job?
Seeing first-hand the very positive impact that a firm like ours has on the lives of people we care about. Not just our clients, but also those we have been able to give a hand up. Feeling as though we are an important cog in a very big wheel called community, be it in northeast Ohio, Columbus or any of the other regions of the state we serve.
Internally, it’s seeing people who desire to help others join our firm and develop into competent and caring financial planners. Every day I look to see how we can do it better than the day before.
What do you think it takes to be successful in the financial services industry?
You need desire, commitment, personal responsibility and a positive outlook.
It’s one thing to have the desire but you need the commitment to take action and execute your plan. You also need to be responsible and take ownership. By positive outlook, I mean you need to feel good about yourself, want to take advantage of opportunities business ownership offers and have the know-how and desire to help people.
You need all four of these qualities to overcome the obstacles that you create yourself or obstacles that are put in front of you and out of your control.
What’s the most interesting place you’ve ever visited?
Although I’ve had the opportunity to experience many different countries and cultures, there’s not one specific place. I like to go to places where I can people watch. I’m fascinated by how people communicate and interact. How they react to new and exciting things. Any place where there are a lot of people, street fairs, concerts and sporting events are fun to me.
What do you like to do to relax?
I enjoy playing golf and other sports. Sitting back and enjoying my girls’ activities help me step away from the day-to-day grind and let me clear my head. Sometimes I like to not have to think but just be.