A graduate of Lafayette College and the recipient of an MBA in finance from the University of Miami, Cassandra Toroian is an experienced investment executive based in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. After beginning her career as a buy-side analyst with a mutual fund company in Pennsylvania, Cassandra Toroian joined Ryan Beck & Co. as a sell-side analyst reporting on banking companies. She achieved industry-wide recognition in this role and was named an All-Star analyst by The Wall Street Journal in 1999 for her stock selection success.
Building upon her success as an analyst, Cassandra Toroian co-founded her own boutique institutional brokerage firm, Cohen Bros. & Co., and subsequently served four years as managing director of CBT Investment Management, Inc. She founded Bell Rock Capital, LLC, in 2006, and now serves as chief investment officer of the SEC registered investment advisor. Under her guidance, the firm has accrued in excess of $350 million in assets under management on behalf of affluent individuals, families, and corporations. It also previously functioned as a financial agent of the United States Treasury.
Cassandra Toroian has overseen mergers and acquisitions for banks with as much as $1 billion in assets and has also worked with several community banks to raise trust-preferred capital and equity. She has been featured in publications like USA Today and The Philadelphia Inquirer and has appeared on programs on national TV networks, including CNBC, Bloomberg Television, and Fox Business. She also authored the book Don’t Buy the Bull – Dispelling Disastrous Investment Advice and Money-Myths in our New Economy.
In addition to her professional interests, Ms. Toroian is a board member and director of fundraising and development for Immanuel Shelter, a nonprofit serving individuals in Delaware without a permanent residence. She previously served on the board of the endowment fund of Lafayette College.
Where did the idea for Bell Rock Capital come from?
It’s an interesting story how we came upon the name Bell Rock Capital. Originally, before I even started this company, I had an LLC I had started in order to buy another business. The business deal fell through, but I had this perfectly good LLC, and I didn’t really want to spend money twice to create another corporate structure. So, when I launched what became Bell Rock Capital, our name was Blue Rockefeller, the original LLC name. That was working out great, until about a year later, I was on CNBC being interviewed about the markets, and the next day, a letter appeared at my door from an investment firm that had a very similar sounding name, and they requested we cease and desist using our name! Well, I’m sure you can guess the name that was involved.
Rather than fight about a name that I had invested very little branding into at that point, I opted to change the name. But being a penny-pinching entrepreneur, I didn’t want to throw out all the stationary we had printed up. So, the key was to find another company name that started with the initials “BR”. We thought about it for weeks until a friend of mine suggested we look at geography for some ideas. Somehow, I stumbled upon the Bell Rock Lighthouse off the coast of Scotland! And then, I stumbled upon the Bell Rock in Sedona, Arizona, which I had visited a few years earlier. So, having some sort of personal connection to that name, I decided that was something we could work with. And thus, Bell Rock Capital was christened.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I wish I could say that I have a tight routine. Life for me would be better if I did, since I have severe ADHD. But unfortunately, I just don’t. Typically, my day starts with five animals jumping all over me to wake me up and letting them outside in the back yard while I get a cup of coffee. From there, always, I check the markets and my email. Then phone calls and emails are returned even before I’m dressed for the office. I check on my mother to make sure she’s OK via all the Ring cameras I have set up around her house so I can keep a virtual eye on her. I head to the office, and from there fire up the computer and ticker screens and get to work on my to-do list for the day. Every day, I try to learn something different that seems to have relevancy to the business or something that I believe has value in learning more about.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My process from a true light bulb moment to starting to work on bringing it to life is pretty quick. Sure, in business school they teach you to do a business plan, etc., but I really don’t think all of that is necessary. I do research on an idea to see if it’s already out there, and if so, how similar or different it is from what I’ve come up with. Then I consider the revenue model. If I feel comfortable that there is a legitimate revenue model and a way to connect the dots from idea to implementation to exit, I put it on the front burner as an ongoing project that may require some initial resources, either internally or from outside experts.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am currently in love with a couple of trends. First, the electrification of old classic cars. There is such a huge market out there for collector cars that it just doesn’t seem possible that there will be diminishing value in them or diminishing interest. And so, I think there will be folks out there who will want to convert them into electric. I would love to get my hands “dirty” in that somehow since I love old sports cars. The second trend I love learning about is fintech and coding. In fact, I think people who don’t learn how to code are going to be at a huge disadvantage very soon, no matter if they are C-level or not. A strong entrepreneur should know enough about something that they can manage it. They need to understand how the widgets are made so they can ask the right questions. You don’t know what you don’t know unless you learn.