Sue Van Der Linden, a coach and mentor to women and the younger generation and recently named a Morgan Stanley MAKER, puts fears aside to be the change in her industry.
In 2020, what Sue van der Linden refers to as “the work-from-home year,” the Senior Wealth Advisor at Morgan Stanley decided to remake her business by partnering with a colleague she had been mentoring. “We took advantage of the opportunity to make our business the way we wanted it,” says Sue of creating the all-female Bluestone Planning Group based in Washington, D.C.
Building a team that is reflective of her client base had been a priority for Sue. “If you come to a Financial Advisor to deal with the very intimate subject of your money, it helps to be able to see yourself in the person advising you,” she points out.
Graduating from the University of Virginia with a chemistry degree, Sue realized she didn’t want to be a bench chemist after all and decided to go back to school and earn an MBA. She landed a role at a trade association during graduate school. Then, during a business honor society induction dinner when the guest speaker, a retired financial services executive, pointed her toward wealth management. “If you like to solve problems and help people, you will do great,” he told Sue. “That’s what this industry is all about.”
After that, Sue called every firm in the Washington, D.C., metro area until someone agreed to meet with her, and joined Morgan Stanley in 1994. “I guess you could call me the accidental Financial Advisor,” she laughs.
After her hiring manager suggested that she become a financial planner and “the rest will take care of itself,” Sue earned her CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®) certification and never looked back, continuing to advance her knowledge with the Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC®), Certified Investment Management Analyst® (CIMA®), Certified Private Wealth Advisor® (CPWA®), Certified Wealth Strategist® (CWS®) and Accredited Investment Fiduciary® (AIF®) designations.
Still, she points to one thing that could have helped prepare her even more: “I would have taken more psychology in college. Handling somebody’s money is an intimate relationship, because money brings out not only our aspirations but our fears. As an advisor, it’s my job to keep those emotions in check.”
Her tenacity makes it easier to handle the frequent rejection in this business. “You will hear ‘no’ from every corner of your universe,” she warns. “You have to be able to shake it off and say, ‘Wait a minute. ‘No’ isn’t the only answer. Let’s find another solution.’” In fact, she says “the best thing you can do to set yourself up for success is to have an unshakable belief in the nobility of what you’re doing. Helping people educate their kids, retire comfortably, and look after their family are noble things.”
Growing up with a military father, Sue appreciates all he instilled in her. “You learn that discipline, the things you do repeatedly, are a large part of your success or failure,” says Sue, who moved 11 times before graduating high school. She got used to walking into new places and quickly assessing how to fit in. Her ability to adapt and “insatiable curiosity” has always kept her interested in trying new things. “There’s just so much out there to learn that I wind up with lots of hobbies,” she smiles.
In addition to crocheting, which gives her a chance to “zen out,” she enjoys horseback riding, which she’s been doing since age nine. “It was a way for me to claim my independence, to be slightly daring, and to feel in charge of my life,” Sue reflects. “I learned to handle something that was many times bigger than me.”
For example, she describes this teaching moment: It was the last day of a riding clinic and her Olympic-level trainer had set up a course with a large final jump at the top of a hill. “For a horse, that’s pretty intense, because it can’t see where it will land,” she notes. The risk is hesitating at the top. Since it was a new question for both Sue and her horse, the instructor told her to follow another horse-and-rider pair in front of them. He said, “You will believe you can do it, because they are doing it right in front of you.” He was right, and Sue and her horse easily made the jump. “We approached it with no hesitation from the horse or me,” she says. “We knew we could do it, and over we went.”
With any fears put aside, Sue feels strongly about being the change if ever there is something you don’t like. “You can let the future roll over you, or step up and create the future,” says Sue, who joined several advisory councils (technology, marketing and diversity & inclusion) at Morgan Stanley to “be part of those conversations.”
A coach and mentor to female colleagues, Sue is considered a champion for the younger generation. During the pandemic, she organized and hosted a weekly call for industry women to network and learn from each other, which continues still. Sue sits on the boards of the Portfolio Management Institute (PMI) and the Association of Professional Investment Consultants (APIC). She also served on the Wealth Management Committee of the Investment Management Consultants Association (IMCA) and chaired the CPWA Exam Writing Committee. In addition, she’s engaged in financial literacy efforts for children in Luray, Va., and has volunteered with the American Cancer Society and the ALS Association.
For all of these efforts and more, Sue was recently named a Morgan Stanley MAKER, a group of accomplished leaders nominated by their peers, an honor she is delighted to accept on behalf of women, “not just in financial services but across the board,” she says. “To me, being a MAKER means the work we’re doing is truly making a difference.”