Jewels In Our Community: Denise Fries

Denise Fries 50th Birthday Nonprofit Grant Recipients
July 19, 2012
At the Root of Philanthropy
July 19, 2012

On May 2, Denise Fries turned 50 years old. She celebrated by inviting representatives from the 21 local charities that had applied and been accepted to receive a matching grant to a birthday party at The Garden District, home of Fries Financial Services.

 At the party, Denise  handed out wrapped gifts containing certificates for a total of $70,000 in matching grants. When the charities complete their fundraisers to receive the match,  $50,000 of the matching grants will be funded by Fries Financial Services with an additional $20,000 donated by one of her clients who served on the charity selection committee and asked to remain anonymous.

Almost exactly one month after the birthday party, Denise attended another community event, only this time she was handed a gift – a trophy that recognized Fries Financial Services as the fastest growing small business in the 2012 Bryan Rotary Newman 10 Business Performance competition.

The award noted that Fries Financial Services recorded 183% percent sales growth from 2009 through 2011 to earn the award.

Donating $50,000 and then winning top honors for business performance in the span of a few weeks was no fluke.

The 27-year history of Fries Financial Services is a yin and yang of business growth and commitment to philanthropy; over the years, Denise’s twin goals have served to strengthen one another.

Three matching grant recipients are raising funds July 28-30. Read how you can get while giving here. On May 2, Denise Fries turned 50 years old. She celebrated by inviting representatives from the 21 local charities that had applied and been accepted to receive a matching grant to a birthday party at The Garden District, home of Fries Financial Services.

 At the party, Denise  handed out wrapped gifts containing certificates for a total of $70,000 in matching grants. When the charities complete their fundraisers to receive the match,  $50,000 of the matching grants will be funded by Fries Financial Services with an additional $20,000 donated by one of her clients who served on the charity selection committee and asked to remain anonymous.

Almost exactly one month after the birthday party, Denise attended another community event, only this time she was handed a gift – a trophy that recognized Fries Financial Services as the fastest growing small business in the 2012 Bryan Rotary Newman 10 Business Performance competition.

The award noted that Fries Financial Services recorded 183% percent sales growth from 2009 through 2011 to earn the award.

Donating $50,000 and then winning top honors for business performance in the span of a few weeks was no fluke.

The 27-year history of Fries Financial Services is a yin and yang of business growth and commitment to philanthropy; over the years, Denise’s twin goals have served to strengthen one another.

Consider: On Fries Financial Services’ 20th business anniversary, Denise gave $20,000 in matching grants to 17 charities that multiplied the grant money to more than $160,000.

Fries Financial Services won its first Bryan Rotary Newman 10 award for business growth in 2004.

For her 40th birthday, Denise challenged 40 people and businesses to both give money and time to build homes for Habitat for Humanity; six houses were built.

Fries Financial Services won its second Bryan Rotary Newman 10 award in 2010.

For her 25th business anniversary, Denise helped raise food, funds and awareness for the Brazos Valley Food Bank and the Brazos Valley Gluten Intolerance Group.

In 2011, Denise was featured on the cover of Research Magazine when she was selected for the 2011 Advisor Hall of Fame. The article noted that Fries Financial Services has the largest retirement assets under management in the Texas A&M University system, and her induction was based on not only superior client service but also community involvement.

In 2009, Denise earned a master’s-level certificate in non-profit management at the Bush School of Government and Public Service to better help those charities where she devotes hands-on assistance two days a week.

With $200 million in assets under management, 63 percent of Fries Financial Services clients either work for Texas A&M or retired from there; and while she doesn’t exclude any income level from her services, nearly half of her households have a Ph.D.

Denise is known for hosting parties for her clients where they are encouraged to enjoy food and libations – and to meet representatives of local charities that would put a tax deductible donation to good use in the community if the client were so inclined to give. Many are so inclined.

A strategy for growth and a personal devotion to charitable giving are so entwined in Denise’s business DNA they are impossible to separate. The roots are easier to identify. About to graduate from Texas A&M with a degree in business management, Denise walked away from promising interviews with brokerage firms, some industry giants, because of corporate business philosophies she describes as “reprehensible” – they placed the corporation’s welfare over the best interests of clients. You won’t find any of those firms winning awards these days; none are still in business.

Twenty-two years old and still serving in the Army Reserves – she joined the Army to be able to afford college – Denise was convinced there was a better way to do business. She started her own investment firm.

“Clients are conscious that we earn our living doing this work,” explains Denise. “We are very intentional in what we do with the money we earn, and part of what we do is make the community a better place. There are many financial advisors to choose from. This is one more reason for people to choose us.”

 However a business chooses to support the community, Denise encourages creating a plan that meets defined goals. Her plan for Fries Financial Services has been to do something big every few years that involves having the nonprofits match, and grow, the funds she has earmarked for charitable contribution.

 Those early years putting herself through college and then building a financial services business from the ground up are also at the root of her empathy for both her paying clients and her non-profit “clients.”

 “I really understand people of all circumstances,” she says. “I’ve been there.

 “I’ll just meet you wherever you are, and that’s where we’ll start. Then we’ll take the journey together to where you need to go.”

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Denise Fries

 

1  When she joined in 1981, she was the first, and only, woman in her U.S. Army Reserve Engineer Brigade. 

2  She was an award-winning pistol marksman during her Reserve years; as a result, she has hearing loss in her “firing” ear.

Denise only had one opportunity to score high enough on the SAT college entrance exam to get into Texas A&M; she couldn’t afford a second $40 testing fee.

After her daughter Taylor was diagnosed with Celiac disease, Denise successfully campaigned for General Mills to make Chex cereals gluten free. Rice Chex is Taylor’s favorite cereal.

5 When someone stole Thor, the bronze Bryan High School mascot, causing $4,000 damage in the process, Denise  jumped in to restore him to his plinth after an 18-month riverbed to storage-shed odyssey. She had no connection to the school; she just inquired why Thor was gone, and when the school told her there was no money to restore him, she helped raise the funds.

6 Denise owns two other businesses including Taylor Made Gluten Free Bakery, named for her daughter. Launched in November 2010, it is the only dedicated gluten-free bakery in the area and supplies wholesale baked goods to 17 area restaurants and Dining Services at Texas A&M.

7 Taylor Made Gluten Free Bakery is currently test marketing buns and desserts for the Schlotzsky’s restaurant chain. Gluten Free foods are the fastest growing segment of the food industry.

8 Denise adopted a family displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, providing them with a furnished home in one of her rental properties; connecting them with job opportunities; and helped get a car donated so they could travel to work. The family now calls Bryan home.

9 Denise was hands-on in restoring The Garden District building for Fries Financial Services; the Texas Avenue building where Taylor Made Gluten Free Bakery recently expanded its operation; and her rental properties. She may be the Habitat Re-Store’s most devoted customer.

10 Denise keeps a small plaque on her desk with the message: “If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” Thomas Edison may have said it, but Denise Fries is busy living it.