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Not a habit, but being ADHD is a blessing, not a curse, in my opinion. It enables me to be much more productive than most people because I can keep multiple balls and ideas in the air. I know it’s hard for some to keep up with me, but in my world, I make sure people know I have it and that it means moving at a different pace and understanding that there are real methods to what appears to be my madness.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would advise my younger self to stop and think about getting on social media and using a smartphone. While I was so enchanted with the iPhone when it first was introduced, truly, it’s the devil’s work. It has sapped me of many hours of quality time doing things I love and spending quality time with people I love and care about.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
This is an interesting question when looked at through the definition of truth as described by the Greek philosophers. A truth is something that everyone accepts as true. It is universal. So, there may be a “fact” that I believe that almost nobody agrees with me on, but I don’t think there is a truth I believe that can fit into that category, or it would not be a truth.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be curious every day. Read every day. Pray to God every day.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
It is imperative to be flexible and to learn how to make lemonade from lemons. This is not the same world as 10 years ago, 20 years ago, or even three years ago! So, if you want to grow and remain relevant, you have to keep up with changes in society and technology and adjust accordingly.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Just one failure? Ha! One failure was trying to launch a closed end fund in the bank sector about 15 years ago. Our timing was just off. We had everything ready to go—we had all the fund documents and the marketing channel, and we had spent all the money on legal, etc. But the one thing we didn’t have was timing. We did not expect the market crash and financial disaster of 2008 as we were about to go to market with this deal to raise capital.
How did I overcome it? I licked my wounds (aka the dent in my pocketbook), filed away the PPM, knew it was a timing issue, and did not beat myself up about it. Talking positively to yourself is important unless you want to lose your self-esteem. Some things are just not meant to be! Accept it and move on.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’ve got business ideas all the time. This one is more of a small business idea but could very well be franchisable, I suspect, for the right person to take and run with. I love looking at Martha Stewart Living magazine and seeing all the beautiful cakes and cookies decorated and the crafts made. But I don’t have the time or patience to do it myself. So, I came up with the concept to have a store that every month takes the items in the magazine and sells them pre-made. Want a beautiful Easter cake that’s perfect and looks like what you see on the front of the March issue of Living magazine? Boom. Go buy it at the [insert name here] Store! Since I formulated this idea years ago, I added a few other food and craft magazines into the mix, so it doesn’t just need to be from Martha’s mag. But you get the idea.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I spent recently was on a massage. I’m turning 50 soon and have more aches and pains, and I’ve realized that I need to take care of myself and do more things for just me on a regular basis. I take care of lots of people around me, but that $100 on just me was well worth it.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I’m a caregiver for my mom, but she doesn’t live with me just yet. She can manage on her own, but I worry, and if I worry that means I can’t be productive. I also can’t be productive if I feel like I must drive over and check on her three times a day. I installed Ring cameras in every room in her house and outside so that I could keep an eye on her. I don’t mean to sound morbid, but if I don’t hear the chime in the morning from the camera motion alert, I know something may be wrong. It’s been a huge lifesaver to have this set up.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
My favorite book of all time is Threshold Resistance by A. Alfred Taubman. It is not a long book, nor a difficult read. It’s basically an autobiography of a man who was a brilliant and creative businessman. It’s the journey through his life, his light bulb moments, how he translated those into revolutionary consumer ideas such as the air-conditioned mall, and how he had to take certain things in stride that happened to him over the course of his life. For anyone involved in a consumer-driven business, I think it’s a must-read. I find myself often using the phrase “threshold resistance” since I read the book.
What is your favorite quote?
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
- It’s ok to admit mistakes and recognize your flaws.
- Everyone’s roadmap to bringing an idea to life is different.
- Having a strong religious faith should not be something one hides just because they are in business; it’s part of being authentic.
- Working on more than one idea at a time is not something to be discouraged. If it’s who you are and you know yourself well enough to know you can give multiple ideas their proper attention to be successful, then it’s ok! Just do it!
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.