Growing up in the cotton farming business, Susan Logan Huffman planned for a lifelong career in agriculture. When she started establishing her career in the early 1980s, however, she discovered there were very few opportunities for women in that field. After the outreach of a female mentor in the financial industry, she charted a new path that led her to establish an investment company of her own. She is the founder and principal of Reliant Investment Management, LLC, a female majority owned firm, where she serves as chief investment officer. Welcome our newest FACE of Memphis.
Where are you from and what was your upbringing like?
I grew up on a working farm in Gilliam, Louisiana, a small farming community in northwest Louisiana. My childhood was spent playing outdoors, where we rode bikes, played sports, fished for bream with a cane pole and went water skiing on wooden Cypress Gardens skis. In the hot, humid summers, my grandfather handed me a hoe and dropped me off in the cotton fields to hoe cotton. He said it would build character and teach me the value of hard work, and he was right. I learned a lot about owning and running a business by watching my father and grandfather run and manage their farm while also balancing work and family life.
Were there any women who served as mentors to you in this field?
No matter where I turned, the opportunities for women in the agricultural industry during the early ‘80s were slim. One evening, I went to a career night at Rhodes where I met Wayne Steele Sharp. At the time, she was a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Charterholder in the trust department at Union Planters, and she offered me an internship. I interned for her for two years, and from there, I turned finance into a career. Wayne was a mentor to me during my time at Rhodes and my first few years of work. At the time, though, there really were not many women in finance and investments, especially not in Memphis. Women business owners were very rare. So, in addition to Wayne, I also looked to a few men who worked with and encouraged me in my early years, including Carl Weibel, my first business partner, and Jim Keegan, who later became a partner and a valued advisor.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?
One of the biggest challenges is simply the volume of knowledge and information required to remain up-to-date on the financial markets. Since we invest in individual stocks and bonds, our independent analysis is time-consuming and rigorous. Add to that the legislative impacts on taxes, healthcare, retirement, etcetera, and you must consume a large quantity of information to stay current. You’re always balancing the financial data that influences the markets with the client’s data and their ever-changing situation.
One of the more enjoyable challenges is the role of educating clients, especially women, on personal finance and investing. Many times, women come to us following a sudden and unexpected life change, and they are often scared of how that change impacts their finances, wary of the stock market and investments and unsure of what they should do next. We have found that the fears are often rooted in a lack of knowledge about financial markets. As a result, our goal is to help guide clients to gain an understanding of money as a tool and resource that allows them to achieve their goals and dreams in life.
What is most rewarding?
The best rewards are the ones that take time to come to fruition. In our work, we have opportunities to come alongside and help our clients — individuals, nonprofits, government institutions — to solve financial problems and work towards financial goals. These opportunities are unique from client to client and challenging in the sense that client situations change, meaning strategies and plans must adjust with those changes. It is very rewarding when a client meets their goals and they get to take that trip of a lifetime, have the savings they’ve worked for to retire early or have built the financial legacy they desired to leave for generations to come.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your industry during your career?
As the industry shifts to a more impersonal structure, our firm works hard to emphasize and maintain the personal side of client service, financial planning and investment management, because we simply do not believe in the “one size fits all” financial advice model. Every person, nonprofit and governmental entity has unique needs and goals, and each should expect financial professionals to consider their circumstances and to act in their best interests.
How do you spend your free time in Memphis?
My husband John and I love a great meal, so we often join friends for dinner and enjoy the different dining experiences around town. When we can, we enjoy weekends on our farm in Piperton. It’s a peaceful retreat for our family.
When you have the chance to travel, where are your favorite places to go?
My favorite place to go is home to Gilliam, spending time with family. We also enjoy an annual family reunion and fishing trip to Grand Isle, Louisiana. When we’re not heading to Louisiana, our family enjoys going to The Abacos or anywhere else where we can spend time on the water. Our other favorite adventure so far has been Argentina. Our son and daughter both count this trip as one of their best!
After heading your own companies for the past 30 years, what guidance can you offer other entrepreneurs at the beginning of their journeys?
Work hard, but still make time for your family and life outside of work. When the work seems to pile up, it can be hard to do this, but I know that one of the reasons I still love what I do and have been successful doing it is because I have made it a point to make time for my family and things I enjoy outside of work.
It is also important that whatever you do, work hard and do it well. Be diligent in building a solid base for your business, and don’t try to grow too big too fast. Doing so will stretch your time and efforts too thin, and you’ll be unable to adequately serve those who have already placed their trust in you.
What is your go-to for comfort or relaxation after a long day?
Spending time outdoors — it’s calming after a long day in the office.
What helps you maintain focus and motivation?
The responsibility I feel towards my clients achieving their goals and dreams helps keep me focused. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m very competitive and tend to be a perfectionist. It keeps me striving for the best for my clients, employees and partners.
What changes have you observed in Memphis during your time as a business owner here?
Thirty years ago, it was very common that my partner and I would walk into a meeting and I would be the only woman seated at the boardroom table. Often, the others in the room would direct the conversation and questions to my partner, who would then bring me back into the conversation. Now, the acceptance of women in business, as owners and leaders, is much more common. Watching this trend has been rewarding. As a mother of a college-age daughter, it is also encouraging to know that she has so many opportunities now as a young woman in the workplace.
What is your best piece of advice?
Always treat your clients, employees and partners fairly and with respect. This attitude will be reflected in your work and lead to long-term relationships.
Other than faith, family and friends, what are three lighthearted things you can’t live without?
A visit home during harvest season — there truly is nothing quite like the sights, sounds and smells of the cotton harvest; taking the boat out on the water on a beautiful day; and my morning cup of coffee.
Thanks, Susan! To learn more about Reliant Investment Management, visit reliantllc.com.
Thank you to Micki Martin for today’s beautiful photos of Susan.
Get to know more inspiring Memphis women in our FACES section.