A passion for detail
Fighter pilots and financial advisors have three things in common: a passion for detail, a willingness to spend hours planning, and a love for tackling challenges.
Grand Junction resident Tim Sewell pinpointed these parallels after working both jobs. He has served as a financial advisor at Sewell Mendenhall Financial Group of Wells Fargo Advisors for eight years and spent an equal amount of time as an F-16 fighter pilot. In-between these jobs, he worked for five years as a United Airlines pilot based in Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah. He returned to his hometown of Grand Junction in 2004 and studied for three years to become a certified financial planner, a title earned by about one in 10 financial advisors.
Sewell said he never saw the career change coming. His parents started the practice where he now serves as first vice president of investments and worked there for more than 30 years. He didn’t realize he wanted to follow in their footsteps until he became a commercial pilot. Flying on auto-pilot with few problems to solve aside from which section of the paper to read first after landing didn’t satisfy his lifelong attraction to challenge. And the layovers away from his wife, Kari, and daughters Kristina and Tia, now 13 and 11, weren’t ideal, either.
“It was about finding out what wasn’t for me,” he said of finding his next career in finance. “I just found this more compelling.”
Sewell, 47, also had found the stringent coursework and military training at the Air Force Academy compelling. He enrolled there in 1984 and graduated four years later as the No. 4 student in a class of more than 1,000 cadets. He was the top graduate in his department, Economics.
He followed about 70 percent of his class into pilot training and became one of 50 cadets who tried to become an F-16 fighter pilot. He and two others made the cut. After one year of pilot training and another year learning how to fly the single-pilot F-16, Sewell received his first assignment and reported to Spain. A couple days later, he was in Qatar preparing for the First Gulf War, which started a few months later. He was among the pilots who flew the first F-16s into Baghdad and he flew 41 combat missions during the six weeks Operation Desert Storm lasted.
Sewell said people often ask him about the action-packed moments he spent dropping bombs on targets. But he said being a fighter pilot was more about strategizing for hours on the ground to make sure a mission went right in the air, and that drew the pilots together.
“People ask, ‘What’s it like to feel 9Gs?’ It’s kind of cool, but you get used to it,” Sewell said.
The camaraderie, he said, was more memorable.
“You’re in this group and every day you go up and compete,” he said.
After about seven months in the Middle East, Sewell went to a base outside Madrid, then moved at the end of 1992 to Hill Air Force Base outside Salt Lake City. He spent about 2 1/2 years between 1996 and 1998 flying with the Norwegian Air Force as an instructor pilot through an international pilot exchange program and won their Top Gun award.
After leaving the Air Force and spending five years missing the problem-solving moments he experienced as a fighter pilot, Sewell found happiness in solving people’s financial problems. Dennis Hall, branch manager at the financial group, said Sewell and his partner, Linda Mendenhall, often meet and exceed goals set for them by Wells Fargo Financial Advisors.
“In short, Tim’s a winner. He’s the kind of individual that excels at whatever he does,” Hall said.
Sewell steered client Don Klinetobe through the recession and kept his finances strong. But what Klinetobe really appreciates is Sewell’s friendship. The two are competitive cyclists who ride together on a regular basis. Klinetobe said Sewell is a dedicated cyclist who has fun on rides but stays focused when he has a goal in mind.
That focus has paid off. Sewell won the Colorado State Road Championships in the 35-plus category a few years ago and has taken home wins in seven categories at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic between Durango and Silverton. He competes for the U.S. Military Cycling Team in the Masters Division and has maintained a strict training schedule since he began competitive cycling seven years ago.
“If you work hard and you’re determined, you can be successful” as a cyclist, Sewell said. “You can really make yourself competitive if you’re willing to work.”
Klinetobe said Sewell puts the same amount of drive and focus into his work and family life as he does into cycling.
“He’s not going to finish a race and say ‘I held back.’ He’s going to give it his all,” Klinetobe said. “He doesn’t wait for things to happen. He makes them happen.”