Mark Kull finds his passion in his career at Northwestern Mutual. By helping clients find financial stability, he has discovered a rewarding career doing what he loves.
He is not just a UofL Cards sports fan, he’s a passionate fan of the University of Louisville. “… A great city needs a great university and vice-versa, and we can sit around and whine, or we can move forward.” Recently, he reflected fondly of his time on campus, his involvement in student government and his fraternity along with the impact of a few inspiring faculty on his career as a financial advisor with Northwestern Mutual, a job that started in 2003 with an internship and became a full-time position after graduating in 2006.
UofL: What attracted you to working as a Financial Advisor?
Kull: What attracted me to financial services was that it was a world where your pay is connected to career performance. While in high school, I owned a lawn service with a friend and I learned I liked working for myself. During the winter months, I worked at Winn-Dixie stocking groceries where I got an hourly wage. I knew it wasn’t going to be a good fit because no matter how hard I worked that day, this was all I’m going to get paid. I realized that I was attracted to the idea of being compensated for my effort. When you start to cross-reference what careers combine sales and finance – financial advising seemed to be the perfect fit. From 2006 to 2012, I worked on the insurance side and in 2012, I began working with a colleague in our St. Louis office that helped me expand into the investment portfolio side with my clients. I realized that people wanted to work with a team of professionals that provide a one-stop shop for their insurance, financial plan, and investments. Today and in the future, clients of the personal finance industry will look for individuals that have earned the CFP designation, an essential credential which signifies that they are not only knowledgeable but work as a fiduciary in the best interest of the client.
UofL: Will you share an experience that you consider to be a turning point in your career?
Kull: In 2011 my wife and I were returning from a vacation to Jamaica before the birth of our first child, and I decided to check email and found out that a lucrative life insurance deal was not going through because the client did not meet underwriting standards, so we would not get paid. I remember thinking in the past this would be a crippling moment, but instead, I thought, if I can make it through this I can make it through anything, and we just have to keep going.
UofL: Which technology has had the most significant impact on your business?
Kull: I think that the world has become flat which is fascinating in that we have clients in over 31 states and can service them just like they were in town. As recently as ten years ago, it was highly unlikely that the average advisor would have intrastate business clients. Equipped with an iPad and cloud computing tools such as GoTo Meeting and DropBox, an advisor can upload documents and meet with clients wherever they are located. In the past, it would seem odd that people would engage in significant financial decisions over the phone with people that they had not met in person. Now, thanks to technology people are much more interested in the efficiency and effectiveness of their financial planning team and less about the fact that you’ve known someone for a long time.
UofL: As a student, were there any courses or faculty members that made a significant impact on your career choice?
Kull: Several faculty members stand out –
Dr. Lynn Boyd required his class read a book, “The Goal”, about process management that discussed bottlenecks and how to alleviate them. At the time I didn’t get it, but now retrospectively, I realize what a valuable lesson that was. It’s one of the books that I kept. If you take this combination of learning about bottlenecks and how to alleviate them, that is what has encouraged me to hire teammates.
Dr. Dianna Preece helped me realize that corporate finance was not for me; instead, I preferred personal financial management.
Buddy LaForge was one of the few folks that focused on professional salesmanship. Sales can get a negative connotation due to the amateurs that are selling stuff. He was always such a pro and taught that whatever profession you’re in, there will still be selling. He brought in several outside speakers that enabled me to see how these sales professionals could control their schedule and income, which was very appealing to me.
Dr. Jim McCabe taught me how to use a financial calculator, and it is the same one that I still carry today. I would tell any current College of Business student that this has been one of the most practical skills I learned. For example, during a meeting with clients who are considering increasing their current contribution to a college savings plan, I can bust out a calculator and say, if this is the ultimate goal, then with a monthly increase of x, you can achieve your desired outcome.
UofL: What’s some insider knowledge that only people in your line of work have?
Kull: On the positive side, it would be how compound interest works and how ruthlessly efficient the stock market is. If a 22-year-old starts placing $200/month into a low-cost S&P 500 index mutual fund, he could retire as a millionaire at age 65! Compound interest is the 8th wonder of the world! It is rewarding to work with people who have not been saving and to show that with disciplined investing your future self will be happy with the decision made by your present self. Start saving early and often and let time be on your side.
Another would be how easy it is to invest. The stock market is just a collection of the great companies in America or great companies of the world. In the absence of information, people assume that it’s very complicated, so a lot of people say “it’s over my head,” and they choose not to invest. When choosing a financial planning team, what you’re mainly looking for is a team to help you with behavior management. Where are you today, where do you want to be tomorrow and how do you get there the most efficiently? It’s essential to have a team that understands you and can help you implement a plan to get you there.
UofL: Outside of work, what activities are you involved in?
Kull: Downtown Rotary chapter and Southeast Christian men’s ministry
UofL: Anything else you’d like to share?
Kull: For UofL alumni, don’t give up on the university or the people there. I am encouraged that any setbacks that the university has faced are like setbacks in the stock market. They are all temporary, and the advances are always permanent. You can’t run an organization for 228 years and not expect there will be bumps along with the way. Turning your back on the university because you’re frustrated at people that are no longer there, hurts the end user which are the students and they were not involved in anything unsavory. The people that made some questionable decisions are now gone. It doesn’t change the fact that a great city needs a great university and vice-versa and we can sit around and whine, or we can move forward.
For undergraduate students, be engaged and get involved in student government, Greek life, or other campus activities and make the most of your time at UofL. That is what makes the collegiate experience such a blast. The more you’re involved, the more profound connection you will have to the university long term.
- Hometown: Louisville, KY
- Undergrad: BS in Business Administration & Management, University of Louisville, 2006
- Family: Kristen, wife and three boys ages 1, 3 and 5 years old
- Neighborhood: Indian Hills
- Hobbies: UofL sports, reading, especially human performance books, wine collecting
- Favorite restaurant: Butchertown Grocery
- Ideal vacation: Siesta Keys or Napa Valley, CA
- Favorite place: Blackberry Farm in the Smoky Mountains
- A fact that people don’t know about you?: If I did anything besides financial advising, I would like to be a stand-up comic.