Chris Pratt: We have a very special and esteemed guest on today. She is currently Chief Legal Officer for Bios Pharmaceutical Firm, Saniona. She graduated from Howard University with a JD and Rutgers University with a degree in Accounting. And she is a proud woman of color. Her name is Denelle Waynick. Welcome to the show, Denelle.
Danelle Waynick: Absolutely.
Chris Pratt: I just want to start by asking what was life like growing up and what led you to college? And then we’ll get into the discussion about how you paid for college. What led you to graduate school, how you paid for law school, and really what your steps were professionally to get to where you are today, having invested the amount of money that you have in yourself and in and in retirement.
Danelle Waynick: I grew up, um, fairly poor. Both of my parents did work. And when I say poor, it wasn’t as if I didn’t have a home over my head. And quite honestly, I didn’t realize that I was poor, uh, at the time. So, after my parents separated my mother and I, it was just the two of us, she then had to get on public assistance. And so we had food stamps and we had, you know, section eight rental assistance and there was not much extra around. And so the notion and concept of saving and even investing was nothing that I grew up with, understood, had anyone as an example of what that looked like as a child at all. And even quite honestly, into my teens and college years, there was just nothing about anything within my circle. Um, that would, uh, point to that as important or even, um, talk to me about it as a part of working and life and ultimately retirement.
So, as I mentioned, grew up as an only child, um, the product of divorce and being raised by a single mother. Um, I have been solely educated up until law school by public and or state institutions. And so I went to public schools. I actually excelled in public school because there wasn’t much outlet from, uh, there was a lot of money, so let’s do a lot of extracurricular activity outside of the home. We didn’t have that privilege. And so my outlet, my escape was reading. And, um, my mother tells me that I started reading at the age of three and I haven’t stopped yet. 50 years later, 50 years later, I’m still an avid reader. And absolutely, positively love to read. I say that because I credit my love of reading with my excelling in school, I was always a good student. I actually just skipped the second grade. So went from first grade to third grade.
Chris Pratt: Wow.
Danelle Waynick: Yeah. Which was interesting. Uh, it didn’t catch up with me until about the fifth or sixth grade where they were just fundamental math concepts that you learn in second grade. That completely eluded me. And I ended up getting a tutor. Not so bad that I had to stay back but it was a critical time when they’re really important grade. And I actually would question it, if someone had said to me, my child could skip second grade, I’d probably be like, Nope, that’s too, too important at the formative years to do that.
Chris Pratt: So you skipped a grade, you’re clearly excelling academically. Um, but you mentioned that you, you grew up in a single-family household when you got to, I don’t know, high school, did you try to make money? Did you get, uh, a job on the side or anything to try to make money, or were you really focused on your, on your academics?
Danelle Waynick: I was really focused on academics. Getting a job early on was not imposed on me, nor did my mother say, okay, you got to get a job so you can help out in the household because I was a very good student. There was no pressure placed on me to do that. And I really did focus all of my energy on school. My first job was actually not until I was between my junior and senior year of high school. And I was 16 at the time. That was my very first job, I’ll never forget, it was like a family friend. A family friend gave me a job. It was, um, I was a tear sheet clerk and at the Time newspaper and print way back then were big. And I would have to like, look through certain ads and identify the ads that they had placed in the paper or whatever to prove that they were there.
So something really tedious and I didn’t enjoy it at all, but no, I did not work until my late teenage years. And I nor did I have to. But what was interesting is that whenever I had money from a birthday or, you know, later on for graduations, I’ll never forget this bank doesn’t exist and you would never remember it. I opened up a passbook savings account at this bank called Midlantic in New Jersey, which is where I grew up. And I was just so excited to like, to open up my account with $25. And it just was like, I was just full of pride. I was like, Oh my goodness, look, I have my own, like, and I’m going to save it. I’ve never been one that as soon as I had money, I would automatically spend it like my cousins would do, or what have you. Like, I was always the one that was trying to hoard something and try to kind of recreate that good feeling I would have every time I would add something into the account.
Chris Pratt: And how old were you?
