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WONDER Woman

Oct 06, 2016 11:41AM ● Published by Ashley Pape

By Sydni Ellis

Most people dread financial planning. But for Southlake mom Stephanie Hays, it’s her passion and her livelihood. As a senior financial representative for Principal Financial Group, a global financial investment company, Hays’ career revolves around providing a financial framework for her clients. 

Though the financial industry is largely male-dominated, Hays doesn’t let it deter her. In fact, she scoffs at the notion of a glass ceiling and meets any career challenge head on. She has won several awards and advocated for the financial industry in Washington, D.C.—and she has yet to celebrate her 30th birthday. 

Get to know this local working mom of two young sons who isn’t afraid to pursue her dream—and shake up antiquated perceptions in the meantime. 

EXCITING BEGINNINGS

Hays grew up in Arlington and received her bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Texas at Arlington. Even though her education kept her busy—she graduated magna cum laude and was a member of the honors college and Goolsby Leadership Academy—Hays still found time to gain industry experience. 

“The spring of my junior year in college, I took my Series 7 [a test that gives stockbrokers license to trade], Series 66 [a test that qualifies candidates as securities agents and investment adviser representatives], five finals and got married all in a four-week period,” Hays says. “I lived at the library on Red Bull and Funyuns!” 

In 2011, Hays began working at Principal and learned that she and her husband, Michael, were expecting their first child, James. They decided to move to Southlake where James could “have the best education and grow up in a family-oriented community,” she explains. 

In 2013, when James was two weeks old, they signed papers to start building their home in Southlake. Only two weeks after moving in, they learned they were pregnant with their second son, Kade. 

Life at home was busy with a young child and one on the way, but Hays charged ahead in her career. During her first years at Principal, Hays had 70-hour workweeks and accepted every additional training opportunity that came her way. 

“I admire the passion Stephanie has in every aspect of her life and her relentless drive to be a good person and make a difference in the world,” says her husband, Michael. “She gives fully to all her commitments without having to take from another.”

During her first year at Principal, Hays received the National New Advisor Award, an achievement that recognizes the top-performing advisor of all experienced recruits across the country. “The extraordinary part of winning this award is that I was pregnant for half the qualifying year,” explains Hays. “I was the youngest female advisor and first pregnant woman to receive this award. I was unable to attend the recognition meeting in Los Angeles because I was in the hospital delivering James.” 

Hays has also earned Club Level Recognition, has received the Noel Blaas Award for outstanding achievement, and has qualified for the Million Dollar Round Table since she was 21. 

SUCCESS IS (NOT) MEASURED BY THE NUMBERS

Financial knowledge is indeed an asset—why else would we hire professionals to do our taxes, manage our accounts or give us investing advice? Even so, Hays recognizes that her job is more than financial prowess; it’s caring for people.

“My role at the end of the day is to make a difference,” Hays explains. “Often, the most challenging part of our lives are financial issues, and my job is to take the complicated and make it easy to understand.” 

Out of 1,500 advisors, Hays was chosen among just 10 to serve on the Agent Advisory Council. This council is the liaison between the field and home office, discussing challenges, successes and how the company can enhance their service. In May, Hays traveled to Washington, D.C., with the council to advocate for the financial industry as a whole. 

“Advisors do not succeed if they are in this business to earn commissions,” she says. “Advisors should seek to make real differences, and I was there to represent advisors everywhere who are working to change people’s lives.”

Even though she works in the financial industry, Hays does not measure her success by the numbers. She believes that her biggest success in life is that she has been happily married for eight years and has been blessed with two children. 

Success in her career comes from loving what she does. “The income is a byproduct,” she says. “I love what I do and would still do it if I won the lottery. I can provide for my family, and more importantly, I have a lot of flexibility where I can be there for my family anytime I need to be.”

Principal recently commemorated its 10th anniversary as an Ethisphere’s World’s Most Ethical Company, which shows the company cares about others, too. “I believe in what I do, and I believe in my company,” says Hays. “Our culture is like none that I have ever seen. It’s one thing for a company to say they want the best; it’s another to act on it.”

When she is not working or spending time with her family, Hays volunteers with GRACE, a local nonprofit that provides assistance to people in crisis. She has a jam-packed schedule with her career and caring for her 3-year-old and 1-year-old, but Hays “felt deep down this is something I needed to do for my community and be a role model for my family,” she says. 

Hays started by securing items for a raffle at the GRACE Gala and then accepted a position on the GRACE Board of Directors. “We are absolutely thrilled to welcome Stephanie to our team as a new member of the Board of Directors,” says Shonda Schaffer, executive director at GRACE. “We take our responsibility for stewarding God’s blessings very seriously and recruit leaders who exemplify excellence and commitment. Stephanie has already made a significant impact on our mission, and ultimately the families who need support and guidance through crisis.”

PAVING THE WAY FOR WOMEN

Hays is working to change the conversation about millennials and women in the workplace. For example, her feedback prompted discussions to build a maternity leave policy. She also mentors students, sits in on lectures and personally sponsors events at UT Arlington.

And she doesn’t let critics get her down. “I’ve been told several times that I need to have silver hair in this industry to be respected,” she says. “I’ve also been told that men won’t listen to a female on how to manage their finances. I just have to laugh. I work hard and I feel that my recommendations make an impact in a client’s life. I don’t take that responsibility lightly.”

As far as her clients are concerned, Hays does not believe that being a young woman puts her at a disadvantage. “I have energy to keep up with the ever-changing, fast-paced world of finance, I embrace change and I love to learn,” she says. “Every client is a brand-new challenge.”

How can other women follow Hays’ example? It’s simple: Be heard. “Find a great company that listens and talk,” she says. “Talk loudly. Don’t take advice from naysayers. Also, find a strong female mentor, especially if you have kids.”

Finding success so early in life hasn’t made Hays complacent; she is still working toward many goals. One is to raise her kids to work hard and care for others and another goal is to work as long as she can because she truly loves her job. 

Finally, Hays wants to make a difference in the world. She’s certainly made a difference in Southlake—and something tells us she’s just getting started. 

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