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Flight Path

Wealth Management Is All About Relationships feat. Crystal Maxwell ’03

Owl Have You Know

Season 4, Episode 2

From "oil brat" to wealth advisor: Crystal Maxwell ’03 was born in Texas but raised in Saudi Arabia as the daughter of Aramco employees. She eventually came back to the U.S., where she earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management before transitioning to wealth management after earning a Rice MBA.

Join host Scott Gale ’19 and Crystal as they discuss her successful 20-year career as a wealth advisor at UBS Financial Services, advice for aspiring wealth managers and passion for the Houston Rodeo.

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Episode Transcript

  • [00:00] Intro: Welcome to Owl Have You Know, a podcast from Rice Business. This episode is part of our Flight Path series, where guests share their career journeys and stories of the Rice connections that got them where they are.

    [00:16] Scott: On today's episode of Owl Have You Know, I'm joined by Crystal Maxwell, 2003 graduate from the Full-Time program at Rice Business. Crystal shares her journey from growing up amongst the expat community in Saudi Arabia to an early career in hospitality, and then through a Rice MBA that led to a 20-year career as a wealth advisor with UBS Financial Services. Let's jump right in.

    Crystal, welcome to the show.

    [00:41] Crystal: Oh, well, thank you so much for having me.

    [00:43] Scott: Really excited to get to know you a bit more here. One of the, sort of, topics on the Owl Have You Know podcast is around pivots and stories where you're on a particular career path and living life's journey, and then you go and do a Rice MBA and things change. And so, I thought it'd be helpful maybe just to start, if you could, sort of, bring us up in your timeline to the decision of going and getting a Rice MBA. What were you doing before? What was life like? And we'll just, sort of, explore that space for a bit.

    [01:18] Crystal: Absolutely. I did my undergrad at the University of Houston, and I majored in hotel and restaurant management. And using that fantastic degree, I worked in event planning for American Golf. So, I was working at country clubs, doing the event planning — so, you know, weddings, golf tournaments, corporate meetings, Christmas parties, that sort of thing. And I worked my way up in that corporation, American Golf. At the time at least had about six private clubs in the Houston area and over 200 nationwide. After being solely in one club, then I was over the region. And then, eventually, I was nationwide over all of the event planning departments across the country. And I enjoyed my work, but I was 25 years old and I was at the top of my career path. So, I thought, "Well, this just isn't going to work. I'm going to have to find something else to do."

    I wasn't really interested in getting into club management. And I was actually having a conversation with one of the vice presidents of the company, and he was talking about his MBA at Kellogg. And we were chatting. And I think, at that moment, I decided, "Well, I think an MBA is the path, and that's where I'm going to go."

    I did my applications and got into Rice. I was so happy I didn't have to move. I applied to, to a few others as well, but very happy in Houston and wanted to stay here. And then, when I started at Rice, I was thinking that I would go into corporate finance. I'd always liked the number part of things. I also... I love to travel. So, I thought, "Well, I'm going to go into corporate finance for Continental Airlines. This was before it merged with United.

    [02:57] Scott: Sure.

    [02:58] Crystal: So, that was my thought process. And then, I started B-school and a couple weeks in was 9/11. And then, a couple months in, Enron collapsed. And so, the whole environment of, one, you know, going to work for United was probably not going to happen because, you know, airlines completely crashed, and, "We're not hiring," et cetera. But not only that, the entire MBA market, kind of, crashed, too, with Enron collapsing and going into just all the aftermath of 2001.

    So, I actually ended up getting my internship with Continental Airlines, and they paid me in tickets. I didn't get any cash, but I got some, some good flights out of that. But I found that working in this very strict corporate structure, I found it stifling. And I hadn't realized how entrepreneurial my career path up until then through the country club company had been. And so, I went back to my second year of my MBA and realized, "Well, I'm probably not going to get a job at Continental because they're still not hiring. And even if I did, I don't think it's a good fit, just because I just didn't feel like I would have the autonomy that I was so accustomed to and felt like I needed."