Danelle Waynick: This was when I had my first Midlantic account, I was still in high school. Right. I wasn’t like young, young, young. Yeah. It was high school.
Chris Pratt: So you’re probably under 18, right?
Danelle Waynick: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I was under 18
Chris Pratt: And that’s a great segway, I think, into, um, into talking a little bit about college, about investing in yourself. So could you talk a little bit about how you made the decision to just go to college in the first place and how you decided, or how you thought about how you were going to pay for it, if you, you know, took out loans or, or what have you, and then we can jump into even how you got into law school. I imagine being an avid reader has something to do with that.
Danelle Waynick: It did, but let me tell you, and I, and you’ll see this sort of sprinkled throughout our dialogue is that I don’t believe anything that happened to me or my course was just sort of happenstance. Um, I do know that none of it would have happened without hard work, obviously, but it was also for me, um, God’s direction for me. So after I graduated high school and I did, you know, I graduated fairly top of the class. I did, I did really well. And I had some, some scholarship money, uh, offered to me to attend Rutgers University, which is again the state university of New Jersey. So I stayed close to home, first person in my family to go to college, not just my mother and my father, but literally their siblings, as well as my cousins, my, my, I had one cousin who graduated high school with me and we were the first two to go to college from the way excited the family.
So there was no 529 savings plan. There was no, um, here, here’s what we tucked away for you, Danelle, cause we knew you were going to go to college. Everyone lived my mother and my father, despite the fact that they were separated, each of them live paycheck to paycheck and there was nothing left to save for Danelle’s school. So fortunately I had a scholarship for the tuition portion of Rutgers, unknown to me, there wasn’t enough money for the housing. And I did not realize that until the day that I went down to New Brunswick to move into my dorm and I had to come back home. And that was when my mother told me that it was not paid and it was not going to be able to be paid. So, um, I thought my dreams were going to be gashed, but they weren’t.
We were able to scrimp and borrow beg, uh, family members and friends, uh, for at least eight semesters worth of housing and dining for me. And I did finally get the opportunity to go back and live on campus.
Chris Pratt: Right.
Danelle Waynick: But unfortunately, probably about a month or two into the spring semester, you know, the money ran out. There was no more begging, borrowing, pleading, um, anywhere. So I had to come home and I had to commute. And so I transferred campuses at Rutgers and then got my second job as a receptionist in a local, uh, insurance company, Georgia’s Wife and Company in Montclair. And that is how I put myself through college. Now, fortunately, you know, again, this is 1985 and so tuition was maybe USD 3,000 per semester or something ridiculous that you could never, ever appreciate. Um, because you know that it’s like tenfold now per semester. And so I had to work and that’s how I put myself through college. I actually worked two jobs. Yeah. For every year I graduated in 1988 and there was never a time that I had fewer than two jobs, uh, to put me through, uh, college,
Chris Pratt: I guess, just jumping back a little bit. We’ll jump back into that. What was the decision to go to college? Was it always just the, you know, your mom just always told you, you were going to college, was it that you just always wanted to go to college? You mentioned that you were the one of the first in your family to go to college. So what drove you to do that?
Danelle Waynick: It was a need and desire. I didn’t know it, I wouldn’t not have phrased it like this at the time, but to break the cycle. And so I saw how my mother in particular struggled and recognized that she was limited because she did not have a college education and was basically at the behest of whatever job she could possibly get and sort of, you know, limited to that. I saw others within my family who were struggling, um, and who quite honestly, still struggled. And I knew and just felt and believed that there was, there was something more. And I had always said, even as a young child, not even knowing what it meant, I want to be a lawyer when I grow up. And it was just one of those things that people say, Oh, little girl, you know, what do you want to be?
