Shane Westhoelter: Turning Struggles and Challenges into Success
Top 10 Most Influential CEOs to Watch Out For in 2021
Shane Westhoelter, CEO of Gateway Financial Advisors, did not grow up thinking he would be in the insurance and financial services industry. Growing up on a farm in rural Missouri, Shane excelled in sports and played everything from basketball to football to soccer to track. While on the Junior Olympics team, he qualified for the US Olympics team. Additionally, Shane had a background in music, so he wanted to do something with that talent as well. As he got older, he decided he wanted to go to school to be a corporate attorney, which ended up not working out. Shane then found his true calling and has had no regrets.
The Beginning of a Successful Career
When Shane started in the industry, he recalls the first time he had to deliver a death claim check to a woman who had lost her seven-year-old son in a drive-by shooting. When he handed her the check, she thanked him and explained to him how this check allows her to keep her dignity and gives her son the decency he deserves. Because of the check, she did not have to ask for financial help from friends and family, and that conversation with the woman changed Shane’s life. He began to understand that the purpose behind the insurance and financial service is more than selling products and helping people get to retirement, but it gives people dignity when it matters most. This realization is what drives Shane and motivates him to keep going each day. The goal of Gateway Financial Advisors is to help bring people dignity, put a smile on their face, take care of the “what ifs” in life (what if they live, what if they leave, etc.). Gateway Financial Advisors is helping people leave a legacy and making sure that it is properly designed.
Background of the Company
Gateway Financial Advisors started in Saint Louis, Missouri with Shane going door-to-door. As the company began to grow through marketing, seminars, and radio broadcasts, he started to hire additional advisors to support the growing customer base. They now have over 200 offices in all 50 states, $25 million in revenue, and over $3 billion in assets under management. The company is comprised of two divisions: 1. Gateway Financial Advisors which handles asset and wealth management and 2. Gateway Insurance, which covers all insurance-related products including life insurance, disability insurance, auto, home insurance, and more. The main goal of the company is to plan for the expected and protect the unexpected.
While the company has already grown tremendously, Shane foresees it continuing to grow and expand over the next 20-25 years. He currently has a 50-year business plan because he believes in creating something that will stand well beyond his life. However, he emphasizes that the company is heavily focused on quality so as they continue to grow and expand, he stresses that they cannot lose focus and must continue to stay true to who they are and their focus and vision of providing dignity while planning for the expected and protecting against the unprotected.
What Makes Shane a Successful Leader
As CEO and president of both divisions of the company, Shane is focused on the management of the company and making sure they stay true to their commitment and vision and are focused on where they are going over the next three to five years. He works with marketing to shape the marketing plan and how they are going to grow. Additionally, he works with several of their advisory offices across the country, as he started just like them working with clients every day. Shane also has his own client base that he works with each day, including several professional athletes, predominately current and retired NFL players, helping them plan and properly maintain their portfolios.
When asked what qualities he possesses that has led him to the success he has experienced, three words come to mind for Shane:
- Determination – Shane grew up in a rural area doing a lot of farming and other chores around the house and playing sports, both of which shaped his work ethic. He grew up with the mindset that you do what you need to do, it does not matter what time it is or how long it takes; you just make sure it gets done.
- Visionary – Shane enjoys looking out five, ten, even fifteen years to see not only where they can go as a company, but where society is headed and where the country is going economically. He likes to look at what could be, not just where things are at currently. He believes his vision and positive outlook positively affect those around him, getting others excited about the future and what they can do differently as a company.
- Grit – Shane was bullied growing up and faced several challenges in sports. When he qualified for the U.S. Olympic team, the Olympics were boycotted that year so he could not go. He also experienced people telling him that he could not do things or that he was not smart enough to accomplish what he set out to do. Through the challenges and discouragement, he received, he developed determination and grit and gets joy out of proving people wrong.
There’s More Left to Accomplish
Although Shane had huge aspirations growing up, he never dreamed he would be where he is today. Throughout his life, he was bullied and had many people tell him he could not do and achieve what he wanted, but he also had some good mentors who helped him believe that he could be more than he thought he could be. As he looks back at all he has achieved up until this point, he is proud of where he is, but he does not feel like he has accomplished everything he needs to yet. Financially and professionally, he has accomplished a lot, but he hopes to take those accomplishments even further and help inspire and motivate others. He continues to evaluate how he can create a legacy and help more people.
Shane truly loves what he does and is excited to wake up every day and work. He enjoys it so much that he does not even consider it work and knows there is nothing else he would rather be doing. In his free time, Shane attends a lot of events, fundraisers, and other social activities related to his work, which he enjoys. While he is not helping clients or attending social events, you may find him running, hiking, biking, swimming, traveling, or cooking.
Advice for Others
For others who have ever been told they could not achieve something or have been put down for dreaming big, Shane would advise them to not listen. He explains how we live in a great time where we can go beyond just our own borders and the world is our oyster. A saying that one of Shane’s executives uses is: “Let your struggles be your strength, not your identity.” He encourages others to not focus on the negative things but use the struggles and challenges you face to catapult you to who you want to become and what you want to do.