    So, I started looking again at, "Well, what are other, other types of MBA jobs that I could do that are more finance-oriented?" And my second-year mentor my whole first year had suggested financial advising and said, "No, you would be great." And kept... and I kept thinking, "No, I don't want to do that. That doesn't sound good." At the beginning of my second year, I stumbled across the Merrill Lynch website, their recruiting website, and, kind of, went through. There was a list of all these characteristics of successful financial advisors. And I was going down the list, and they were all checking off. I'm, like, "Yeah, I'm that, I'm that, I'm that, I'm that." I'm like, "Oh, well, maybe I should take a look at this."

    I ended up interviewing. I can't remember if I interviewed with Merrill Lynch or not, but I did interview with UBS and a few others. And here I am at UBS, 20 years later, successful and happy. And everything just worked out with a little bow on it. So, things, kind of, all fall into place.

    [05:21] Scott: That's awesome. Super cool. So, you have described, kind of, a part of the story where you're anchored in Houston. That wasn't always the case in your life. And so, I wanted to maybe zoom out and take us through some of the places where you've been around the world. And I wanted to just, sort of, ask a bit of your experience and perspective that, sort of, contributes to how you do your job today that came from living in some unique places around the world.

    [05:50] Crystal: Sure. So, while I've always been a Texan and have claimed this, I wasn't born or raised in Houston, but I grew up in Saudi Arabia. My parents both worked for Saudi Aramco, a big oil company. And Dhahran was home. And I moved to Dhahran when I was four years old. And my parents were there full-time until I was 24 years old, so I called it home for 20 years. Lived there full-time through ninth grade where they don't have American schools past ninth grade, or at least they didn't then. So, went to boarding school here in the States. And during boarding school, I would go back for Christmas and spring break and then all of summer. And then, when I was in college, I would just go back for Christmas and summer. But still, Saudi Arabia was definitely home. I remember, you know, when I lived in Saudi Arabia, Texas was home, even though I'd never really lived here, except for when I was a baby. And when I went to boarding school, there were a fair amount of people from Aramco. Because we all had to go to boarding school, so, there were all, there was always a few of us. And so, when I lived in... at boarding school, Saudi Arabia was home.

    But then, when I moved to Texas for college and people would ask me, "Well, where's home," I didn't know what to say because I couldn't say Houston because then they would ask me, well, where I went to high school, and I didn't go to high school here. I certainly wasn't going to say Colorado, where my boarding school was, because I didn't have any roots there. I didn't want to say Saudi Arabia because that always was just a huge conversation. And sometimes, you just didn't want that giant conversation. And so, I remember, for those years in college, it was just really weird to say, "Well, where are you from?" It was a hard question for me.

    But I think, growing up overseas, they required, any non-Saudis, you had to leave the country for a minimum of four weeks out of the year. We were forced to go on vacation. And sometimes, we would come back to the States via Europe. Sometimes we would come back to the states via Asia. So, I grew up traveling. And I had been to lots of countries, you know, by the time I was 20, and lots of continents by the time I was 20. And that just became part of my world.

    And I wasn't unique. Everybody at... that, that I was growing up with was doing this, too. We were all traveling quite a bit. So, we were this little microcosm of kids that I was growing up with who were all world-travelers, living in a culture that was not our base, our home culture. And I know lots of schools are diverse these days, but, you know, my best friend, one, was from Lebanon, one was from India. We had kids who, you know, were from all over Europe and from Canada and Argentina. And so, I grew up with this appreciation for other cultures and, specifically, the Middle East. So, you know, instead of taking American history, we took Middle Eastern studies. Instead of taking Spanish, I took Arabic. I know a lot about Islam and the Middle East. And that was impactful during 9/11 when there was such a backlash against the Middle East and Islam. But, you know, I think that is one of the things that made me want to go to work for an airline, so that I could continue to do this, all the travel that I was so accustomed to.

