Charisse Rivers Smith
Charisse RiversSmith39

Chief executive and founder,
Zinnia Wealth Management

Fast Facts

  • Dreamed of being president of the United States when she was young.
  • Favorite place is Sorrento, Italy.
  • Would love to have dinner with Patsy Cline, FDR and the creator of the movie "Avatar," James Cameron.

Don't tell Charisse Rivers Smith that she can't do something. At age 22, Ms. Smith willed her way on to two national TV shows. First, she auditioned for "Fear Factor" and was rejected, but psyched herself up and talked her way back into the production. Then she decided to enter "ESPN Fitness America" and came in in third place nationally.

Once Ms. Smith makes a decision, she doesn't waste time.

In 2007, a few months after entering the insurance industry, working for a large company, she decided to open her own insurance agency. The firm, now an independent RIA, developed into a wealth management practice when she earned her Series 65 in 2015.

Money — or a lack thereof — has been a dominant theme in Ms. Smith's life. Raised by a financially struggling single dad in the Florida Keys, she experienced financial privation in her youth. She remembers going to a restaurant with her father and two siblings and ordering one grilled cheese sandwich for all four to share. Not only did the restaurant owner feed the whole family for free, but soon the entire community rallied to help them.

Her experience inspired her to pay it forward by establishing the Grilled Cheese Foundation to help middle-school and high school students foster their talents. The foundation provides financial literacy education and fundraises for scholarships that cover either college tuition or activities such as dance or sports.

"The kids and their excitement inspire me and keep my energy up," Ms. Smith said.

— Deborah Nason


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