‘Be Bold’: Park Avenue’s Oka On Career Initiative And More

Pathfinder Winner Shares How Client Well-Being Inspires Him, The Impact Of Employee Resource Groups And Career Advice For Persons Of AAPI Heritage
George Oka, Head of Strategic Initiatives, Park Avenue Securities
George Oka, Head of Strategic Initiatives, Park Avenue Securities

The Pathfinder Awards serve a dual purpose – calling out excellence among executives and professionals of underrepresented backgrounds in wealth management and providing a platform for persons from those backgrounds to address the industry. In this article, we feature George Oka, who won in the category of Strategy Executive of the Year in this month’s Pathfinder Awards – Top AAPI Industry Leaders of 2024.

Oka is the Head of Strategic Initiatives at Park Avenue Securities, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Guardian Life, and focuses on the development, analysis and execution of major strategic initiatives that drive transformational growth. Previously he served at Ladenburg Thalmann Financial Services, leading the internal effort that resulted in the enterprise’s public sale. Prior to that, Oka held various roles at Jeffries Finance where he led almost 150 transactions totaling over $65 billion.

We asked Oka about his inspiration to enter the industry, how we as an industry can improve for professionals and clients of AAPI heritage, and career advice for students and career changers of AAPI heritage who are interested in wealth management.

WSR: What inspired you to enter finance and the wealth management industry?

Oka: I’ve always been interested in the capital markets and investing.

This interest led me first to pursue a finance degree at the Leonard Stern School of Business at New York University and then an investment banking career at Jefferies. From there, I connected with a wealth management client who recruited me into its executive management team. I soon realized that I loved the fast-paced nature of wealth management work, how much opportunity there was to modernize the industry, and the ability to generate significant growth.

Client well-being is what inspires my work every day.

George Oka, Head of Strategic Initiatives, Park Avenue Securities

Above all, however, I saw how much I could help clients get the type of advice that I’d want in their place. It has been extremely rewarding to see how what we do can impact so many people, especially given the outsized role financial well-being plays in influencing overall well-being. It’s impactful to know that the work we are doing – both at Park Avenue Securities and across the industry – is supporting more than just our clients’ financial health, but also their physical and mental wellness.

Ultimately, while it was my interest in the capital markets that got me into the industry, its evolution into a broader commitment to client well-being is what inspires my work every day.

WSR: How can the wealth management industry improve with regards to the advancement of professionals and clients of AAPI heritage?

Oka: I believe we do our best work when we bring our whole selves to work. Working for companies that share that mindset and provide the relevant resources to help colleagues bring their whole selves to work has been important to my own advancement.

Recently, one of the most impactful resources at Park Avenue Securities and Guardian is the Asian Inclusion Diversity Alliance, our employee resource group (ERG) that focuses on supporting and connecting Asian colleagues and allies throughout the organization. The ERG’s goal is to promote an inclusive workplace and foster a diverse culture where colleagues feel heard, valued and have a sense of belonging.

The Alliance is one of 15 ERGs at Guardian. Regardless of the individual communities in which they are working to serve, ERGs are a powerful resource for providing professional and personal development – for colleagues and clients alike. I’d encourage all companies to leverage ERGs to support the advancement of AAPI individuals.

WSR: What advice do you have for a student or career changer of AAPI heritage who wants to develop a career in wealth management?

Oka: Don’t be shy!

It’s no secret that mentorship, networking and connections are incredibly helpful when trying to break into an industry or make a career change. But those connections aren’t going to fall into your lap. You have to seek them out.

In other words, take the initiative. Be bold and send a cold LinkedIn message to a second or third degree connection. Ask a friend to make an introduction to a fellow professional of AAPI heritage.

Take the initiative. Be bold.

George Oka, Head of Strategic Initiatives, Park Avenue Securities

At the end of the day, people want to help! I regularly get contacted on LinkedIn from other NYU students who are looking to tap into my experience and connect. To honor those that helped me, I’m always happy to chat – with the only expectation that one day, the person I’m talking to will pay it forward to the next generation.

James Miller, Contributing Editor and Research Analyst at Wealth Solutions Report, can be reached at ContributingEd@wealthsolutionsreport.com.

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