• Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

From small town dreams to certified financial planner

First generation Aggie Riley Woodruff ’17 grew up in the quaint agricultural community of Ballinger with a plan to play college football. But his college journey would take him beyond the playing field and into the financial field in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

First generation Aggie, Riley Woodruff ’17 credits his education and experiences at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for paving the way to his entrepreneurial dreams. (Courtesy photo)

Woodruff arrived at the College as a junior, transferring from Blinn College and already seasoned in higher-education. He was looking for more.

From playing college football as a freshman to studying financial planning by his junior year, his path to the Department of Agricultural Economics and involvement in its Financial Planning Program was a journey Woodruff says he wouldn’t trade for the world.

The department eventually became home to him and paved the way for his successful career in both finance and entrepreneurship, things he has always dreamed of doing. Woodruff took the knowledge learned through his degree focused on finance and real estate, and now puts it into practice working at his family-owned business, Woodruff Wealth Management.

Woodruff recently shared about his journey from transfer student to a Texas A&M graduate, offering his greatest takeaways from his time as a student within the College and insights and advice.

Why did you choose to pursue a degree within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences?

I grew up in a community centered around agriculture, so I felt that becoming a part of this College was going to be a natural fit for me.

One of the main reasons I was drawn to study in this department was its financial planning program. When I transferred to Texas A&M my junior year, I was already set on becoming a certified financial planner and pursuing that career path.

Once I got started in my department-specific classes, I gradually realized how my education was deepening my understanding of the financial and economic factors involved in operating the farms, ranches and businesses that I grew up around. Along with that, I have always dreamed of becoming a business owner one day. The skills I’ve learned from the College and my department have helped make that dream a reality.

Tell us about your experience as a student in the College

My path to Texas A&M was a little different from most. I initially chased the college football dream right out of high school by enrolling and playing at Hardin Simmons University.

I was there for three semesters before transferring to Blinn College and eventually landed at the school that felt like home to me, Texas A&M University. When I started at Texas A&M, I jumped headfirst into my studies, organizations and the overall Aggie experience. School was always the priority, but I got involved in the Financial Planning Student Association, Greek life, and of course, attended all the home football games.

I loved my time here so much that I felt a twinge of sadness knowing I only had two football seasons as an Aggie. At one point, I even contemplated staying for an extra football season. Taking the skills I’d learned while at this university eventually landed me a job offer with a large wealth management firm that I could not refuse, so that extra season would not have panned out for the better.

What advice would you give to other students interested in the same degree as you?

The first piece of advice I would give is to join as many organizations as your schedule allows. Don’t overwhelm yourself or sacrifice study time but join some organizations and meet your fellow students. You never know the people you will meet, and how that could influence your career in the future.

Second, learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. In the real world, you will have to network with people at some point in your career. This is like joining organizations at school to meet people, but at the adult level, the stakes are a little higher. It comes naturally for some people, but others cannot stand the idea of putting themselves out there and meeting strangers. I do not have some magic formula for it, but just get used to the idea that you may have to put yourself out there sometimes.

Lastly, I recommend looking into participating in a study-abroad program through the Department of Agricultural Economics or any of them offered at the University. While they can be a big expense to take on, with a proper plan, it is possible and worth the experience. I was able to do a study abroad for about two weeks, and it was one of my favorite college memories. I also like to think that it helps you see how students outside the U.S. view the world and how cultures differ. Looking back, I wish I had done a full semester abroad somewhere around the world.

How has your degree helped you post-graduation?

As a certified financial planner, I would not be where I am today without the education I got from the Department of Agricultural Economics and the Financial Planning Program. The department gave me a big-picture view of how the economy and its financial infrastructure operate. On top of that, the Financial Planning Program had classes that taught me how to build a financial plan for clients and gave me the opportunity to take my CFP exam. Combining the two experiences has allowed me to understand capital markets. Both programs have catapulted my career, and I will forever be grateful to the faculty and staff who helped me along the way.

Is there a professor who stood out to you during your time here?

Nathan Harness, Ph.D., director of the Financial Planning Program, is an expert in financial planning. With his help, I passed my CFP exam and have been able to help my clients with their finances.

I also had the chance to take Ed Rister, Ph.D., director of the Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program’s entrepreneurship class, which gave me the tools and knowledge to see things from a business owner’s perspective.

Dusty Menzies, Ph.D., instructional associate professor and associate department head for undergraduate programs, is another professor who had an impact on me. He was one of the first professors I had in the department, and I had the honor of going on that Scotland study-abroad trip with him. These are just a few people who influenced me during my time in the department and at the University. All the staff I interacted with at Texas A&M played an instrumental part in making me who I am today.

Tell us about your experience working for your family business

I joined our family-owned business, Woodruff Wealth Management, in February 2022. Before I joined, I worked for a big corporate firm, but there is nothing like working with your family, having ownership in what you are building and being able to help people alongside your family. When you work with family, there’s a unique level of trust with your coworkers because you know they share in the ups and downs the business may experience. This elevated level of trust is a perk. But during challenging times, it’s important to recognize and remind yourself that they are your family first and not just coworkers.

For any students who want to become entrepreneurs themselves, my advice is to get good at networking and to take advantage of the resources within the department. Take that extra entrepreneurship class, minor in sales, and again, get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Spend time gaining the knowledge to become successful, but more importantly, find opportunities to use your skills. Find friends, fellow students, Texas A&M staff and mentors who share your goals and are willing to help.

What do you like to do when you are not working?

This is one of the most important questions to me because mental health and enjoying your only life is just as, or even more, important than your job. I have a passion for traveling and immersing myself in different cultures and their culinary experiences alongside my wife, Rozi. Even though I work with them, I also cherish spending time with family outside of work-related activities. 

During the spring, I find joy in golfing, while in the winter, I get my thrill from snowboarding. I love spending every waking moment outside work with my goofy dog, Kona. Additionally, going to church on Sundays is an important part of my routine, and I try to participate in events or organizations in the community that help those in need.


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