JA Business Hall of Fame: RANDY & DEBRA CLAYTON
Rachel Lock | Photographer
In the case of Randy and Debra Clayton, it seems to ring true. While they are both Certified Financial Planners, their personalities are vastly different.
Randy is a self-proclaimed optimist who finds the positive in everything. Debra is more pragmatic and fears things won’t work out unless she spends hours getting everything in place. Randy pushes Debra to move forward, and Debra keeps Randy from falling off the cliff.
Debra, who grew up in Eerie, Kansas, and earned an English degree from Pittsburgh State University, wanted to be a teacher. She taught seventh grade English and ninth grade journalism for seven years. However, in the late ‘70s, Debra decided she needed a career change. Having always been fascinated with finance and investing, she took business classes from Washburn University and attained her CFP designation.
Randy had no idea what he wanted to do.
“I took a really long time getting my degree,” he joked. “I ended up going into the insurance business when I was 21 and still didn’t have my degree.”
He wanted to find a career where people came to him for services rather than him having to knock on doors. He was also intrigued by financial planning and soon became one of the first 100 CFPs in the country.
Debra preferred using her CFP in investing, while Randy preferred using his CFP in financial planning. So, when they decided to open a financial planning firm together, they based their company on a white paper that modeled a business with two separate arms: investing and financial planning.
Clayton Wealth Partners opened its doors in 1984 with three employees—Randy, Debra and an administrative assistant. That business partnership evolved into a life partnership as well, when Randy and Debra married soon after.
The company experienced significant growth, due in part to a wider demand for financial planning services, but also because of the quality employees they were able to attract. All of the firm’s professional level employees have advanced degrees and all of the planners have CFPs. In addition, the Claytons adopted a fee-only payment system, which helped them retain valuable personnel.
For Randy and Debra, their business is like their family. They even equate decision making to parenting. They know they have to maintain a unified front even when they might disagree. And they have learned not to push each other’s buttons.
“You learn to never argue in front of them [employees],” Randy said. “Children should never see their ‘parents’ fight.”
Both Debra and Randy recognize the individual roles they need to play within the organization. Because the company operates under two distinct arms, they each have their areas of expertise and authority, coming together for board meetings and executive decisions.
“I’m a much better bad cop,” Debra said. “Randy is a lousy bad cop.”
ADVOCATE Debra has always been an advocate for Downtown Topeka. Even though their firm has been located downtown for 20 years, when they bought and renovated their new offices at 716 S. Kansas Ave., people kept saying ‘welcome to downtown.’
The decision to purchase the building on Kansas Avenue came as a result of a lunchtime stroll down the avenue on a lovely sunny day. Debra, who had been involved with Downtown Topeka, Inc. for many years and saw the potential just waiting to be unleashed, took one look at the old building and fell in love.
“I told Randy, ‘it would be so cool to be right in the middle of downtown,’” Debra said. “I guess I talked him into it.” They didn't make the move, however, until they asked their customers where they preferred the firm to be located. The overwhelming response—downtown.
After a year of extensive renovations, the firm moved into its new offices. Since that time, the Claytons have also purchased the adjacent building at 718 S. Kansas Ave. and 720 S. Kansas Ave., which burned down in 2016. They are renovating the space into loft apartments and business space.
“People are passionate about downtown,” Debra said. “They want to work here and live here. We want to be part of that.”
They also want to be part of Washburn, and the symphony, and the arts, and numerous boards, and Angel Flights (Randy is a pilot). Suffice it say, the Claytons are involved in the community.
But they enjoy getting away as well— especially internationally. They have traveled to all of the continents and have a daughter-in-law from the Republic of Georgia and will soon have another one from China.
FUTURE A brush with death last year, for both of them, has them thinking a little more seriously about the future. Debra almost died from a bacterial infection on a trip to Iceland and Randy was involved in a serious bicycle accident shortly after. At that time, Debra decided to begin to transition the business to her investment team.
“I want to do it,” Debra said. “But it is really hard to let go.”
They have begun selling shares to three senior executives who will be second generation owners. The transition process will be slow, however.
“It is vital that this company remain in Topeka,” Debra said. “You feel like you built something and you want to leave it better than you found it.”