Katie Brown was a tomboy growing up. Sandwiched between two brothers, she learned to hold her own. She played sports, loved math and problem solving, and thought about opening her own business one day.
Fast forward to 2019 and 40-year-old Katie is very much the same person she was as a kid – an independent thinker, an athlete, an entrepreneur.
One year ago, Brown launched Morton Brown Family Wealth in Allentown, a financial planning firm dedicated to helping families manage wealth, with her partner, Dennis Morton.
After 15 years working together at another firm the two were eager to break out on their own.
Brown didn’t expect, however, to face a serious health issue as she began this new phase of her career.
Diagnosed with breast cancer on Halloween weekend 2017, she had a mastectomy just a month later.
“As we were preparing to launch this firm,” Brown said, “I was training for the Boston marathon and scheduling breast cancer surgeries.”
Brown’s cancer was caught early, and she did not need to have chemotherapy or radiation after the mastectomy. “I am a breast cancer survivor,” she said.
Her ability to problem solve, something that has long helped her at work, also helped her catch the cancer early.
Feeling a consistent “let down” lactation sensation in her left breast, despite the fact that she had discontinued breastfeeding years ago, prompted her to visit not one, not two, but three doctors. It was the third physician who suggested she get a mammogram, just to be safe.
“The experience really tested me and my family and our own personal plan,” she said. “It gave my husband and I an opportunity to reflect. I didn’t suddenly change things about my life. What ended up happening was that it reinforced that I really like what I’m doing and where I’m going. If anything, I have an even greater appreciation for my life.”
Brown felt fortunate that the values that make her career so attractive to her kept her from having to worry about financial concerns while tackling cancer. “I didn’t have to be stressed,” she said. “We had taken the right steps to prepare us financially.”
Taking just four weeks off after the surgery, Brown remained working as much as possible. “My advice to other women going through something similar would be to have other goals to focus on besides the cancer, if possible,” she said.
As a mom of two, her priority was her children – a son, 8, and a daughter, 5, at the time, now 10 and 7.
“My husband and I went back and forth on what to tell the kids,” she said. “In the end we decided to tell them about the cancer in a way that they could understand, and to ensure them that we were doing what we needed so that I could stay healthy.”
Brown doesn’t suffer the “mom guilt” many working moms do. She looks back on her parents, who owned their own business and were unable to attend every one of her childhood events.
“I think it’s important for children to learn a sense of independence,” she said. “I’m home every night for dinner, and we have dinner at the table. I put work on hold when I’m with them. I’m not on the phone, and I try to be present as much as possible when I am with them.”
She hopes that her children learn from watching her, just as she did from watching her parents.
“I hope they see that they can do anything they want, that they can accomplish anything, but that they have to work for it. I hope they learn to listen to that little voice inside their head that says ‘yes I can.’”
When she isn’t busy with her children and work, Brown loves to run. She completed the Boston Marathon she was training for in three hours and 57 minutes, and has qualified to run Boston again in 2020. She estimates that combined, she has run about 30 half marathons and marathons.
Brown credits running with giving her a mental and physical edge that allows her to be her best in the rest of her life.
“Running is my de-stress time,” she said. “You can do it anywhere. Anytime I travel, I run. It resets me. Running is a perfect combination of getting a workout in and resetting mentally. I can listen to a podcast … and running doesn’t cost anything. I feel free.”
De-stress time is important in a demanding field like Brown’s. The financial planning industry is going through a transformation as large numbers of baby boomers retire, and leave the financial planning career. Yet Brown is in the minority as a female financial planner. Few women are taking the place of the men who are retiring. Just 32 percent of financial advisors are female, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a federal agency.
“There is still a preconceived notion that this is a man’s career and all the financial decisions are made on the golf course,” said Brown.
More than once, Brown said, she was told at a conference: “Oh it’s so nice of your firm to send you,” to which she had to reply, “I am an owner of the firm.” Or there were times it was assumed she must have taken over her father’s business.
“No, I’m the original Brown in Morton Brown,” she laughed.
Brown takes pride in being a vocal woman in the industry and believes more women should be paying attention to their own financial planning.
“Find an adviser you are comfortable talking with,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The most important thing is to find someone who helps you build your financial confidence. Even without a planner, on your own you can start to write down what you have and what you owe, what is coming in and what is going out. Prioritize yourself. Begin today.”
Despite the many challenges of running a business, and the self-doubt that will occasionally rear its head, Brown has no regrets. She looks forward to growing the firm with her team, hoping to double their existing client base of families in five years. Currently, Morton Brown has $125 million in assets under management.
When asked what life advice she has for other working women, Brown thought for a moment.
“Ask a lot of questions,” she replied. “Lean on the people around you and surround yourself with those who inspire you. Stay uplifted and grounded at the same time. There is no better time to start than right now.”