Renwick Brutus moved to the United States in 1985 at the age of 24 and secured a job at Merrill Lynch Bank in New York City. Courtesy Renwick Brutus
Embracing challenges and discovering ways to overcome them is the major philosophy of Renwick Brutus. The philanthropic owner of Achievement Resources spent most of his life discovering the keys to success with the desire to pass them on to others.
Brutus was born in Guyana in 1961, during a time when the country began seeking its independence from British colonial rule. The country was split into two parties, led by the centrist Forbes Burnham and the socialist Cheddi Jagan. Though the two ran against each other with opposing views of government, they relied more on drawing support based on ethnicity, creating dissent between the country’s African and Indian populations, which provoked violent racial riots.
The riots, which occurred between 1963 and 1964, were the first major political upheaval witnessed by Brutus, who was only 3 years old.
“I remember being lifted up as a child because I couldn’t see over the windowsill,” Brutus said. “I could see fire in the distance of what were homes ablaze that had been burnt by arsonists from the opposition side.”
Brutus’ family lived on a dispensary compound, where his father worked as a dispenser for a sugar plantation, providing minor medical support to staff by mixing medicines and dispensing pills for illnesses or infections. Some of his father’s patients were people who had been injured in the race riots.
“I remember, at 4 or 5 years of age, seeing people run into that compound slashed with blood all over as they ran away from the perpetrators and toward the help that my dad could provide,” Brutus said.
In spite of the political turmoil, Brutus’ parents were committed to their children’s education to ensure their success. The entirety of their children’s education accounted for 50 percent of their income.
After graduating with a degree in economics from the University of Guyana, Brutus worked for two years as a research economist for the Central Bank of Guyana. He was responsible for the financial reports of about 34 public corporations.
Brutus came to the U.S. in 1985 at the age of 24 on the heels of his family. His first job was at Merrill Lynch Bank in New York City, where he worked in the trade of municipal bonds for about a year. He was hired at Bankers Trust in January 1987, the same month he began pursuing his master’s in business administration at Fordham University.
Brutus was responsible for accounting stock trades between companies. Every day, he would account and reconcile discrepancies in securities transactions worth about $8 billion.
“Pretty cool stuff, very important stuff,” Brutus said, ”so much so that, when we didn’t reconcile those accounts, (companies) couldn’t trade. They forfeited sizeable profits.”
After graduating Fordham University in 1990, Brutus left Bankers Trust because he became tired of “corporate games.”
“We did phenomenal work, and yet we were overlooked for promotion,” he explained. “So after a few of those experiences, I approached a senior VP, and I asked what would it take after doing this type of work to be recognized.”
The VP replied that he didn’t like Brutus’ khaki-colored suit. If he wanted to be recognized for promotion, he should always be wearing dark suits.
“I’ve seen senior executives within this very institution wear the same suit,” Brutus said. “He said, ‘Never mind them. Your suit needs to always be dark.’”
Realization dawned on Brutus that anyone could decide for whatever reason not to reward him for his contribution. Not satisfied with the odds against him, he left to pursue a career where his achievements would be recognized.
“I decided to pursue a career where I could take what I learned, what I like to do, which is fundamentally help people,” Brutus said, “and find a way to be compensated for that.”
Brutus knew he had an innate desire to absorb information, whether from the classroom, reading books, watching television or from personal experience, and passing that knowledge to others to better their lives.
He decided to enter the field of financial services, starting with Equitable in New York City. He met with individuals and small business owners and set goals with them to help improve their financial conditions.
“As time elapsed, I chose to work with them to help them go beyond that,” Brutus said, “instead to help them become financially invincible.”
To become “financially invincible” meant to go beyond investing and budgeting, and increase social capital by developing meaningful relationships and earning goodwill. Brutus chose to start helping his clients unlock their own personal skills, whether it was time management, communication or leadership, to help make them “irresistible” to prospective employers.
Brutus’ desire to help people improve their quality of life came from several “miracle moments” throughout his own life. Facing his own disadvantages and finding ways to overcome them motivated him to pass those methods on to others.
“I could think to being the child with asthma while my siblings and friends were outside playing, and I was struggling inside,” he recalled.
Being free from the distractions of childhood play gave Brutus time to think and question his position, why he was there and what he could do to make it better. Rather than allow himself to be defeated by his disadvantages, he instead embraced the lessons each of those events had to teach him and looked for solutions.
Brutus moved to Grand Rapids in 1994 to pursue other opportunities. He began working for Old Kent Bank as a financial advisor. He launched Achievement Resources in 1999 to provide both financial and business consulting. A few years later, he separated the financial branch from Achievement Resources and branded it Prism Wealth Management.
Brutus helped launch Universal Decontamination Management (UDECON) after speaking with two clients about expanding their business. Dan Krouskop and his business partner, Steve Null, who owned a remodeling company, had secured a license for a formula that could decontaminate chemical and biological hazards, but they needed more money to expand their business.
“I said you would be kidding yourselves if you’d think somebody was going to write a check and walk away,” Brutus said, “because you need more than just money. You need some management guidance.”
Krouskop and Null decided to offer Brutus ownership equity in the company.
In addition to owning three companies, Brutus also has high involvement in charitable organizations in Grand Rapids.
“I have a decent appreciation of what it’s like to be poor, to not have much, not have mentors, not have a blueprint for success,” he said.
Brutus is an advocate for providing support and resources to people who face systematic inequities. As someone who comes with the perspective of facing injustice and experience in proper financial management, he gravitates toward organizations that provide a system-wide approach to community development. Organizations that he’s involved with include Leadership Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Heart of West Michigan United Way, the Women’s Resource Center and the Rotary Club of Grand Rapids.
Brutus attributes his success in life to understanding the challenges others face and being able to use his own insight to the benefit of others.
“The philosophy of life that involves every day being the best you’re capable of being for the purpose of helping improve the condition of others, wherever they are, whoever they are, is one very effective way to be assured of a successful life,” he said.