A Conversation with Darcy Johnson

1. We are so honored that you chose to obtain two degrees from PLU, earning both your bachelors and masters degrees here. What motivated you to attend PLU?

I had to pay for college without any support and lived on my own from the time I was 18 years old. Working full time and going to Highline Community College at night, it took me almost three years of constantly plugging away to achieve a full year of college work. I decided to quit my day job and wait tables at a high-end restaurant to get me through the next phase. After four years I was close to earning my two-year degree. As I considered my options for transfer I knew I wanted to go into business and researched the private schools in the area for the best programs. In 1976 there was no contest. The UW had a mediocre program at the time and huge class sizes. UPS, SPU and SU all had undergrad programs but PLU was the only private college in the area with full accreditation at the undergrad and graduate level. It just made sense to me that this high caliber program would provide me with a better education. A life-changing decision on my part for which I’m eternally grateful.

2. What were the most valuable experiences at PLU in preparing you for your career and your life after college?

Without a doubt the most valuable career forming experience for me was taking introductory Finance from Dr. Andrew Turner. I had an aptitude for math, an interest in numbers but knew I didn’t want to go into accounting. I needed a career where every day would be interesting and challenging. Dr. Turner’s energy and enthusiasm for the intersection of math and investments piqued my interest. As the chalk flew around the room in his introductory class, I knew I had found the perfect fit. Unfortunately, it was my final year at PLU and there was little opportunity to take advanced finance classes. The only logical course of action was to pursue an advanced degree. Having a mentor who was working on his PhD from the Wharton School, was completely supportive in his coaching and willingness to go the extra mile to coach me through my educational experience, was absolutely pivotal. The faculty and staff at PLU made a huge difference in my ability to pursue my dreams. Laura Polcyn, the undergraduate advisor for business majors not only helped me graduate with a very complicated transcript of courses but she called me shortly after graduating from PLU to offer me a job opportunity which would support my goal of earning my MBA in Finance. Going the extra mile to help make dreams come true is engrained in the PLU world.

3. If you could go back in time, what is one thing that you would change about your PLU experience?

While at PLU I continued to work part time, lived off campus and commuted to school. If I had the opportunity to change anything I would spend more time soaking in the array of offerings from other departments for both educational and recreational experiences. PLU’s campus life is teaming with energy and positive life skills training which I missed out on being a commuter student. I would also have gone to a few more parties and had a bit more fun.

4. What are your fondest memories of PLU?

PLU has some of the most talented, caring, committed faculty and I was blessed to, as an employee of the School of Business, get to know many of them well. One of my fondest memories is having lunch with Dr. Stu Bancroft followed by a walk through campus for a little exercise. There are many beautiful campuses in the area, but PLU being at the foot of Mt. Rainier is tough to beat. The majesty of the mountain, the empowering servant orientation of the University and forming my place in the world was a fabulous setting to develop my sense of purpose. I muddled through and managed just fine, but my journey could have been more direct.

5. If you could mentor a current student, what one thing would you recommend for the student to do before graduating?

Be sure to explore the nooks and crannies of campus…you won’t likely have the opportunity to do that ever again. And be sure to go to the Gonyea House and visit the gazebo on a sunny day.

6. In your opinion, what is the most valuable skill or insight one must possess in order to thrive in the business world?

Passion…Be passionate about what you do…and do something you’re passionate about.

7. What is the greatest challenge facing a young professional in today’s business world?

Corporate training programs are harder to find these days and that creates a void, which is supposedly being filled by online training. It’s just not the same as having a program with a mentor.

8. When you spoke to business students at PLU earlier this year, you said that your investment firm is focused on sustainable investments and works to think about the long-term in an industry that is focused on short-term. What inspired your passion for sustainability in the field of finance? Why is it important?

The degeneration of the Finance industry has focused on shorter time frames for measuring success and performance. What have you done for me lately???? It’s created a tragic mismatch of investment goals and objectives (typically 3-5 year time frames) and the underlying investments, which have been set aside to serve those objectives (quarterly earnings focus). We have observed great companies succumb to the quarterly earnings cycle to the detriment of their customers, vendors and the environment. We believe that the pendulum is about to swing back in favor of longer-term metrics for measuring corporate success and sustainability will serve as a fulcrum for such a shift.

9. What do you enjoy most about owning your own investment management firm?

Controlling my destiny brings me the greatest joy in my career. I’ve worked for a number of large organizations, which were constantly in flux, changing direction and dictating mandates for clients which were not in the clients’ best interest. Every few months we’d have a new manager/director who would need to put their fingerprint on the company and ‘make it better’. Owning an investment management firm ensures that I’m able to deliver the best possible service to my clients without regard to answering to corporate mandates for short-term growth. I’m a constant learner, always trying to build on what Ihave learned and use it to my clients’ benefit and the long-term growth of their investments. Owning my own firm ensures that expanding my horizons and those of our team is a priority.

10. What parts of your job are the most challenging?

Frankly, death is the most challenging part of my job. We have been blessed with a strong base of clients who are incredibly loyal. We’ve never been fired from an account since we’ve opened the doors at Fulcrum. But we have lost clients to death and when you manage their wealth you are put in a position, which is front and center at their passing. It’s something I didn’t anticipate in entering the high net worth investment world and it has been extremely challenging to navigate as it inevitably happens for these clients. You get to know them and their families well and they count on you to be strong and especially insightful during this time of loss. It can also be one of the more emotionally rewarding events as you see how the planning for their financial future plays out.

11. You have served faithfully as a valuable asset to the School of Business and the PLU community as a long-standing member of the School of Business Executive Advisory Board. What do you believe are some of the important contributions from business executives in shaping quality business education?

Thank you for that lovely compliment. My experience on the board has provided me with great rewards and I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve. I believe business executives can best contribute to quality business education by participating. Get in there and offer internships and mentorships, encouraging others in your firm to do likewise. Yes, the students enrich their educational experience, but the overall quality of graduates improves as a result when businesses roll up their sleeves and participate in the process. Often we see businesses complain about the quality and caliber of graduates….they need to look in the mirror. If, as a business, you aren’t part of the solution, you shouldn’t expect an ideal outcome. I would encourage other business owners to ‘lean in’. The benefits abound for the company and the overall work environment. These students enrich and energize as well as bring state of the art tools of communication and creative thinking to the offices for which they work.

12. What advice do you have for PLU business alumni for supporting current students and PLU?

There is quite a bit of talk about Ivy League education and its rewards. Certainly ‘who you know’ matters greatly for graduating seniors and the connections these colleges offer students through their alumni networks are truly impressive. PLU graduates world-changing citizens who are prepared in ways that will make a difference a healthy organization. If, as alumni, we value these characteristics and I believe we all do, then we owe it to ourselves and the local economy to make the most of these students’s education. Support it, encourage it, participate in it, thereby ensuring the quality of the program and the pedigree of a PLU Business education. As alums, it’s in our best interest to be part of the solution.