From CNN to CEO: How I Built a Career by Helping Others Build Theirs

From CNN to CEO: How I Built a Career by Helping Others Build Theirs

Credit: The Independent Grid

Planes drop out of the sky. It happens.

When you work in the business of developing and delivering the 24-hour news cycle, everything happens all of the time.

Santa water skis on lakes across the country each July and cameras are there to cover it. Carnival rides collapse, politicians give pressers, babies die and are revived by paramedics, human remains are found, and populations of people gather in protest or solidarity. All the while, someone like me, a former CNN producer, is taking notes from a wire service, organizing footage in servers, lining it up in a show’s rundown, preparing scripts for anchors and pre-interviewing guests to understand how they might answer the questions when on air.

I was a minor player at a major network where I started climbing the ranks in my role as a video-journalist. Four years later, I was writing, producing and interacting with cable network stars like Connie Chung, Anderson Cooper and Paula Zahn. The climb was precipitous for me. My first experience in a television studio was at CNN in 2000 – the year of the Second Intifada; the year of the election; the year of so much news.

I embraced my role in a career where success was measured by my ability to withstand and react. The very nature of the news industry requires a constitution not much different than that of a wealth manager: Not to necessarily expect the unexpected, but rather to prepare to be unsettled daily, and react to that uncertainty calmly and armed with a variety of solutions.

In reviewing a script I had written for Anderson Cooper one morning, he stopped and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had no answer.

The answer was certainly not a financial advisor or compliance officer. But a year later, I was back in Central Pennsylvania joining the family business and cutting my teeth on orphan life insurance policies at Prudential.

Twelve years into the business, I had already shuttled through quite a bit of education in the field, including a Master’s Degree in Financial Services and the Certified Financial Planner Certification. I had begun building what was a sizeable book of business for myself.

The next transition was an easy one, a common-sense step borne of the challenges of starting in this business from scratch. I had always loved building things – never anything mechanical, but rather careers.

Building a career in television news with no experience was the challenge that once suited me. But, building a career in wealth management continues to excite me and fulfills me in a way that television never did. I can actually experience the impact of my work with a client, whereas broadcast television separated me from the audience I served. Over a year and a half ago, with the help of my father, Frank Conte, and a longtime colleague and friend, Trent Gain, we got into the business of helping others build their own careers.

In running our own advisory firm, Conte Wealth Advisors, Frank and I had grown to learn that those advisors who had already crafted a brand of their own might prefer to maintain it while benefiting from the services that CWA offered. The creation of a firm to serve CWA and other brands like it made perfect sense. Our company, The Independent Grid, was our chance to help give other advisors, both experienced and nascent, the tools to create and grow careers of their own in an industry that is difficult to break in to.

Frank and I both agreed that given our experience as advisors receiving services from compliance officers and broker/dealers over the years, we were surely positioned to serve advisors like us with amenities that we had always looked for in one service provider, but had never found.

With 12 years of experience as an advisor at the time, I thought we might be able to create a home for advisors, a kit filled with every tool I could have used to grow my own advisory practice much more quickly and efficiently from day one in the industry. What advisor wouldn’t want a marketing department at their fingertips with a library of pre-produced campaigns? What newbie to the independent space wouldn’t love to tap into a network of experienced advisors who can help guide them to strategies, money managers, or planning techniques as needed?

A career in television may appear flashy, but for me, it was suffocating. The Independent Grid is my opportunity to liberate others in a challenging career and make their lives better. Having worked as an employee for years, I was able to liberate myself by finding my own niche to explore as an entrepreneur.

The key to starting your own business is finding your niche and using your past experience as a tool to make that niche tangible. Those years at CNN honing my writing chops, crafting my own sense about the world through direct exposure to international and domestic events, and refining my communication skills working in a high-stress environment all have been worthwhile skills to have.

About the author: Anthony M. Conte, MSFS, CFP, is the chief executive officer of The Independent Grid, a turn-key business platform dedicated to helping financial advisors gain independence without having to go at it alone. He is also managing partner at Conte Wealth Advisors, an independent financial services firm.