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Powerful Women: Let's Talk – 80: Laina Mills

Laina Mills
Legacy Trust
Laina Mills

Laina Mills, Senior Vice President and Chief Investment Officer at Legacy Trust, joins us on this edition of Powerful Women: Let’s Talk

Meet Laina Mills, Senior Vice President and Chief Investment Officer at Legacy Trust. She serves on the Board of Directors for Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, The Downtown Market in Grand Rapids, and Opera Grand Rapids. Laina also volunteers her time for causes she cares about. Laina Mills is our guest on this edition of Powerful Women: Let’s Talk

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:


Intro: produced by women about women, Powerful women Let's talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world transforming who we are and how we live


Shelly Irwin: Meet Laina Mills senior vice president at legacy trust chief investment officer for the firm guiding investment decisions for the clients. Laina serves on many boards of directors Frederick Meijer gardens and sculpture Park downtown market with the Grand Rapids. And opera Grand Rapids. Plus, she volunteers her time for causes. She cares. Welcome to powerful women Let's talk Laina, I'm glad you made time for us.

Laina Mills: Thank you so much. I'm glad to be here. I appreciate the opportunity

Shelly Irwin: Welcome wearing your power red as a hint of where are in life you Did the young Laina spend or save her money?

Laina Mills: I would love to give a very educational answer. But sadly, I have always been more of a spender. As my natural inclination. I was good about just because you kind of had to be when you're on a fixed income as a child, you know, had to save up for those purchases that I wanted to make. But I once I got there, I definitely was ready to go out and get some enjoyment out of out of that gift from my parents. Very much so.

Shelly Irwin: Yeah, yeah. Eighteen years of investment management experience. So how did this come to be. Did you study the field?

Laina Mills: Yeah, it's really kind of funny. I mean, people still kind of tease me about it because I actually have a degree in biology. So, when I grew up in a very small town. Alma, Michigan, central Michigan. And I was always a strong math and science student. And I really didn't know what I wanted to do with that. And you know, math in particular is something that always came more naturally to me, but I had difficulty connecting that to a profession. You know, I wasn't sure how that translated into something that had had real value. And I really didn't know much about the business world at that point in time. So, science at least there. I could see some career paths even though again, I wasn't real. Sure, what I what I wanted. So, I started college on track to get a biology degree. And I thought that I might be interested in going into research at that point time. And that's what I what I thought I might want to do. But the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. I got a summer job, really just office work filing is really what it started as at wealth management firm. And at that point in time, I was actually living in Naples, Florida, and which

Shelly Irwin: Alma to Naples

Laina Mills: Yes, it was a very big, very big culture shift for me. And as you can imagine, wealth management in Naples is quite a different animal than anything I would have seen in in Alma. And I really found that I liked working in an office. was as much about that is has anything else to begin with. Just like the environment. , smart people working hard. And again, I started to see well, wait a minute. Here's a way to use the numbers. Right. And here's something I can apply this to. And I just came to really like it. And over the course of my time there. You know, fortunately, they felt like I was doing a good job and they kept asking me back and kept giving me more responsibility. So, I started to take on some client service support work and did some other projects and really just kind of came to see the business and really, really enjoyed it. And so that prompted me to add a business minor to my degree. I didn't want to completely shift tracks because I was it didn't want to extend my college stay too much longer. Then another 4 years. But it was great. And that's really how I got started because I didn't have a finance degree. I felt that was really important that after college. I wanted to get some additional credentials. That's when I pursued the that certified financial planner and the chartered financial analyst designation as I did that after college while I was working.

Shelly Irwin: So, you are working in a field where you use your math.

Laina Mills: Yes, exactly. Yeah, I'm not sure how well you know that a lot of the time I spent in some of that biology class is really helping me. But, you know, it was a lot of data analysis and, you know, some of those same things even though, you know, different type of field. But I'm grateful for it. I think it was a good a good path even if it wasn't the one, I'm maybe I thought it would be.

Shelly Irwin: I would hope you recommend never looked back in the and keep looking forward. So what brings you in Cliff note form to where you are now, where there steps to climb, the ladder where they're lateral steps to get to that ladder. Tell me more.

Laina Mills: Yeah, I think it was I really am kind of us a slow and steady and it's been mostly climbed the ladder. And I think the one time I did feel like I needed to make a lateral more of a lateral move was 12 years ago when I shifted from, I was at a smaller firm out in cascade. And I really kind of pursued legacy. Trust where I am now. It was a firm. I had been aware of. I liked a lot of things about it. That was locally held and then some other factors. And it was growing. And that's really what I was looking for because I knew I did want to continue to advance and so felt that I needed to be with a, you know, a slightly larger firm to do that and kind of made the decision to make that lateral move

Shelly Irwin: my stereotypes Bring me to, is this a male dominated field or woman getting more involved?

