What Does Freedom Mean to You? With Scott Danner

Scott Danner is the Chief Executive Officer of Freedom Street at Steward Partners. Steward Partners is an employee-owned, full-service partnership that caters to family, institutional, and multi-generational investors.  

In this episode, Scott shares the inspiring journey of founding his company to revolutionize financial advising with a focus on relationship-building and personal impact. 

They also discussed:

  • Scott’s journey of founding the firm in 2016 to address the lack of succession plans among aging financial advisors.
  • The rapid growth of Freedom Street and their goal of building a national brand with a compelling identity to attract top talent and clients.
  • The Life Optimization model, which prioritizes love, impact, faith, and energy over traditional financial metrics.
  • Benefits of joining Steward Partners, which provided support in HR and legal while maintaining a collaborative culture.
  • Scott talks about the importance of balancing high performance with self-awareness and achieving personal equilibrium.

Resources: Steward Partners

Related: Building the Firm of Today and the Future With Jim Gold


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Douglas Heikkinen  00:16

This is Adivisorpedia's Power Your Advice podcast and I'm Doug Heikkinen. We're joined by Scott Danner, Chief Executive Officer, Freedom Street Partners at Steward Partners. Steward Partners is an employee owned, full service partnership that caters to family, institutional, and multi-generational investors. Welcome, Scott.


Scott Danner  00:34

Doug. Thanks for having me.


Douglas Heikkinen  00:36

You found Freedom in 2016. Tell me the story.


Scott Danner  00:41

Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, working in the Edward Jones model, for all those years, it was really fun. I learned a ton. But I was ready for the next next level. And in studying the trends in the industry, we noticed this crazy thing that the average advisor was in the 60s - 62, producing I mean, successful, highly successful producers with no succession plan with no continuity plan with no catastrophic risk plan. And so we saw a trend and an opportunity to create something and it started with a big idea. And, and we started to build the foundation for that. And so myself and a couple partners, started the practice. We started, we started affiliating advisors and bringing them over building the brand building Freedom Street, I can remember setting up the brand, six months before we left and saying, no, no, I want this to be a national brand. I want this to be - I need the logo to be a national level logo, I want the color palette to look good on every single magazine that you could think of and, and news articles and everything that we we were building was something bigger, much, much bigger. And eventually we started to acquire practices and develop and, and got to three and a quarter billion dollars. And really, we're looking for the next level at that point in time in this past year.


Douglas Heikkinen  02:03

So why do you think it grew so fast? What caught on?


Scott Danner  02:07

I think building relationships-first transactions is something that our industry gets wrong a lot. And we're relationship driven. We were building something to be better together, bigger than ourselves. And that messaging is something advisors really hold on to it a lot. There's a lot of advisors, that that are great to their clients. But they're also looking for a connectivity, where they can be great with the people they work with every day. And we had an infectious culture, we had something special. And I think we still do today, this is something that we're carrying over to our relationship with Steward and what we're building together. And I think that's the the answer to that question.


Douglas Heikkinen  02:47

So you were offering something that others just weren't?


Scott Danner  02:50

So, you know, look, we all offer so many similar things. Right. You know, this industry, you understand and that question is a great question. Because what I was offering them was us in our team, and were unique, and other people aren't us. And that is the difference maker. It's your unique ability that sets you apart from other people, and how you use that and our infectious energy, our love for serving clients, and building something better together was the kind of energy that people were attracted to.


Douglas Heikkinen  03:20

So along this journey, you discovered something else about helping people. As you were building this, you discovered something else. So you shifted?


Scott Danner  03:30

Yeah, I mean, I think I think I love helping clients. I've always loved helping clients, I saw an opportunity to not only help one client at a time, but to help hundreds of clients at a time, and eventually thousands of clients. And it's it's an impact thing for me, you know, it's for me, impact is really important. It's what you do, but it goes beyond your career. And I saw the ability to impact this business with the three or four people we started this company with, I can tell you right out of the gate, I told every one of them, we wanted to change the landscape of this industry. So it wasn't just about the impact to our individual clients. It was about making a difference at a much larger scale.


Douglas Heikkinen  04:16

So this really attracted me because I've been under the - I've been saying this for a couple years now that the industry has forgotten why we're all here. And that's the end investor. We're too worried about making money, PE firms are too worried about this and that, and we've forgotten why we're all here. So this is why I found this so interesting. So you you created the life model.


