Tom Parks is passionate about capitalism! His energy and enthusiasm will be evident in this interview, as will his sincere desire to educate others on the benefits and responsibilities of living in a capitalistic system.
As a financial planner, he understands economics and is committed to being an active, engaged, and impactful citizen. Learn how he helps to educate business leaders, policymakers, and young people through his work with various organizations, and why he believes we must be relentless in our efforts to protect our freedoms.
His email signature often contains this quote, “Capitalism is the only moral economic system. Embrace it and share the fruits of your prosperity with those who are less fortunate.” Tom certainly embraces capitalism and shares with others, and you will be inspired and encouraged as you listen to this episode.
Linda J. Hansen: Today, my guest is Tom Parks. Tom is the Director of Retirement Services at Annex Wealth Management here in Brookfield, Wisconsin. I asked Tom to be a guest because he's got a great history involved with entrepreneurship, but also as he serves on a variety of boards that touch the business community not only in Wisconsin but around the country. So with that, I want to say welcome, Tom.
Tom Parks: Thank you for having me.
Linda: Thank you. Tom has long been a friend and an advocate for Prosperity 101™ and all that we're trying to do to help connect boardroom to breakroom, and empower employers with communication tools to speak with employees. So Tom, tell us a little more about your board activities. I know you're on the board of the Independent Business Association of Wisconsin. Could you tell us about that?
Tom: Sure. I serve on a couple of different boards. IBAW, the Independent Business Association of Wisconsin is one of those. The thing I love about that board is it's a lot like the work that I do every day when I come to work. The clients that I deal with are all companies, people who have employees. IBAW, it's an employer organization that's heavy in manufacturing. So, we have a lot of manufacturers, but it's all about the independent business owner. It's a lot of fun to work with that group of people. There's no question.
Linda: Independent business owners are fun. Entrepreneurs are fun. Not to say others aren't, but there's a spirit of determination, I always say, resiliency, tenacity, all of that that is always refreshing. In your role there at IBAW, what have you seen in terms of the policies that are really helpful or hurtful for businesses?
Tom: I'm actually the chair of the Public Policy Committee for IBAW.
Linda: Which is why I asked you, by the way.
Tom: It's the thing that we focus on a lot. The biggest thing that impacts small businesses in Wisconsin is regulation. There are lots of different regulations out there. And one of the things that we've found is there are so many regulations that have been around for so long that the people in government oftentimes, our representatives, the people in the legislature, in the senate, don't even know that they're there. A big part of what we've found as an organization is helping our representatives understand, identifying these things and saying, "Hey, can you help us get this stuff out of the way?" There's more… government, I found is, there's not a whole lot they can do to help. It's mostly, you know, what are they doing to get in the way and how can we help them get out of the way?
Linda: Get out of the way, right. Basically, tell me if you agree with this, what I try to tell people is the role of government is to create the environment where prosperity can flourish. It's not really the role of government to create the prosperity because government basically has nothing. We give it to the government first. But if they can create an environment where prosperity can flourish, businesses can flourish, individuals can flourish, that's their role.
Tom: Yes. There's no question. I mean, things like infrastructure, roads, the grid, energy distribution, things like that, the government plays a vital role. There's no question about that. It's just a matter of collaborating with them.
Linda: Collaborating with them, right. And so, when you think of regulations that have been most impactful for your manufacturing people, what would you say has been the best and the worst?
Tom: Well, there's some when you talk about you know, workforce development. Trying to get people engaged and educated is something that we can get some help from. Mostly dealing with the workforce, and then distribution of goods across state lines. We're trying to make it easier for people to do business with each other, but a lot of the stuff that impacts manufacturers is at the federal level. Obviously, it's easier for us to interact more closely with the people at the state level. But we do that as well. We're engaged with our people in the congress, and the senate, and the federal level as well.