Laina Mills: certainly, on the investment side, which is where I work. It is. It is male dominated the CFA designation that I have, which is really the investment specific. Over 80% of the charter holders are male. It's so if it is rarer, there are a lot of women in our firm in in in wealth management. But they tend to be more on the relationship management side of the business. I would love to see more women going to analysts roles or portfolio management roles. I think it's a great career. It's a lot of fun. It's different every day because we're reacting to the market and to the news and what's happening . And it's just a really rewarding field,

Shelly Irwin: aren't you working with people? Don't you need people skills to talk about this.

Laina Mills: And that's something that I think also it a lot of people forget about it. Yes, communication is really important skill for what we do. I do a lot of writing. I do a lot of speaking, but a lot of times it's one-on-one sitting across the table from clients. And I feel a little bit like the work we do. A lot of times are not that dissimilar from relationship with a doctor. Some other trusted advisors because it's very personal for people to kind of open up and share some details about their personal finances. And you really have to build trust. So, I think communication is very important.

Shelly Irwin: So back to that would a could a that young Laina who wants to be a present-day Laina, what what's your recommendation to her in her teens.

Laina Mills: Yeah. I think again, first of all, just seeing this as a viable career path. I think even at that time when I didn't know what to do with the math classes. You know, my recollection is that I think in high school, maybe you only were required to take math for one or 2 years in high school. And then you could elect out of it but really encourage people to keep going with that. I think even if you don't make it your chosen field. It helps develop a part of your brain. that I think is really valuable. I think a lot of the numbers work is very problem solving in its nature and that will help you in any field. So, I think just continuing to pursue that is really valuable. I would recommend getting a finance degree. I think that would actually help you, although I don't think it's a deal-breaker. I obviously wasn't for me. And when I interview people, I it. I don't think it's a deal breaker for them either.

Shelly Irwin: So how did you get involved in your community.

Laina Mills: Yeah, well, I love living in Grand Rapids. You know, coming from a town like alma, which was a lovely place to grow up. We didn't have a lot of the types of resources that we do here. And you know, for me, it really just started in, might it, you know, living here after college in my 20's just feeling like a tourist in some ways like isn't this fantastic. I live in a city that has a place like Meijer gardens that has a symphony. We just didn't have exposure to that. And the first thing that I really got involved with because I was always very active in choir and in singing when I was when I was younger.

Shelly Irwin: oh, you will sing us a song.

Laina Mills: yeah, we will see about that I auditioneded for, and I got into the Grand Rapids Symphony chorus. So, I sing in the symphony chorus for several years until My son was born and I just had a riot and that, you know, was a way where I met a lot of people. I think a lot of the community involvement in the board service has to start from something you truly love. I mean, if I know a lot of professionals want to get on boards and that's great. And I sure I'm, you know, a lot of people have skills to offer but has to start with something you really feel passionate about. And for me it was a lot of those types of things just getting involved at a lower level and figuring out how I could expand the value that I was hopefully getting back over time.

Shelly Irwin: Yes. All right. Balance. There's a professional side to you There's a community side to you and you just mentioned the son. How you make it happen.

Laina Mills: It's hard, but it is very rewarding. I think it helps a lot to have a supportive partner and supportive of resources. I'm very fortunate in that. I have my parents here in town. My husband's parents here in town. They provide us with a lot of help. I think you have to ask for help, which isn't I think particularly for women sometimes isn't always real easy because you want to show that you can do it yourself and setting some boundaries too, you know, figuring out when is the time you're going to really carve out when you're not multitasking to really be present with your family is important. I think

Shelly Irwin: you are in a leadership role. What your leadership style.

Laina Mills: I think for me what's really been the type of leadership that I have most responded to is what I try to mirror back, which is I think you have to be authentic. You can't fake it. I try to be very transparent as much as much as possible and to communicate more. Not less I think that helps a lot. And I also think your people have to see you doing the work and maybe that's a little bit of my experience because we are a smaller firm. You know, I'm doing a lot of the same work as my employees alongside them, we're a team. And in that way, we're sharing the load. And I think that's important that they see that

Shelly Irwin: You did take a risk in my opinion, moving from alma to Naples is a young lassie. Tell me I trust you would recommend that for a young.