And people would say different things. And I just, all, I just literally automatically said, I want to be a lawyer. And then it was like, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. It was like, well, why do you want to be a lawyer? And I would have to think back. And it was, I don’t know, but from my earliest memory, that’s what I said I wanted to do. And then I just sort of evolved into that. It was like, well, because I like to talk because I like to read because I like to write, because I like to debate. So it just all sort of,
Chris Pratt: Isn’t it crazy how those things, how those things work out. Yeah. Geez. And to your point, bouncing around a little bit here, to your point about the jobs. I just wanted to mention before I forget, there are actually quite a few jobs on campuses that are kind of tailored to, to people who, you know, maybe have to do a little bit of schoolwork while they’re working. So like a lot of the help desk jobs, right? You’re not helping people a hundred percent of the time. A lot of it, you’re just sitting there waiting for someone. Um, I know that we have some of the cooking jobs are a lot more active, the police, uh, assistant jobs, a lot more active, but, um, another great job is a resident assistant, an RA, um, free that entire non tuition portion is, is, is pretty much covered aside from maybe textbooks and whatnot.
So that’s a great job to hold at Penn state. That’s like, uh, I don’t know, about $15,000 a year that you’re, that you’re making and you’re working like, you know, maybe four hours a week. So yeah. So yeah, so there are definitely a lot of jobs out there to help with costs. But as you mentioned, that, uh, costs are just so high now, especially for tuition that, Oh gosh, that it’s really a struggle. So really one of the only cheap really cheap options is community college for the first two years of, of undergraduate that you could really, you know, hold a job and do your studies and kind of get through with as little loans or as possible, or, or with no loans, if you don’t have any sort of financial support from friends or family.
Danelle Waynick: And I think that is a phenomenal alternative to tell you the truth. I feel like the value of what you get from a, um, a community college is phenomenal. And the fact that you transfer then, or you graduate and then you finish at a four year institution. It really is about the degree that you ultimately get in the long run. So I feel like many times those students who actually start out that way are better off, certainly from a financial perspective than those who start out at the four-year institutions who don’t have the financial wherewithal to do it. And then they graduate with so much debt. So it is absolutely a viable alternative. And I can tell you as, as one who hires and has hired, I certainly would not as a hiring manager look down at all on anyone who started out, graduated from a community college and then went on and finished their degree, uh, at a four year university. Like for me, that actually demonstrates character and perseverance and just, uh, a will to succeed.
Chris Pratt: That’s, that’s really great to hear. And that’s, that’s super motivating. Yeah. I’m sure a lot of people would really need to, uh, need to hear that. And they’re even some two year degrees, you know, if, if you’re really struggling with, with school that you don’t even need to get a four year degree to do something that you’re passionate about or something that you want to do, it depends on the career and, and on your path, but for your career in particular, uh, you almost have to go to graduate school. So can you talk about how did you decide I want to go to law school and then, uh, how did you actually go about getting into and, and attending law school, taking your old status and all that?
Danelle Waynick: Yeah, so interesting. In, in retrospect it was not such a straight path or sort of predetermined. I think I’d mentioned before that I, in my head, I always wanted to be a lawyer without any concept of what that meant, as far as what it would take to do, how much it would cost to do it with skillset other than talking and debating was actually necessary. And so what I did was for undergrad, I actually chose a major that I felt it doesn’t matter whether or not I go to law school, I’ll always have a job. I just thought that had had that mindset. So I majored in Accounting. And at that time it really didn’t matter what your major was in order for you to get into law school. So I always had law school in the back of my head and it probably was,
Chris Pratt: Does it matter now?
Danelle Waynick: Nope. No, it really doesn’t. It is so incredibly broad. And given how, how lawyers actually counsel on so many different facets and there are just so many different areas in which you can work with a law degree. It really doesn’t. I mean, there were some fundamental courses that are helpful, but not this positive. I mean, I think I’m a perfect example and accounting major who went on to law school. I think those two don’t necessarily seem to go together. Right. You know, sometimes people think history, English, you know, political science, but you don’t, it really doesn’t matter. And if you know that you would like to practice law in an area, like say for intellectual property, oftentimes the science classes like biology and chemistry are actually the courses that you need to take because you’ll draw on those core experiences for the intellectual property practice in general.
