What I’ve Learned: Titian Austin ’80

June 09, 2021

By Robert Stephens

Titian Austin ’80
Photo by Scott Cook.

When Merrill Lynch hired a young Rollins graduate nearly 40 years ago to figure out an obscure concept called “wealth management,” she settled right into a surprisingly perfect fit.

Comfortable. It’s the first word that comes to mind during a conversation with Titian Austin ’80. She turns the anxiety-inducing topic of finances into a soft beanbag chair: “It’s easy. Save consistently and live within your means.” You’ve heard that advice, but something in Austin’s tone suggests you might be hearing the honest truth for the first time. It’s so … relaxing.

“I’m blessed to have found my place,” she says from an office overlooking Park Avenue, two blocks from the Rollins campus that drew her in from Fort Lauderdale in 1976 and never completely let her go. As a 17-year-old first-year student, Austin hadn’t heard the words “wealth advisor.” She just wanted to study business. Today she finds herself on Forbes’ list of Top Women Wealth Advisors in the U.S. for 2020 and also Best Wealth Advisors in Florida.

“It can be a challenging field as a female,” says Austin. “But if you have the desire, you’ll eventually find your place too.”

With that, she invites you to settle in for a few more well-earned nuggets of wisdom.

Titian Austin ’80
Photo by Scott Cook.

I made my college decision at the age of 14. Rollins hosted a tennis camp for state-level players. It was like a boot camp, but I absolutely loved the campus, the people, and Winter Park. Ivy League schools were recruiting female tennis players, and my test scores were high enough, but I knew what I wanted. There was no reason to apply anywhere else.

I’d rather pursue my passion than prestige. For a while I wanted to be a pro tennis player. By my second year at Rollins, I realized if I wasn’t a top-three player on our team, then a tennis career wouldn’t be on the horizon. I had no regrets because I’d worked as hard at it as possible. It was time to shift my effort into another passion.

Wealth management wasn’t on my radar. There weren’t many women in the field in the early 1980s. There still aren’t. That’s why I’m working with the Women in Finance program at Rollins—to show women they can excel at anything that excites them.

My dad planted the seed for me. He let me balance the checkbooks for his insurance business and for his moving and storage company. Seeing the numbers demystified finances. The early exposure is a reason I’m comfortable discussing money now.

My message? Finance is fun. I look forward to every day of work. The markets change. The Federal Reserve changes. There’s the unpredictable influence of politics and world events. It makes my work interesting.

A humanities professor gave me a lesson I’ll never forget. About halfway through the semester, he told me, ‘You’ve already learned as much as you will from the regular classwork. So I want you to read a book every week that questions the ethics of business.’ He wasn’t against business, but he wanted me to be prepared when I worked with people who might have other opinions. Now we see corporations being more socially responsible, and I feel like I learned about that long before it became popular.

Relationships are most crucial. After I graduated, I contacted a man who’d spoken to one of my classes—he hired me as a bond underwriter for the insurance company where he worked. Two years later a friend from Rollins helped me get in the door at Merrill Lynch. I was 22 years old with no experience, except balancing my dad’s checkbooks.

I value contentment. Not strictly in a financial sense. I met my husband at a Rollins golf tournament in 1993. We were married in Knowles Chapel a year later. Some of my friends who went to other colleges see us hanging out with our Rollins friends and say, ‘Really? You still keep in touch?’ I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Memory lane is right outside my office. There was no Starbucks or Burger-Fi on Park Avenue when I was at Rollins. But we had East India Ice Cream where Pottery Barn is now. We’d go to Harrigan’s to party—it’s 310 Park South today. And when parents came to town, we’d take them to Beef and Bottle, where Boca is now. It’s funny because I didn’t need a car back then, and those same locations are still within walking distance of my office. I found what I liked 44 years ago and had no reason to leave.

Students wearing caps and gowns walk to a commencement ceremony on Rollins College’s campus.

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