When Luther Rutledge decided at age 17 to enlist in the U.S. Army, initially it was supposed to be one hitch and then out and on to something else in the civilian world.
"Two of my brothers were in the military and they were in Vietnam. So I wanted to follow in their footsteps," he said. "Once I got in and saw that I could make a career out if it, I decided to stay and I spent those 21 years traveling all over the world. I enjoyed every minute of it. Some good days and some bad days."
Moving toward retirement, Rutledge, 50, didn't miss a beat. He turned an interest in finances and the stock market into a banking career that has flourished after being hired by former Columbus Bank and Trust President Steve Melton in 1999.
The Fayetteville, N.C., native left the Army on Aug. 13 of that year and started his new job three days later and hasn't looked back.
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Rutledge has steadily worked his way up the bank's ranks and was recently promoted to senior vice president. He also is a financial consultant and licensed insurance/annuity agent with Synovus Securities' investment department.
The Ledger-Enquirer talked with the Fortson resident recently about his journey over the last 30-plus years. This interview has been edited for length and clarity:
What did you do in the Army?
I was in combat arms. That's probably strange to some people to see an infantry soldier go to working in the area of finance and investments. But I was an Army recruiter for four years. I was a drill sergeant here at Fort Benning, two years training trainees and one year as a senior instructor at the Drill Sergeant School. Then I was promoted to first sergeant and took over the training company. And then I was selected to be the chief instructor of the Drill Sergeant School.
I had three tours of duty with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. That was my last assignment prior to coming to work at Synovus and CB&T. I spent two tours in Korea, two tours in Germany and in various places all over the world and all over the United States.
How did you decide on becoming a financial consultant?
When I was in the military I pretty much decided early on that I was going to look to something different once I reached the point of retirement. And the financial services industry was an area where I just developed some interest in it. Back in the latter part of the '80s, back when the stock market was booming, I developed an interest in that and from there just kind of started studying and thought, you know what, this might be an area of business where I could have a second career. So I started studying and going to school and taking college courses at pretty much every military installation I was assigned to. I figured I needed an education in order to transition successfully from the military.
How did you come to graduate from the University of Phoenix?
I was a part of those guys when they were in their infant stages I think ... But I attended schools all over the place. It was just at the end of my career, the University of Phoenix was one of those places where I could pull all of my credits together and finish up the program.
What's a typical day like for you?
In the early days I was working with the branch network scattered throughout Columbus ... We take care of the clients and customers of CB&T that need financial help with their investments or with financial planning.
But now I'm working primarily in our private client services area, and that's kind of a different level of services that we provide. We pretty much lead with financial planning. That's a way to make sure that we cover all the bases for our clients, and it's a pretty comprehensive approach. It covers everything from goals and objective setting, investment review, net-worth analysis, cash-flow analysis, retirement planning, education analysis, insurance and estate planning.
Do clients come to your office or you go to them?
Whatever's in the best interest of the client. A lot of clients will come to my office. We can service clients regardless of their location, because as a licensed financial consultant I can get registered in all 50 states.
Did your military experience carry over to the banking world?
The position I'm in at CB&T and Synovus right now, I absolutely believe that it would not have been possible had it not been for that 21 years of military service. What you learn as a soldier, you take with you when you leave. That's the discipline, the integrity, the honor, the hard-work ethics and all of the things that are indoctrinated in you as a soldier, and the sense of accomplishment that if you're given a task you're going to go out there and complete it and do the best that you can. Those are the things that you're taught as a soldier and they stay with you.
That can transition anywhere. It can transition into finance, into the medical field, the law profession. It doesn't really matter the profession that you're in. There are certain foundations and principles that are necessary in order to be successful. The military's big on discipline and as a chief instructor of a drill sergeant school, those are things that I taught.
How did you come to do a segment on Sam Mitchell's radio show (which airs 3 to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays)?
Sam Mitchell and I met when he was coaching the Toronto Raptors and the year that he won coach of the year. Sam and I have developed a very good relationship over the years. He's not just a client of mine, he's a friend. When he decided to do this show, they asked me would I be willing to be a part of it. Every week I do a financial update, called "Time Out for Your Finances," where I come in and kind of give an understanding of what's happening with the financial markets and interpret it in a way that the average person can understand it.
Why was that important to you?
Because I think that financial education is something that's lacking and a lot of people want to learn as much as they can about finances, but don't know where to start. So the show is really geared toward establishing a short, intermediate and long-term financial strategy. How do you come up with a plan to cover your emergency financial needs? How do you put together an intermediate-term plan to take care of your finances and accomplish your goals in the next three to five years? How do you go about putting together a long-term financial strategy to ensure that you're going to be able to retire and live comfortably once you finish your work life?
What's the worst mistake that people make with their finances?
The worst mistake that I think that most people make is not having a plan. You have to start with a plan, even it's just a basic plan of spending and saving. Without a plan you just kind of go from day to day and hope that things work out at the end of your work life.
One of things that I talk a lot about is you've got to treat your personal finances as if you were running a business. You've got to know your net worth, your inflows and outflows, how much you've got coming in versus how much you've got going out. You've got to know if your net worth is not where you want it to be, then you've got to do something about it.
Where do you think you'll be career-wise in 10 years?
I enjoy what I do because I get a sense of satisfaction in knowing that I helped someone accomplish their financial goals. So over the next 10 years, I'm just looking to get better at what I'm doing now. I do have some other degree programs and certifications I'm going to want to get under my belt.
And somewhere along the way I more than likely want to get in more of a leadership role to work with other folks that do what I do. I want to try to give back as much as I can to help some of the younger folks in this business achieve a level of success.