So I had this accounting degree probably about my first semester of my senior year is when I started self studying for the LSAT. Again, money was always an issue for me. I did not have the luxury of taking an LSAT Caplin preparatory course. So I bought the book, um, at the bookstore at the time we didn’t have Amazon online. So I bought the book and I just studied on my own, like on the weekends. So in between the working the two jobs and between the carrying the 18 credits, um, and in my last semester, the 21 credits I had to self prepare in that regard.
Chris Pratt: Twenty-one credits in your last semester!
Danelle Waynick: I did! My last semester. Cause that’s what I needed. Remember that course. And I got that D on. Well, I had to repeat it. And so it was 21 credits. And, but, and I was just so though, determined to graduate in May of 1988, of course my advisor was like, well, you can take fewer credits.
You can graduate in December. I’m like, no, I want to graduate four years after I started, I have to do this. I have to do this. So 21 credits. Yeah, that was, I thought it was gonna kill me. Um, but it did, but it didn’t, that’s the message for the listeners. Right. It didn’t kill me. I, I made it and you can make it too. So I took the, took the LSAT and, and did you know decently enough where I got into law school again at Rutgers. I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that I was legacy, but I actually got a job in the accounting field and I was working for a big company called Prudential Insurance company based in Newark, New Jersey, which is literally right where I went to school and I was going to law school at night. Right.
So the same sort of pattern, as far as you got to work, that’s how you’re going to pay for your law school. And that’s what you’re going to do.
Chris Pratt: So you got a full-time job?
Danelle Waynick: Full-time job and going to law school part-time but literally, but then, and this is where I tell you that God had another plan in store for me. I got solicited by Howard University School of Law and they sent me an application, which I did not take seriously. I was like, Nope, I’m good. I’ve got my little auditing job. I was making, I was going to be making $25,000 a year. And it was more than like my parents made even right at that stage. And I was just like, okay, this is great. I’m starting no way. Am I going to law school in Washington DC? Now, what are you doing? But I did. I submitted my application and lo and behold, they accepted me.
And when you asked me at the top of this conversation, you know, talk to you about how you pay for law school. Remember there was no money for law school. My law school was going to be paid for A, by me and B from my salary, from my full-time job, because I was only going to go part-time I had no money in the bank that was enough for law school and no plan for how I was going to pay for law school. My mother and I went out on a wing and a prayer. Literally. She put the first deposit on her American Express card. And anyone that will listen to your podcast will know American express bills must be paid within 30 days of your closing date. And it was thousands of dollars that we put on that credit card without having any idea of how it was going to be paid. But what we knew was that this must have been for me because I didn’t seek it out. It sought me out.
Chris Pratt: Yeah.
Danelle Waynick: So we went out on faith. We found a cousin of a cousin who lived down in Washington, DC. I didn’t have an apartment, but I went down there and I started at this storied historical institution. Um, that would have been transformative.
Chris Pratt: And for those who don’t know, Howard, is this historically black college HBCU, right?
Danelle Waynick: Yep, Absolutely. Yeah. And those who are Howard graduates, uh, like Kamala Harris would say that it is THE historically black college and university.
Chris Pratt: I feel like there’s, there’s something there. I’m not going to get myself involved there.
Danelle Waynick: No. Don’t go there at all. Um, and what happens literally within weeks of my arriving at Howard, I was called into the Dean’s office and I was a little bit nervous that we have you, but as it turns out, I was entitled to didn’t even know it has applied for it, but I was entitled to the Dean’s scholarship. And so my law school tuition for all three years was paid for by Howard University. Yes, yes, yes. So, you know, for me that was a gift, certainly a blessing. I continue to give back to the institution. Remember before we talked about sort of different categories of investing, I invest in others that are coming and have come behind me because someone, someone that those funds had to come from somewhere, some, from some endowment of some sort, they invested in me. And so I feel absolutely positively an obligation to give back because I was so freely given to.
Chris Pratt: And that person will also had to be intentional about funding that scholarship and endowing that scholarship as well.
Danelle Waynick: Yup. It was part of their plan. It was part of their plan.
