‘Let yourself off the hook’: Ottawa’s Nancy Graham builds business with balance

Nancy Graham
PWL Capital portfolio manager Nancy Graham. File photo.

While entrepreneurs may enjoy the freedom that comes with owning a business and being their own boss, there’s always a tradeoff. The gruelling effort that goes into building a business over two decades is one that Ottawa’s Nancy Graham knows well.

“Being a wealth manager is not an easy business to build, but I knew I could do it,” Graham says.

As a portfolio manager at PWL Capital in Ottawa, Graham’s job is to help her clients become comfortable with their wealth and how it is invested. Graham counsels, advises and invests her clients’ money, typically over a long timeframe for life events such as retirement or next-generation wealth.

“I started working in tax for an accounting firm but found little work-life balance there,” Graham says. “It was the right path but not the right fit.”

With three children, Graham needed a career that she could build on her own terms, something she found in PWL Capital. Though wealth management tends to be a male-dominated industry, the atmosphere and culture at PWL Capital appealed to her.

“PWL Capital operated similar to a startup when I first arrived,” she says. “I liked their values, they were aligned with mine … I knew this was a place I could build my business.”

Empathy and education are at the core of what Graham’s team offers. In fact, Graham has an online video segment called No Dumb Questions to help demystify wealth management, answering questions people are sometimes reluctant to ask about investing, stocks, bonds and so on.

“There is nothing worse than meeting with your financial advisor and either not knowing what they are talking about, or worse, being too afraid to ask,” Graham says. “The video segment speaks to those common questions people ask. And hopefully makes them more comfortable.” 

Although running her own business was intended to help Graham build a lifestyle by choice, she says it’s been a long road getting there.

"I had to invest in my future and the overall freedom of decision making I was striving for."

“Like most entrepreneurs, you invest a great deal of time and energy when building the business. It wasn’t always easy or clear how well this would work, but I didn’t have a choice. I had to invest in my future and the overall freedom of decision making I was striving for,” Graham says.

Graham put in the work over the last 20 years to give herself the freedom of decision making she desired and the work-life balance she couldn’t find working for someone else.

Now, through her hard work and success, Graham has the flexibility to make decisions that are right for clients and for her.

“I am not good at asking people for their business. But in order to build my business I have learned to get out of my comfort zone. I would look around at my peers, and I knew I would be a great wealth manager and business owner. I knew I could do it,” Graham says.

She also takes a pride in the PWL Capital office. Located across from Dow’s Lake with 180-degree views of the greenspace and waterfront, the office is modern, open, inviting and encourages collaboration. It has a beautiful open-concept client hospitality bar upon entry, and each office is uniquely designed. 

Graham’s office sports a full-wall collage with imagery and words important and relevant to her including empathy, compassion and respect. PWL doesn’t work on a commission basis so Graham is never in conflict with which investments to choose.

“I work in my clients’ best interest, not my own,” she says.

Building a business over 20 years takes persistence. Now as an established business owner, Graham has learned to put herself first when necessary.

“I choose where I engage in all areas of my life,” Graham says. “Let yourself off the hook and enjoy life for yourself. Have a support network. And love what you do.”

Fenix Solutions CEO Jennifer MacKinnon writes a column, Ottawa Women of Wonder, to profile and celebrate local women in business.

Mark Sutcliffe, the CEO of OBJ's parent company, participates in PWL Capital marketing. He was not involved in the production or selection of this editorial column.