Scott Danner  04:38

Yeah, the life optimization. So one of the things I worked with a great coach back at Edward Jones named Steve Mohler, and you may know Steve Mohler from the industry. He's coached a lot of great advisors, and Steve and I created stuff together back in the old days. And what's funny about Steve is there's there's only like two advisors that ever finished and went through every level of the coaching and training and will be came in your one of one of her. And, and the life wealth optimization models was really interesting. But I was drawn to life. And I felt like when I started in 2002, I realized about six months in, I wasn't going to have an I wasn't gonna have a business, if I didn't start focusing on something bigger than then the mutual funds and equity and like what it was no, it was nowhere. That part of the industry was the same everywhere. But I had a connection that I could, that I knew I could utilize with clients and help them in a bigger way. And so the life model and the life optimization model was life first. Now, life is love, impact faith and energy. And that's the really polished version, you know that that's really good today, that's what I use everywhere. It used to be, you know, your relationships and your impact and something bigger than yourself, but it's your it's your, your, your who's your what, your why, and your how, how you show up your energy. And so, when you look at a life model, and you're building something bigger, your clients are your clients forever. But even more importantly, when you're building a business, your employees, the people that you serve every day, are the very people that are part of that life model. We start every Monday at Freedom Street with our entire back office, twenty something people every single week, Monday morning at 9am. We're getting on the phone, and we're talking about life. What did you get into this weekend? What did you - What are the things your family did? What was important about this weekend, tell us a story. People don't have to share, but they do. And because they do. Everybody loves working with each other more. Every Friday we do wins and challenges. How do we work together to solve something, who can we - who can we celebrate this week? What wins did you have and you know how many times they are personal wins? Because when you build a culture around life, it's infectious. And then the clients are the benefactors, to your point, having the client, as the main focus also starts with serving your teams, your employees the same way you want to serve the clients. And so it becomes a pattern in life optimization is something that I felt was even more important than the wealth. It came first, then the wealth optimization, we're supposed to be good at that. That's what everybody's good at. But how can we be different? Life was different.


Douglas Heikkinen  07:31

Does that life model trickled down to the clients? Do they start adopting this in their own lives?


Scott Danner  07:35

I think you I think you'll see clients do it. What we often did was we worked through the questions. I've had multiple, multiple client interactions, even advisor interactions where they say, here's what I want to do. And I go, why why do you want to do that? Who does that benefit? How is that going to make you show up better, and I take them through the process to identify all along, I'm kind of brainstorming and working through it and then building their model out. And then when you're helping them live towards their goals, their dreams. It helps them stay focused, they're more successful, and they're reminded of why they're doing what they're doing.


Douglas Heikkinen  08:12

So tell me about the relationship with Steward Partners. Your jammin on your thing, they got their thing going. How did this happen? Why did you choose to join them?


Scott Danner  08:23

Well I've known Jim gold for a long time, we got seated at a table six, seven years ago with Paul Riley, had a great dinner with Paul, Jim, myself. Jim and I got to talking about Italian food and Irish culture and Italian culture. And we've been we've been buddies since. So we went through a formal process. And we looked at 3040 Different companies I, I interviewed both informally and formally just about everybody in the industry that you can think of. And I found Steward to be different. I felt like there was the ability to build something similar to what we were building at Freedom Street, but together to take the resources and the infrastructure and the foundation that they had built that was much further ahead than we were and accelerate the growth trajectory. Allow what we had started to not only be a spark, but something that we could literally set fire to and build at a much more rapid rate. And Jim and the team at steward the leadership team, everybody was open to building something better together, bigger than themselves. Same exact way we had built Freedom Street.


Douglas Heikkinen  09:32

Was it another sort of freedom when you joined them?


Scott Danner  09:36

Yeah, I think it's a different kind of freedom. Yes. I think you know, there's a there's a freedom and knowing that every day there are only certain there's only a certain number of things that a CEO of a small business to midsize business can can do. You wear so many hats. My COO was helping us with HR, she was doing financials, and then the the partners were doing this and everybody's wearing all these different hats. What was so freeing is having someone that's in charge of HR, I told Kirsty today in HR, how amazing she was and how it's great to have the backing of someone having a legal department, having having the team to bounce ideas. A CFO running all the numbers, that's liberating. And it's very liberating to have a team to work together with, I love a team, you can hear it in my voice, how excited I get with that, and I'm a big team player.


Douglas Heikkinen  10:30

And it seems like the cultures align, I've talked to so many people from Steward Partners today, and you're, you're the first and it's different, but it's parallel.


Scott Danner  10:40

100%, they're they're. The best thing I can tell you to just validate that point, is when we went into New York, and we had a second or third meeting, Steward was one of the few companies that the entire executive team is sitting in that boardroom. And we within 10 minutes, we're building ideas, we were building things, we're sharing our best ideas openly with each other. It wasn't an interview, it wasn't, neither of us were cold, we were warm, we were open, we were sharing, if they stole the best ideas than it was, it was a great meeting, if I stole the best ideas, it was a great meeting, we just put it all on the table. And having a group that's willing to grow and build and listen, as well as me sitting on the other side doing the same thing. It was it was it was a great collaborative effort, and very, very aligned.