Laina Mills: I would. And I'll tell you, that was the hardest, I think decision that I had ever made at that stage of my life. I was 17 It was as I was graduating high school. My family was relocating due to a job transfer. But I had the choice because I was in college I the choice to stay in Michigan with all my friends in the familiar environment or go to Florida where I didn't know anyone. I was essentially come starting over again being from a small town. That was a really imposing feeling. But that's what I chose. And I'm very glad looking back that I did, even though I will tell you, I was tremendously homesick for Michigan. People are really surprised by that. But I was so happy to move back after the 4 years. But it did give me a different perspective. I meet a lot of different people from different backgrounds than what I would have otherwise. And I think it very much helped me both personally and professionally

Shelly Irwin: any challenges with you professionally or personally as we meander covid.

Laina Mills: Well, I think for anyone with first thing that my mind goes to is having small children just because childcare has been so challenging. We've been fortunate again to have had family in town that that, you know, we were able to kind of form a bubble. And they were very, very helpful to us when the schools were shut down. You know, that's been a real challenge, I think for us, you know, we were fortunate and particularly in our office and on my team, we really had people that wanted to be in the office.very collaborative team. A lot of the work we do. People don't think of this as a creative field. But in the investment world that it’s kind of is you your strategizing, you're reacting to things you have to have new ideas a lot and it was helpful to bounce things off each other and when couldn't do that for a period. It was it was challenging. So, it was I think we found new value in being together in the office and appreciated it more than we had before. Once we couldn't do it for a period.

Shelly Irwin: Yes. With the boards you're on with the opportunities you have in your successful profession. You've obviously found a voice. How important is it to speak up in in these venues?

Laina Mills: It is important and as a woman in a room. I mean, my whole team is men and I love them. But it the communication style is different, and you have to find to navigate that and it takes it just takes time. It takes time because again, it has to be authentic. You can't fake it. You have to be confident and that takes for me that takes some really building up that knowledge and feeling that I know what I'm talking about and I'm an equal voice in the room. And so, yes, I think that's very important to

Shelley what's still left for you to do.

Laina I really love the role that I'm in now, I'm doing more not just in the in the more specific investment side of things. But I play a role now in running the company overall and I’m on the leadership team for the for the company and that has been a new experience really playing a role more in strategic leadership and, you know, being responsible not just for a small group of for the full staff and their, families and our shareholders and their families and all of our clients. You know, it's important to me. These are these are people that are, you know, trying to, you know, build invest back in in the community and we want to make sure that they can do that and feel secure. And I just want to continue to grow in that role and build on that over time.

Shelly Irwin: What's the getaway on a Saturday afternoon for the Mills family.

Laina Mills: Well when we have our son for us. It's a lot of just kind of family activities on the weekends. My husband and I when we have time for just the 2 of us. We both love to we both love to spend time in the kitchen. My husband actually more so than me. Thank goodness. But we also love to go to the movies, two of us love to go to the movies in the movie theater just have that experience the 2 of us where it's, you know, no other distractions. And we really enjoy that.

Shelly Irwin: And you still sing on the side I hope

Laina Mills: I hope so to hope to get back to it. I used to sing quite a bit at church and things. But it's it has been a little bit something had to give, you know, with everything else. And that was one of them, but it will come back around.

Shelly Irwin: Are you reading a book you’d like to recommend

Laina Mills: Oh, goodness. I love to read. I'm always in the middle of a novel. That's probably my personal biggest getaway and I'm reading a book. Probably some people be familiar. But it's called “go tell the bees that I'm gone”. It's the latest book in the outlander series by Diana Gabaldon . Those are my favorite books. Highly recommend.

Shelly Irwin: You believe in power Red.

Laina Mills: I do. I love red. It's my favorite color.

Shelly Irwin: Keep up doing the work you are doing successfully with legacy, trust chief investment officer for the firm and more senior vice president Laina Mills. Thanks for this time on our powerful women. Let's talk.

Laina Mills: Thank you very much.


Outro: Produced by women about in these powerful podcasts focus on powerful women in how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more powerful women. Let's talk get additional interviews at WGVU dot org or wherever you get your podcast, please rate and subscribe powerful women Let's talk is produced by WGVU at the Meijer public broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU Its underwriters are Grand Valley State University.


Shelley Irwin is the host and producer for The Shelley Irwin Show, a news magazine talk-show format on the local NPR affiliate Monday through Friday. The show, broadcast at 9 a.m., features a wide variety of local and national news makers, plus special features.
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