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Courage to Open New Doors

Tyler Wilkinson reflects on career, family and faith

Since starting his first newspaper route for the St. George Spectrum at age five, Tyler Wilkinson has not looked back. Today, he serves as managing partner, chief financial officer and chief compliance officer for locally owned Soltis Investment Advisors, a national investment advisory firm with over $6 billion in assets under managed advisement.

Founded by entrepreneurs, Lon Henderson, Hal Anderson and the late Hyrum Smith in 1993, the company started out with a key differentiator—they are a “fee-only” firm.

"There are a lot of actual and potential conflicts of interest in the financial industry,” explains Tyler. “I’m grateful that from the beginning, Soltis chose to be a fiduciary, which requires putting client interests first. Most in our industry follow a suitability standard but stop short of a fiduciary responsibility.”

Because earnings come through client fees and not from any investment product the company recommends, the Soltis business model removes potential investment bias—in the client’s favor. As evidenced by the company’s growth, the model works. Soltis has garnered top industry recognition from Barrons, the Financial Times and PLANADVISERS magazine, and has attracted individual and institutional clients such as Norwegian Cruise Line, Lifetime Products, Associated Food Stores and United Way.

Tyler was offered an entry-level, investment analyst position at the outset, becoming only the fourth employee to join the firm. The company now has 55 employees from Seattle to Boston, and following successive promotions, Tyler is grateful to have risen to his current leadership positions. And unless you are a long-time St. George resident, you might not know that this finance executive—and married father of five—is also a quadriplegic. 

Tyler's career with Soltis represents a major pivot from his trajectory in the early 1990s as a youth sports sensation with a probable professional career with the National Football League or Major League Baseball. To his competitors, Tyler was the athlete who could not be beat, and to college recruiters, he was the ultimate pick. With multiple scholarship offers, Tyler was well on his way to achieving his dream. Then, on February 16, 1991, the community was shocked by news that Tyler became paralyzed from the neck down following an automobile accident caused by drowsy driving.

The chronicle of his extensive hospitalization and rehabilitation is captured in the documentary film, “Tyler: A Real Hero,” produced in 1994 and narrated by NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, Steve Young. At a defining moment that would shape his new reality, Tyler chose faith, family, friendship and fortitude over fear, doubt, self-pity and defeat.

For Tyler, faith and family are tightly intertwined. Devout in their faith, Tyler remembers from childhood his father sacrificing “a lot of time to service,” with his mother lending her support. Quoting from the poem, “I’d Rather See a Sermon,” by Edgar A. Guest, Tyler says his father is the man who lives the sermon.

“My father always put the Lord first, yet we didn’t feel like we were second,” Tyler recalls. Though they experienced the friction that is common between parents and teens, he confides, “I always knew I could go to my dad and get really good counsel.”

Tyler says he was shaped by the family culture his parents established of “we can do it” and “give your best effort.” During a three-year period following his accident and while he was attending school, his parents, Randy and Linda Wilkinson, assisted every morning to help get him ready and out the door.

The two biggest influences he credits during his young life are his two older brothers, Troy and Travis. “I wanted to impress them,” Tyler admits. “They were always encouraging me and instilled in me a belief about my potential when they said, ‘This kid’s going to go places!’”

When Tyler’s big goal of professional sports was rendered impossible, he set out for what he calls his “bigger goals”—marrying the right person, starting a family, achieving a fulfilling career and giving back to his community.

In 1994, his devoted girlfriend, Jennifer Orton, became his wife and caregiver. Tyler and Jennifer both descend from southern Utah's early pioneering families, and as evidence by 28 years of marriage, they have the tenacity to get through anything. Juggling family demands with five children ages 11 to 23, which includes a set of twins, they live intentionally, striving for gratitude and a healthy sense of humor to see them through the inevitable, day-to-day challenges.

On a given workday, Tyler starts his morning as early as 4:30 a.m. to get ready for the day. In Tyler’s off hours, the pair regularly speak together to youth groups and other forums, sharing their message of encouragement to accept life’s challenges and overcome hard things.

Tyler’s first speaking engagement after the accident was at his high school commencement—and he was apprehensive. He later realized that sharing his story was one way that he could give back, and, like his father, he is very generous with his time.

“I’ve learned that doors open up to you when you say yes and get outside of your comfort zone. As I have said yes to opportunities, the doors have opened up even more,” Tyler says.

The success Tyler and Jennifer have obtained together comes in part from the acknowledgement that as people, we all need each other.

“Lots of people tell me I am an inspiration, and I have received constant encouragement because one of my challenges is very visible. All the time, people are building me up, and in some ways, I feel I have an unfair advantage,” Tyler shares.

“Everybody is going through challenges, through hard things—hopefully we can recognize that and be the person who is encouraging others. We need more positivity and optimism.” As he concludes, Tyler invites, “Let’s be the ones passing it on.”

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