Linda: That's great. Before anyone thinks that this is a partisan thing, it is not. I've been to several IBAW events and all sides are represented. All opinions are represented. It's great. It's really about growing business and helping business be profitable and successful so that we can have a prosperous society. Tell us also, you're also on the board of HPGM, which was previously known as Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee but is now called HPGM. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Tom: Yes. I lived in South America for a couple of years after I graduated from school. I met my wife down there. My wife is from Ecuador. I look at the Hispanic population in our country as an absolutely vital group of people. Just because you look at as-- obviously, you make generalizations. But as a general rule, you're talking about you know, intact families, hard-working people, and so I love being a part of HPGM. It's a really diverse group of people. I have a lot of fun on the board, having you know conversations where you don’t always see… we're not always on the same page, but we all have a ton of respect for each other. We actually recently did a study with the Wisconsin Policy Forum, looking at what's really happening with Hispanics in the Greater Milwaukee area from an educational and economic perspective. It's an organization. It's not just a networking group where you get together and have cocktails. We actually make meaningful… you know, we're engaged in the colleges, so trying to marry college graduates with employers. So, it's a lot of hard work, but it's a good time.
Linda: That's fantastic. That's the thing. It's like people often think-- well, I don't want to make a generalization. But I've heard a lot sometimes that people think if you have any sort of like free-market policy ideas or even somewhat conservative, economic policy ideas, that you're discriminatory. But really, this helps to elevate everyone. Can you tell me ways that our capitalistic society, shall I say, can really help minorities?
Tom: Yes. Well, there's a reason people are immigrating to this country in massive numbers all the time, and it's because of the economic opportunity, and really it is. So when you look at some of the principles that I hold dear-- when I was in school, I studied philosophy and economics. My favorite person through all of that was Adam Smith. Most people know Adam Smith because of The Wealth of Nations, The Invisible Hand theory, but he wrote Moral Sentiments first. A lot of people ignore that, and you can't have one without the other. Decent people trying to do basic things. Let me work and let me produce and stay out of my way. That's what all of these have in common, IBAW, HPGM. The basic principles, I think, are something that we all hold together in common.
Linda: Right. That's made America great actually. Another organization you're involved with is SecureFutures which also-- you have these organizations that were formerly known as, but used to be called Make A Difference - Wisconsin, that is focused on financial literacy which is fantastic. Could you tell us more about that?
Tom: Sure. SecureFutures is we go into high schools, and we teach basic-- what does it mean to save? So, budgeting. How does a checking account work? How does credit work? What is credit cards versus mortgages, and things like that. So much, I think, of what we find with-- the kids understand it, they enjoy it. The curriculum is really, really good at SecureFutures. It engages the kids in the classroom. It's a lot of things that I encounter at work. I work for a financial services firm and talk about retirement. One of the things we hear people say all the time is, "I can't afford to retire because I'm living paycheck to paycheck." So starting before in high school in laying the groundwork for those basic concepts, I think, is just going to be a lot more helpful. We won't have any more near as many problems. The thing is if you don't ever tell people this stuff, how are they supposed to know?
Linda: Right. I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said, and I hope I'm not misquoting, "If people have the right information, they will make the right decision." I feel our role with Prosperity 101™, all the things that you're doing, it's about education. It's about financial education, but I really believe too, and I know this is part of why you support Prosperity 101™ is that if we help people truly understand the foundations of our country, like why is it you mentioned that people risk their lives to come here? I tell people that a lot. They literally risk their lives to come here. Why? Why aren't we risking our lives to go to Venezuela right now?
Tom: Well, you would be risking your life if you're going to go to Venezuela right now.
Linda: Yes. I mean, there are countries you risk your life to go to to be there, not to risk your life to get to the freedom that's there. There are foundational principles. I know with Prosperity 101™, that's one of the things I really want to help reeducate people. Like, you talked about financial literacy. I think I want to help people understand, you know we have the basis of our constitution which is amazing. There's no other nation that has that.
Tom: You know what? If people understood better, I think-- my wife has a different perspective, obviously, being from a third-world country in South America. She appreciates all the cool stuff we've got going on here.
Linda: I should interview her.
Tom: I have friends who are well-educated, prosperous people who-- it does bother me when I'll ask them, "Well, call Sensenbrenner," or whomever, name someone who is representing them.
Linda: Name a congressman there.
Tom: Yes. They're like, "Who's that? What are you talking about?" I'm like, "Come on." The thing is I introduced one of my friends to our state senator years ago, and I said, "Call this person. She'll be able to help you out." He called me the next day. He said, "You're not going to believe it. She called me back." I said, "Yes… no problem." They love hearing from people. You know what I mean? They want to be engaged. I think whether it's democrat or republican, they love to engage with their constituents. They're always up for hearing what we have to say.
