Avalan’s Rich Schuette is winning the wealth race by using auto racing to reinvent wealth management
The race isn’t over. Work needs to be done. The crew jumps into action to keep the machine in tip-top shape. A light tightening here. Fuel there. And in what seems like a blink of an eye, the competitor roars away and is back in the race until the finish.
A car race? Not really. An entrepreneur looking to grow his or her business, maximize earnings, minimize tax, and find the balance between hard work and relaxation? That’s right. Rich Schuette has not only learned racing from the world’s top racing teams, but he’s learned how to apply their high-performance teamwork to his own wealth management practice.
“There is an old saying in racing,” says Rich, “that you have to slow down to go fast. Our clients are entrepreneurs, and as such, they are always on the gas. Our job is to slow them down, to let them see the big picture, and to see what there is out there to get if you take the time to properly prepare. You can’t race everyone around you. To win, you have to race the track, and in life, you have to race the situation you are navigating.”
HOT RODDING EARLY ON
Rich grew up on Camarillo, Calif., not too many miles from either of his current Santa Barbara and Thousand Oaks offices.
“My grandfather bought me a subscription to the Wall Street Journal when I was 6,” tells Rich of his childhood, “and he would call every day for me to read him the stock quotes for what he owned in his portfolio. He was my hero and the ultimate entrepreneur. He is who inspired my desire to do what I do today.”
Rich recalls his first trip to watch cars race at the same age he stared reading the Journal. “It was the 1973 Indy Car race at Ontario Motor Speedway. I was six. Sitting on the top of my dad’s Winnebago on lawn chairs in the infield. I loved Bobby Unser.”
“The next year we went to Riverside for the NASCAR opener,” tells Rich, “and I watched Cale Yarborough lead almost the entire race and win. It was in that moment that I was hooked on NASCAR and on Cale. After losing interest in NASCAR as a young adult, when Penske built Fontana, my cousin bought seat licenses and I knew I needed a driver to get back into it, so I picked Jeff Burton because I had read that Cale was a boyhood hero to him, too. Jeff eventually drove for Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and I had an opportunity to get to meet him the year before he retired.”
“I used to sit in the driveway in my dad’s Jeep shifting gears with the clutch when I was 7. I can’t tell you how many cars I would wash just so I could move them around the driveway or in and out of the garage. I’ve helped friends restore some pretty cool cars over the years (a ’65 Vette and a ’56 Nomad were my favorites).”
Upon graduating high school, Rich attended California Lutheran University. After graduating with a degree in Business Finance, he worked in insurance. His intention was to find a way to become a stock broker, but learned it involved sales. His desire was to help people, not sell to them, so he took a mundane desk job. After a couple years, he came to realize he would have to learn to sell if he wanted to move into financial services. No matter how good of an advisory he became, without clients he couldn’t help anyone.
So, Rich set out to learn how to sell. He was told the hardest thing to sell (and the best education he could get) was office equipment. He took on a copier sales job which he held for 5 years while independently studying to get his financial services licenses.
Sales took to Rich, or Rich took to sales. Either way, he was a top performer for the copier company. Learning what he could and practicing business sales, he had the opportunity to work for a wealth management firm. He was a natural at working with clients, and he developed a strong record as an advisor. After a more than a decade at that firm, he decided it was time to branch out on his own.
“I built Avalan from the ground up. I incorporated all of my best ideas as well as those of my most admired industry peers.” And so in 2011, Avalan Wealth was born.
“I needed a name that was scalable and not one that limited other advisors or the ability to eventually exit when I’m too old to work. Schuette Wealth wasn’t going to cut it, so I took the first 2 letters of each of my daughters names (Ava, Aliz, and Ana) and put them together to create Avalan.
“Now 9 years later,” Rich continues, “we are recognized in the Pacific Coast Business Times as a leading wealth management firm and consistently in the top 20 in the tri-counties. My business partner Kathryn and our entire team make up the best group of people that I have ever worked with. Our clients are business owners that are like-minded and the greatest people ever to be blessed to work with.”
HEADING FOR VICTORY LANE
Hang around Rich for long, and you realize there are age-old adages a-plenty in your discussion, Rich has learned a lot from good teachers, and he takes it to heart.
He talks easily about the parallels of car racing and his firm’s way of working with clients. “Auto racing is the ultimate team sport. Without a great team, the best drivers in the world would run last in their races. A great driver can’t win in a 10th place car. He can’t win in junk. Without a team, you don’t have a great car. You need the engineers, the fabricators, the strategists. You need the management and the ability to spot the talent to put it together and manage the players, as well as the marketers and client support people. Pit stops don’t happen until the behind-the-scenes team gets everything ready to hit the track. And when they do—if you have ever witnessed an actual racing pit stop—you will understand just what the teamwork is for. You see all the small parts of the equation to need to happen. Eighteen gallons of fuel, four new tires as well as a clean windshield and a few chassis adjustments. Throw in some body bends. And it all happens in 12–16 seconds.”
And that’s where Avalan really pulls ahead in providing a different customer experience. Assembling a powerful team of experts to not only protect their businesses and holdings, but actually provide proactive business advisories to help them grow their business and assets. It’s all about the team at Avalan, and teamwork with the precision of a NASCAR pit crew.
“This is exactly what Avalan does when we work with our clients,” tells Rich. “We work as a team in what we call the Avalan Total Return process. Instead of just referring our clients for the things they need outside of our skillset (tax prep, trust documents, business management, key insurances to name a few), we include best-in-class industry experts as part of the team and work together to slow down to go fast. Just like in racing, we leave no stone unturned. We have extensive checklists and the best players in the country assisting in every aspect of our clients’ lives…from building the plan (or car), to preparing it to compete, to then putting the strategy together to win.”
Rich doesn’t just sit back and hope things work out. He has continued to develop new ways for Avalan to help customers build their business and holdings. And Rich has also kept up his relationships in auto racing.
“I met Torrey Galida, the current president of RCR (Richard Childress Racing) in 2010 when I was in Daytona working on the pit crew of my friend’s amateur entry. Torrey and I became friends and we stayed in touch as both our careers advanced. I came from an entrepreneurial family and have always been an outside-of-the-lines kind of thinker. I had been talking with Torrey for years about how we could figure out a way to work together.”
Last year, after discussions about shared goals, it was determined that Rich Schuette and Avalan Wealth would become an official sponsor of a Richard Childress Racing car and driver.
“It was a chance to align with a pretty special up-and-coming NASCAR talent,” tells Schuette. “Tyler Reddick was absolutely the best fit for Avalan. He is bright and highly focused. A polished young man whose passion is 2nd to none. We started the relationship with RCR at the beginning of 2020. Immediately, we saw the alignment between Avalan and RCR. Both organizations are committed to excellence and share the same goals of winning for our teams.”
“For us, it’s not the trophy on Sunday,” Schuette tells of integrating the team spirit into Avalan, “but instead, we celebrate watching our clients meet milestones in their lives and businesses that they never thought possible. Our clients and key partners share that commitment to excellence and as we have come to know RCR, our clients are getting to know them as well. Richard Childress celebrated his 50th year in NASCAR last year. He has built one of the premier auto racing teams in the world and is the most down-to-earth genuine human you could ever meet. In my partnership with RCR with Richard and Torrey leading that organization, I have two of the greatest role models and mentors possible. Having them on my team to add to my success as partners is a highlight of my career to date.”
When asked about how his lifelong passion for both serving clients and for race cars, Rich simply had this to say. “What we do is the ultimate team sport, and being associated with a sport that lives and dies from the quality of the team helps remind us every day the importance of bringing it all together to get to the finish line.”