Douglas Heikkinen  11:38

Talk to me about high performance. How do you teach that and how does somebody accept it.


Scott Danner  11:44

So I think high performance is it's great question, I love this topic. High performers move at a pace that that most people can't keep up with. And they can't even keep up with it themselves. And so the challenge is a high performer knows they're a high performer, because they're doing way more than they can actually keep up with. And what I learned about myself is I'm a sprinter. And many times in my life, I have run races that are miles and miles long as a sprinter, which means you get really tired, and really worn out and extremely imbalanced. And as I got older, and a little wiser, I started to pay really close attention, I use my own life optimization model to help myself be aware of the things that I'm leaning too far in. So if if works becoming way too aggressive, and it's taking all the time, where am I where am I not putting my time? High performers have to be aware of the things they're doing well, which they usually are. But it's the things are not doing so well. And that awareness that can make them really, really better to the people in their lives to the impact they're trying to make to how they show up. And so high performers are, I consider my wife, a high performer. She's a full time teacher, a mom and amazing woman who does more in a day than anything that that that most people can complete. I'm proud of that. And and in doing so, she has a great way of finding balance, even when she's imbalanced. And I look at high performers in that capacity. It's how do they get to the next level, is when they actually are able to start being aware of where to dial it in and where to dial it down. And I think that's a really, really good thing to be aware of.


Douglas Heikkinen  13:33

You're interviewing so many high performers. Is there a consistent thing that you found in interviewing all these people that they do?


Scott Danner  13:42

They're all imbalanced. Everybody's imbalanced? And if they if they they all admit it. The other thing that I think is amazing is I can I can interview Nick Lavery. You know, Green Beret, lost his leg, first person to go back to to combat with a prosthetic, multiple Purple Hearts like amazing human. And we had a great conversation about life and his kids and the perspective in a Dunkin Donuts line and how frustrating it can be when someone cuts in front of you or the regular everyday life stuff. I think what we look to, to interview and pull out in the conversation is real life. You know, the more real life you can feel that someone is like you - how many times do you see someone like Mark Wahlberg on on TV and you're like, that's the guy I can have a beer with. He's a he's a regular guy, maybe a tequila because he's not gonna drink beer but, but the point that I'm getting at is finding the real, the authenticity, the truth. That's the similarity that I find in every guest. They tend to really know themselves. And they know what they're doing great. And they know where they're failing and they're not afraid to talk about it.


Douglas Heikkinen  14:50

Loving your life is also something you preach and it's really hard for many to do that. Give us a starter on how to begin to do that.


Scott Danner  14:59

The first thing is you have to love yourself, right? If you want, if you want to love your life, and you want other people to love you, and you want that good energy, it starts with looking in the mirror and being proud of what you are doing well. And, you know, Dr. Ben Hardy, and Dan Sullivan have a book called "The gap in the Game." So many of us live our lives in the gap. And the gap is, if I only earn this much money, if I only if I kick 35 yard field goals, I gotta kick 40 yard field goals, and 40 becomes 45. And you just move the goalposts every single time we hit and attain a goal, and we're never happy with it. So the starting point, is this - live in the game. Where was I? Where am I now? How far have I come? How amazing is that accomplishment? Look in the mirror, be grateful, be thankful and really enjoy life. But it starts with a little bit of gratitude and a little bit of awareness of how far you've come, you are right where you're supposed to be right now, starting here is where it begins. So if I want to love my life, start from where you're at right now and build from there.


Douglas Heikkinen  16:06

It seems like you're always evolving. What's the next iteration of Scott.


Scott Danner  16:13

You know, I am always evolving. And you can ask my wife and my kids, I am a much better version today of myself than I was a long time ago. And I hope all of you are that kind of person. I think it's exciting and interesting to learn to grow. The next iteration is just, you know, I'm moving into a chapter of life where I'm listening a lot. I'm learning a lot, and I'm excited to learn from everybody else. I'm excited to be a part of Steward Partners and learn from the people that have built something, you know, 10x what I built, I'm excited to continue the next chapter of my family in my life as my wife and I go into the more empty nest phase of our lives. It's a transitional moment for me. And so, in transitional moments, it's good to kind of go inward, to then decide where you go next. And I'm thinking and learning and listening a lot.


Douglas Heikkinen  17:03

Scott, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.


Scott Danner  17:05

Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure as well.


Douglas Heikkinen  17:09

To learn more about Steward Partners, please visit Steward Partners.com. Please follow us for timely updates on X, LinkedIn, and Facebook all at Advisorpedia. For everyone at Advisorpedia, our producer Julia Smollen, our engineer Tory Miller, and the Power Your Advice podcast team. This is Doug Heikkinen.