    [09:00] Scott: Fantastic. It's reminding me of one of my, sort of, favorite quotes, which is, travel not to see a foreign land, but to see your own country as a foreign land. And I'd be curious to know if there are some things that you, sort of, reach back and draw on from that experience, from almost being a bit lost about where that home country is and being, sort of, a better global citizen, if you will. You mentioned that, you know, you draw some connections to the advice that you give, but are there, maybe, some specific experiences or things that you, sort of, reflect back on from that big global view?

    [09:41] Crystal: I think it would be easier for me to talk about the oil industry, just because, living in Dhahran, yes, it was... we were in the Middle East and I learned all about, you know, Middle Eastern customs and that sort of thing. Everybody that I grew up with was working for the same oil company. So, all of the students, everybody's parents worked for Aramco. We were in the Aramco compound, going to the Aramco School. On the weekends, we were part of the Aramco brownie troop and the Aramco swim team. And whether your parent was an engineer and actually in the oil business or your parent was a teacher or a doctor or any other type of career path that is required to run a mini city, they were all still working for this oil company.

    My dad was an engineer and he worked on Shaybah. So, Shaybah is the biggest refinery. So, it's in the middle of the desert in Saudi Arabia. And it's where huge oil and gas reserves are. So, my dad was one of the four project managers that built this big complex in Shaybah. I remember getting to go out there. You know, my mom actually worked at the aviation department, Aramco's aviation department. So, we would sometimes get to go on Aramco flights. And we went out to Shaybah. And, you know, you're just flying, and it's just sand dunes, nothing but sand dunes for as far as you can see. And then, all of a sudden, here's this complex that my dad built. And it was pretty cool.

    [11:13] Scott: Love that. There's something distinctive about, sort of, the scale of the energy industry. And to be able to, sort of, see it in action just creates a different kind of perspective about what it takes to bring reliable, affordable energy to humanity and all of the things that it does to, sort of, improve quality of life. Awesome. Thank you for sharing. I want to jump back into the Rice experience, generally. And you've done a backdrop on, sort of, what was happening at the time and, sort of, the thinking and the approach. Are there experiences from your Rice MBA that you reflect back on and that, sort of, contribute to your ethos and purpose for being?

    [11:55] Crystal: So, you know, it's been 20 years now, so it's been a while. But, absolutely, the knowledge that I gained there, certainly, catapulted me into my career where I am now. I remember during my first year, I don't recall what class it was, but I remember thinking, "I'm learning about stuff that I didn't even know this subject existed, and now I know all these details about this subject. I know stuff that I didn't even know I didn't know." So, it was so much more broad than I thought it would be. I knew there would, you know, be finance and accounting, which I had been exposed to in some marketing, et cetera. Some of the classes that I was taking that were just beyond what I thought I was getting into was exciting.

    Of course, all of your wonderful core classes, you know, my applied finance, I think back to applied finance all the time, I continued to use the model that we built in that class into my first years of, of being a financial advisor more to, kind of, back test what UBS was providing me and saying, "Well, you know, this is our target, our price target, on a certain stock." And so, I would play with my own stock pricing model that I had built and applied finance to see, "Well, what are they using as their inputs? Let me see if I can get to this price target, too, to see what the analysts were thinking."

    So, that was so helpful for me to just be able to understand and know. I know in lots of industries, the amount of information that comes out is quite a bit, but in finance in particular, you've got so much information that comes out every single day. And if you want to be an expert in any one sector, not even stock, but a sector, you could read analysis all day long. You could really spend all of your time doing that, which nobody can do. You know, as a financial advisor, I can't spend my whole entire day just reading about different companies. As much as I would enjoy that, I've got to be able to synthesize all that information and then know how to apply it and how it's going to affect my clients.

    [13:58] Scott: Awesome. Crystal, a follow-up question is just, as there are students now that are at Rice, they're heading into the fall, they're thinking about maybe starting a career in wealth management, you've spent 20 years in that industry now, can you share some advice that you would give to people that are thinking about that and what they might consider?

