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Global Campus graduate dedicates career to helping small business owners

Rob Stephens

Rob Stephens comes from two generations of small business owners — both his father and grandfather founded their own companies. But Stephens “rebelled,” broke the mold and became an accountant.

Or so he likes to joke.

Stephens is less of a rebel and more of a positive supporter. In fact, he ultimately carried on the spirit of his entrepreneurial family by dedicating his career to helping small business owners, eventually becoming one himself.

Stephens earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Washington in 1995. That same year, he passed the exam to become a certified public accountant (CPA).

Over the next 20 years, Stephens worked at a variety of financial institutions from Ernst & Young to local banks and credit unions. He held the title of chief financial officer (CFO) at multiple institutions. Today, Stephens, his wife and two daughters are settled in Spokane, Washington, where he was born and raised.

Across the many companies he worked for, Stephens noticed a common theme: People tend to make bad decisions when times are tough.

“A prime example was the 2008 recession,” he said. “I watched as management teams, boards of directors and individual clients tried to make serious decisions under emotional strain. There were plenty of irrational choices.”

Mixed with his own struggle to keep his head above water during the Great Recession, Stephens’ passion for helping others navigate financial stress began to unfurl. It wasn’t until a few years later that he was given the opportunity to put this interest into practice.

“I was the vice president of finance at a local credit union when our CEO began pushing for advanced education at the executive level. I didn’t want to go to a banking school or earn a standalone certificate that would expire, so I landed on a master’s degree, which would be useful forever,” he said.

That’s when Stephens found Kansas State University Global Campus.

“The focus on financial therapy is what made Global Campus the program for me. I realized K-State was a leader in this field where I would be able to help people through the kinds of difficult times I’d already seen,” he said.

Stephens began pursuing a master’s degree in personal financial planning and a graduate certificate in financial therapy in 2016.

“Kansas State University’s financial therapy program teaches cutting-edge techniques for helping people make smart decisions with their money,” he said. “It’s the perfect mix of traditional economics and finance with emotional behavioral education.”

Stephens appreciated the online program faculty and the access to industry leaders.

“Our instructors were incredible,” he said. “They were experts from all over the country. That’s the beauty of online learning.”

As he was attending K-State Online, an idea started to form in the back of Stephens’ mind.

“While I was taking classes, I started to realize the dynamics we were studying applied just as much to business owners and boards of directors working together at a company as they did to individuals managing their personal finances,” he said.

This thought began to percolate and blend with his desire to guide people through hard times. And although he loved his job at the time, he decided to make the jump to start his own business after graduation.

In 2018, Stephens graduated from K-State with the skills he needed to bring his vision to reality.

“It was madness for me to leave a great job I loved so much, but I knew I needed to do this,” he said. “I thought about how much work and time people put into their businesses without knowing much about their finances. I knew I needed to help,” he said.

Stephens’ financial consulting company, CFO Perspective, was born in 2019. His mission surrounds educating and aiding small business owners with financial decisions. The stakes are often higher for his clients than their company’s success alone.

“For many small business owners, the line between their company finances and personal finances is incredibly thin, or even nonexistent,” he said. “It’s important to have someone who understands both sides giving them advice.”

With a true mission to help anyone he can, Stephens works to lower the barrier to entry and provide services to those who need them most.

“I want to meet people where they are, at a cost that’s right for them,” he said. “This could be consistent one-on-one meetings, Zoom calls, or providing a downloadable course.”

Yes, beyond starting a business, meeting with clients and managing his own finances, Stephens has also created multiple financial literacy programs for people to take on their own time.

When he’s not busy with clients, Stephens can be found teaching as an adjunct instructor at Gonzaga University or presenting at industry conferences. At one such conference, he had the chance to connect with fellow K-Staters.

“Since I didn’t attend graduation in Manhattan, I hadn’t met any of my classmates in person,” he said. “But then, at a financial therapy conference in May 2018, there were so many K-State graduates, it felt like a class reunion. It was awesome to feel that connection.”

So while he began his professional career as a “rebel” accountant, Stephens made his way back to his family’s tradition eventually, owning a small business himself thanks to K-State Global Campus.

Interested in giving back? You can help support students like Rob Stephens by contributing to K-State Global Campus foundation funds, which support student scholarships and online learning. If you are interested, learn more. If you would like to visit about giving back, you may contact Melinda Sinn, alumni and external relations coordinator at sinnpio@k-state.edu.