Creating Financially Fit Adults: Make It Child

When former Polaroid exec Joline Godfrey got fed up with the treatment of children as economic prey, she set a clear-eyed goal of teaching them the power to prosper.

Joline Godfrey knows that kids are targets. Every day, whatever the hour, they’re the focus of intense consumer come-ons, sales pitches, pressure-tactics to spend – and always want more. In 1992, Godfrey set out to do something about it.

Fifteen years later, her California-based company, Independent Means, Inc., is one of the nation’s largest providers of financial education programs and products designed to teach economic self-defense.

With workshops and summer programs; coaching for parents and other adult mentors; and products for children, families, financial institutions, schools and youth organizations, Independent Means demonstrates to young consumers that financial stability is more important than “what I wear” and “what I possess.”

A social worker from Maine, Godfrey is also the author of several books on the subject, including No More Frogs to Kiss: 99 Ways to Give Economic Power to Girls (Collins, 1995, $13.95) and Raising Financially Fit Kids (TenSpeed, 2003, $19.95).

Goal 1: Know Your Strengths, Fix Your Weaknesses

“Independent Means is not my first company, so I was pretty self-aware when I started it, and I try to use my strengths thoughtfully,” says Godfrey, whose first company, Odysseum, was a spin-off of the Polaroid Corporation, where she was an executive for 10 years.

She advises that bolstering and bridging any personal shortcomings with key staff and well-considered decisions spells success for entrepreneurs. “When you do that,” she says, “you’ll have a much better chance of avoiding what historian Barbara Tuchman referred to as ‘the march of folly.’”

Goal 2: Never Stop Learning

Godfrey’s reference to the noted 20th century author’s examination of history through its monumental mistakes – from the lessons of the Trojan Horse to the misadventures of America’s war in Vietnam – is par for the course. She’s a self-described learning junkie.

“This is a business in which I learn new things from my clients and the world around me at lightning speed,” Godfrey says. “It is not possible to be bored in this business, and if you’re bored in any business, you need to get out.”

Goal 3: Realize a Larger Purpose

Godfrey stays energized by tracking trends and embracing change. She hires only intensely curious people who have a strong voice and are enthusiastic about Independent Means’ mission. “For all of us,” Godfrey says, “the business is about more than getting rich. It’s about making a difference.”

That means constantly working toward the goal of ensuring that today’s children and those who follow – especially girls – grow up to be financially educated and powerful. As Independent Means has grown, its clients have spanned the economic spectrum from some of the wealthiest families in the world to non-profits dealing with economically disadvantaged kids. Summer programs – Camp $tart-Up and Summer$tock – are hosted in several states, and Godfrey is constantly looking for new ways to present her unique content.

“I eat change for breakfast,” she says. “That is probably my most competitive advantage.”

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