    [14:23] Crystal: Yeah, I would share two things. First is that, really build your network. So, wealth management is all about the relationships. And you're building relationships with your clients. You're trying to make their lives better. You're helping them in all aspects of anything that has to do with money. And you're not going to be able to do that alone. You need the relationships, both... You know, I've relied on people from my Rice network, but also within my firm to bring the right expertise and, you know, synthesize the right information and be able to deliver that to my clients. You know, I don't discount that Rice network. I've gotten... been introduced to some of my best clients through, and some of my best colleagues, actually, through my Rice network. So, you never know where your next client is going to come from. And so, you always have to be out there, meeting people and helping people and learning new things.

    So, that's one thing. The other thing I would say about wealth management is, that I don't think a lot of people understand, is how entrepreneurial it is. So, you know, whereas corporate finance, you're, you're definitely, you're in the structure, you're working for the company, you're talking about the company's goals. In wealth management, it's all about the individuals. So, you know, I've got a number of clients. And each one of them is unique. Each one of them has their own needs and goals and their own things that they worry about and their own things that they're planning for. And so, I get to bring the parts of my firm to each client in a different way. You know, some things are appropriate for one client and they're not appropriate for another client. And so, I really get to build my business. I can choose which clients I want to work with and which clients I don't want to work with. I can decide if I want to, you know, meet with them earlier, later, on the weekends, or... I have so much control on my day-to-day life and activity. And the harder I work, the more successful I am, and all of those, kind of, lifestyle things that you associate with an entrepreneur. So, even though I'm a W2 employee, it has a lot of that same feel as somebody who's starting their own business. So, if that appeals to you at all, I think wealth management is a great fit.

    [16:39] Scott: Oh, super cool. I love that perspective. Are there sort of... you had, kind of, mentioned the, like, a Merrill Lynch website with maybe some characteristics or things. If I were to do, sort of, a self-analysis and, you know, am I a fit for that kind of career, what are some of the characteristics that stood out to you and that has, sort of, been reinforced for people that are successful?

    [16:59] Crystal: Yeah. Someone who can take very complex thoughts and ideas and research and synthesize it down into very easily understandable bites of information, I think that's the biggest thing that I do. Finances can be complicated. Especially, the more assets you have, it tends to be, the more complicated things get. And often, people don't have a lot of background in investments or in financial planning and how everything works together. And so, if you can, if you understand the finance part of it and feel like you can talk to somebody and, and explain it in a way that they would understand, I think that's the number one key.

    The other thing is you've got to have empathy. I mean, this job is about helping people. It's helping people reach their goals, helping people be able to pay for college for their kids and retire and go on vacation all at the same time. And then, on the other flip side or further down the road, it's people wanting to make an impact with their assets. You know, they've spent a lifetime creating this wealth and now they want to do something important with that. And helping them be able to, you know, navigate those types of, of situations to the best of their ability.

    [18:10] Scott: What are some of the, the most exciting parts of it? What keeps you coming back?

    [18:15] Crystal: Being able to see clients really realize the things that they've worked so hard for. So, 20 years in, I have several families where I'm now working on the third generation, where I, you know, I had the parents and then I got their adult children. And now, the grandkids are finally in their early 20s, and I'm helping them. I just had one reach out. She just had a baby. So, gosh, now, now that might be in the fourth generation, you know. And I'm talking to her about, you know, 529 plans and opening up a minor's account for the baby. And that I'm still talking to the grandparent about, "Well, you know, what's the best way to, you know, do your, your charitable giving. And what are you thinking about, as far as trust planning and, and legacy planning?" So, it's exciting to see these families or, you know, that original generation that I was working with and how they've been able to instill these values into multiple generations under them. It's so exciting.

    [19:15] Scott: Super cool. I love that. So, I've got a note in here about the Houston Rodeo. There's, like, no more, like, iconic Houston event that happens. My family and I have lived here for over a decade. Love the rodeo. And would just love to ask if you'd be willing to share a bit about your involvement with the rodeo and what that is and how that got started.