Linda: Right. Well, and I tell people too that, especially at the state level, if you contact your elected official, they view it as a hundred people have your opinion. If you contact a federal official, they view it as at least a thousand people have your opinion. You really do have weight. We can make a difference. One person can make a difference, and it takes being educated and informed. But as with Prosperity 101™, I say become informed, involved, and impactful. I can tell that you have done that. You've become informed on the principles that made our nation great. You are involved in your community by helping business owners and students coming on. That's fantastic. I know you're very involved with your own family as well, which the family unit is an important part of a healthy society.
Tom: It's not a one-and-done thing either. It takes constant-- and it's not the hard work, but it's kind of like picking the weeds in the yard. You got to go out there every now and then and do it, otherwise, you're going to turn around, and next thing you know, you got a lawn full of weeds.
Linda: Right. They come quickly. It's spring in Wisconsin today. I don't know when people are listening to this.
Tom: It's on my mind, right?
Linda: Yes. It's spring in Wisconsin. I went out to my yard this week and thought, "Why do the weeds not wait for me?" I mean, the flowers aren't even fully starting to bloom yet, but the weeds are there. That's how this is. It's like you say, it's not one and done. It takes constant effort. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, right?
Tom: That's right. Linda: It is not at all something that we can let go at any time. But when we talk about becoming informed, involved, and impactful, I mean, these things that you're doing are so impactful. I thank you for serving with all these...
Tom: It's a lot of fun.
Linda: Yes. It is fun. It's great.
Tom: For me, it doesn't seem like much work to me honestly.
Linda: Right. Well, and you're passionate about things you believe in, and you work hard to help others, and that's our goal. That's our goal with this podcast. It's our goal with the organizations we're involved in, is to really help elevate and help people thrive to really help them understand and be blessed with the knowledge of what America offers, what our system of government offers, even those who dissent, those who protest, those who argue. I mean, that is so beautiful. We have that freedom in America, and I always want to say thank you to those who have served in the military. Without you, we could not be sitting here talking about this. I thank all of you and all of the military families who have served. I know that as a military mom and spouse myself, I know the sacrifice. We are very, very thankful for those freedoms which helped these businesses thrive, which helped families thrive. Is there anything else you'd like to add before we close out?
Tom: No. I think just don't be afraid of learning more about who represents you in government. Reach out. You will be surprised. You will get a friendly response. There's no question about it. There are little ways. People will say one vote doesn't matter. It does. But what matters even more is once the votes have been cast and someone's in office, reach out to them, get to know them, let them know that you're there, that you're paying attention. I think you'll find it to be a great experience. Really, I do.
Linda: You will. And the other thing, you start to understand how our system operates.
Tom: It's really fascinating.
Linda: It is. It's fascinating. I think in the busyness of every day, I'm sure you see this with people too, the busyness of every day, they don't think like, "Oh, whatever, it's just politics." I mean, people roll their eyes like I just did and say, "Oh, it's just politics. Politics annoys me. I'm sick of all the bickering." Well, of course, we are. Everyone's sick of bickering, right? But that's where we want to say there are policies that can unite us, that can help all of us come to an agreement we can thrive. Today, it's raining in Wisconsin, just an aside, but it's raining here while we're doing this interview. I made a comment to someone the other day. There's something about the weather. It's so non-partisan. It is like...
Tom: Equal opportunity.
Linda: Right. It's equal-opportunity weather. People hate solid rain sometimes. They hate ice, falling on ice. I mean, there are definite things that unite us when we talk about the weather. If we really look at the policies that help make our country prosperous and make businesses and individuals prosperous, we can really look and see these policies that can unite us. We have an amazing foundation to our nation that has provided freedom for millions. We hope that our small efforts can make an impact to provide freedom for millions and millions more for future generations. So, with that, I think I want to say thank you, Tom. I really appreciate it.
Tom: Thanks for having me. Let's do this again some time.
Linda: Yes. I'd love to have you back. Thank you for joining us on this podcast. We’re really grateful for your attention. Please give us your comments, we would love to hear from you. And we would love to hear your story. We are here to connect the board-room to the break-room, and help people become informed, involved, and impactful.
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