In the midst of college football season, The Piedmont Group wanted to sit down with Georgia Tech alum and former NFL athlete Synjyn Days. In an insightful interview, Synjyn shared the ups and downs of his career from high school to the big leagues, his introduction into financial services, and how he continues to give back to Georgia Tech after graduation. Read below as Synjyn talks about his experiences as an athlete and professional - and offers advice to other young athletes considering a career in financial services.*
Thank you so much for sitting down with us Synjyn. My first question involves your journey from being a high school athlete, to playing college football and landing an assignment with the NFL. What was that like for you?
Days: So I grew up in a two-parent household. My mom was an engineer, my dad is an accountant for Marta. So, I've always been pretty good when it came to grades and learning on the fly - I've always been really good at math. I grew up an athlete and I ended up coming to Georgia Tech after my senior year.
I played as a quarterback in high school and went to Georgia Tech as a quarterback. Then as we all know, life happens. I got moved around to different positions, to A-back positions, B-back positions - then I was a full-time running back going into my senior year.
I started most of the games my junior year, then senior year I took a backseat unfortunately. Then I started as a running back and got hurt, a little bit less than midway through the season. Then I got moved into the starting role, and I had about six or seven consecutive 100-yard games. At every game, I beat my best every single time, so I thought to myself: "How high can I go?"
Then the last game, Orange Bowl, we played Mississippi State and won. I finished with 170-yards and three touchdowns. That got me enough recognition to make honorable mention for all ACC, then I was blessed to get assigned with the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent out of Georgia Tech. I was with them for a little bit, and I made a lot of connections. I was really close with a lot of people, and I stayed connected to a lot of the guys that I grew up with that played college ball as well.
So from there, how did you start to get involved with The Piedmont Group and the financial services industry?
Days: So I was with another firm beforehand. I saw my growth, first as a person and then in my practice. As I began to handle a higher volume of clientele, I needed a lot more support and growth, and The Piedmont Group offered that.
I interviewed with a lot of places, and I found that The Piedmont Group was a good fit for me and my personality and how I wanted to run my practice.
I got into financial services because I have always been a people person. That's one thing about me - I have never known a stranger. I try to always have a smile on my face, and I like to have a lot of fun. I love helping people and working with people, and I felt like if I could do that and get paid for it, why not? I feel like interacting with people and helping others is the key to life.
How do feel your career as an athlete has helped you in your financial services career? What qualities do you think are shared between the two positions?
Days: I think being able to persevere through a lot of hard times. A lot of people see the glamorous things when it comes to financial services. They'll see my pictures with my clients, different outings with clients, but they don't know the extent of hard work that goes into this position. And that's the same with football. You'll see people scoring touchdowns and celebrating on the field, but you won't see all the hard work that you have to put in behind the scenes.
This goes especially for college football. I played while attending classes for Georgia Tech which was not easy, so balancing life and academics and sports is apart of the work that goes into being an athlete, and that's similar to work in financial services.
Also - you have to handle being told "no" in this industry. This can bother a lot of people, but you have to have tough skin to really stick to it. And that's another thing shared with football - when I was at Tech, I didn't get my "shot" until senior year. Kids today in that same position would transfer. And that's their decision, but my parents raised me with the idea that once you start something, you finish it. I realize that in this business, even if I wanted to leave, I'd be doing a disservice to a lot of my clients.
So how do you interact with Georgia Tech now that you've left and started a career?
Days: Well, I haven't missed a home game since I graduated in 2014. So I go back and support the team, I go to some of the junior and senior days for the recruits. I talk to them about choosing a college, and how it's not just a four year decision, it's a forty-year decision. Many students will choose a school based on who is the "hot" team right now, but they don't look at the degree. So I try to put upon them that I'm not far removed from the decisions that they're making, and I tell them that the connections I've been able to build at Tech have helped me become a business owner.
I also use social media to highlight the positive qualities of Georgia Tech, which everyone ends up seeing. Then I had Lucas Johnson, a current quarterback at Tech now, intern with me here at The Piedmont Group. I wanted to show him what life was like outside of football, since he said he was interested in learning about financial services. We were close when he came in as a freshman and I was an alum, so I taught him about a bit about financial services as a way to give back.
I've also had some conversations with the athletic director at Tech about a few ideas that I think will help bring more income to the athletic program. So I essentially use what I do on an everyday basis to improve something I love and care about.
You answered my next question a bit already, but I wanted to ask if you had any advice specifically for young athletes looking to explore a career in financial services?
Days: I would say make sure that you're in an environment that fits you and your personality. Learn about the kind of clientele you may want, ask experienced professionals about what their target markets are, what their strategies are and how they've gotten to where they are. And I'd tell them to make sure that the person they work with is completely honest and open with you, and that they value you and what you bring to the table.
This goes especially for Georgia Tech athletes, and that's something that's very close to me, because I was them a few years ago. My road hasn't been the easiest, and when younger people ask me about it, I tell them that it can be tough to get in the business and stay in it. I'm completely honest, and tell them that although it takes a lot of hard work, it's something that we as athletes have been used to since we were five. I just tell them: if you want the lifestyle that not many people have, you have to do the things that most people aren't willing to do.
Absolutely. And last question - what are you looking forward to the most in your future in financial services?
Days: I'm looking forward to getting into more of a management role. I'd like to be able to help out the younger generation, especially those that look like me. Of course, you know, there aren't many black financial professionals out there. So I think that educating our youth, helping them see and feel the kinds of things that people who look like me don't often have, will be huge. I want to talk to them about the importance of education, and impact the next generation of those young people who look like myself.
A huge thanks to Synjyn Days for sitting down with us and sharing the highlights of his career journey. If you want to learn more about a career in financial services, contact us here at The Piedmont Group.
*Responses have been edited for clarity or brevity.