    [19:37] Crystal: Absolutely. So, I've been a member of the Houston Rodeo since the last millennium. I joined in 1999. And I know everybody in Houston knows about the rodeo, but not everybody is fully aware that it's really a volunteer-run organization. There's 35,000 volunteers in the rodeo. And just about everybody you see out there working with their gold badge around their neck is a volunteer. I think the rodeo only has about 100 employees and 35,000 volunteers.

    So, I have been volunteering for, like I said, many, many years, decades. There are so many aspects of the rodeo. So, you, you know about the concerts and you know about the rodeo, you might know about the barbecue cookoff, but one of the committees that I'm on is the trailblazer committee. And we promote literacy throughout the Houston area. We collect books year-round, and then we have little book fairs for at-risk schools so that kids have books to take home with them. Over the summers, we partner with Books Between Kids to do that. We do little read-alongs during the actual rodeo. So, if you go by the milking parlor twice a day on the weekend, we... there's our volunteers there reading stories to people who are, you know, there visiting the rodeo and need a second to sit down.

    And then, we also host a writing competition for fourth graders. And so, this last year, we had 1,000 entries of fourth graders. And our prompt was, "If I had a pony…" And we got some great entries and had a wonderful competition. And we awarded the winners with their very own belt buckle.

    So, that's one. That's my trailblazer committee. I'm also on the Western art committee, and the Western art committee collects art and memorabilia from the rodeos and from just Western art, in general, and displays them, not only around the NRG complex, but also around the city. So, we now have displays in both of the airports. We have displays at the Heritage Society downtown. And just, again, just really promoting Western heritage and all the good things that the rodeo does.

    Just to put a number on the good things that the rodeo does, this last year, 22 million, $22 million goes back into the education of Texas kids. So, just, they make such a huge impact.

    [21:54] Scott: Amazing. The rodeo is really doing incredible things. I mean, you've put it into perspective, 35,000 volunteers. I guess I'm just curious, like, for people that are out there that maybe want to raise their hand and say, "You know, I want to get involved with the rodeo," what's, kind of, the process?

    [22:10] Crystal: Yeah. So, first you have to be a member. During the rodeo, it's really easy to sign up to be a member. There's booths all over, and you can just sign up. Other parts of the year, you can probably just reach out to the rodeo and find out how to become a member. And then, once you're a member, you just log into the member site online. And there is a list of, of all the committees that are looking for new volunteers each year. And the rodeo fiscal year starts May 1st. So, every May, there's a new list of the committees. There's over 100 committees that you can serve on. Not all of them are looking for new volunteers every year, but you can absolutely take a look and put your name in the hat for those.

    Some of them are very difficult to get on. Some committees are a lot easier to get on. And there's committees where you do all of your hours and volunteer work during the rodeo. And then, there's the ones that are working year-round. So, I prefer those because I want to enjoy the rodeo. I don't want to have to be working my shift during the rodeo. So, I choose to get my hours done through the rest of the year.

    [23:10] Scott: That's awesome. Thank you for sharing. It really is just, sort of, like a cultural phenomenon. There's so many aspects of it that, sort of, go unappreciated.

    Crystal, this has been amazing. Thank you so much for coming on the Owl Have You Know podcast to share a bit more about your story. Anything that you want to promote or raise awareness around?

    [23:30] Crystal: You know, I think I already did that with the, the rodeo and, you know, just in my career, save early and save often.

    [23:39] Scott: Perfect. Sound advice. Thank you again for being on.

    [23:42] Crystal: Well, thanks so much, Scott. It was good to be here.

    [23:46] Outro: Thanks for listening. This has been Owl Have You Know, a production of Rice Business. You can find more information about our guests, hosts, and announcements on our website, Please subscribe and leave a rating wherever you find your favorite podcasts. We'd love to hear what you think. The hosts of Owl Have You Know are myself, Maya Pomroy, and Scott Gale.

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