Chris Pratt: So you graduate law school and you’re starting the beginning of what would become a very successful career. Did you, did you start out in, in private practice?
Danelle Waynick: I did start out in private practice in a law firm. Uh, I started out at the law firm of Paul Hastings right after law school. That is actually the first time I had my orientation. When someone mentioned this, you know, funny little number and letter called 401k, and I knew nothing about a 401k plan. And this was, you know, here you have the ability to save. Oh, and by the way, the firm is also going to contribute to this plan. That’s going to help you when it’s retirement now,
Chris Pratt: Say what?!
Danelle Waynick: Yes, you know exactly. Right. So, you know, for many it’s like retirement, literally, I was 23 at the time. I’m like, what do I care about retirement? But I cared about retirement. And it was just something I literally had to do some research. And, um, I remember talking with an uncle of mine who at that time had started getting into some investing.
And I remember calling him up and I was like, uncle Joe. I said, listen, my company is talking about a 401k. And they do something called like matching. He was like, they match. And I said, yes. And he said, well, then that means that you need to contribute as much as you possibly can to make sure that they are matching every possible dime that they are obligated to match. And I said, well, I don’t understand what you mean. He said, you can’t just give $10 and let them match a small percentage of that. That means you need to give it, I’m making these numbers up. That means you need to give a thousand dollars so that they can get their, you know, their $60 as opposed to a smaller amount. You have to make sure that you are maximizing your ability to invest. So I said, okay.
And he used the funny thing that I’m recalling now. Oh my gosh. I haven’t thought about this in decades. I remember calling my mother and she had been working for AT&T, I don’t know, at that point, maybe 15 years at least. And I said, mom, do you have a 401k plan? And she said, yeah, you know, we have one here. I was like, are you maximizing your contribution into your 401k plan? She’s like, no, no. I may put like a little bit in there, but quite honestly, I’ve taken some loans against it. I was like, you’re not supposed to take any money out of your 401k plan. This is what you’re supposed to have when you retire mom, like you just have to maximize, like they say, you have to max out and I’m sure AT&T must be matching. Can you find out the percentage? And literally we became sort of went on that 401k journey together with the younger daughter, explaining to the older parents what needed to happen in order to maximize this thing called 401k that up to that point, I had never even heard of.
Chris Pratt: And just to clarify for everyone, a 401k is the type of retirement account that your company, uh, essentially sponsors. So usually they’ll match a percentage of what you put in and it goes into this big company pool. Um, and nowadays you tend to have more access to different funds, but, um, generally the, the company will give you access to some specific funds to invest in which increases the investing power, because everyone who opts in invests in the same, in the same funds together, uh, including the company match. So the, the kind of saying the why saying for the 401k that you’re referring to is that it’s free money if you have a matching contribution. And so you should max out your contribution, the contribution for 2020 is $19,500. Um, and it goes up every year to adjust for inflation. Um, and so the idea is that you want to maximize that, that contribution.
The interesting thing about it, though, and I’d love to hear your perspective on this is if you have loans, then you have, then you have an interest rate on that loan that you’re having to pay back as debt. And so there’s, there’s a lot of conflicting advice on this. And, um, uh, I think it really depends mathematically on what the interest rate is, what your matching contribution is. But if you have loans, essentially, uh, I say that you should probably pay back those loans, uh, first, especially if you have a high-interest rate, unless it’s something like a mortgage with a really low-interest rate and, and with, with, um, uh, some asset collateral.
Danelle Waynick:20 to 30 years!
Chris Pratt: Yeah. So I’d love to hear what, what you think about, you know, maxing out that 401k, uh, investment. It sounds like you didn’t really have a lot of debt that you had to pay back while also investing in your 401k.
Danelle Waynick: I, I didn’t. So I was truly blessed in that regard, but I will tell you that even if I had debt, I would have factored in maximizing my 401k plan. Now I can’t say that I would have done it at age 23. I just didn’t understand the significance of it, but having looked back, I can absolutely say without a doubt. And then for those that are listening or will hear or read, maximize your 401k. Now I know $19,500 sounds like it’s a lot of money for some, it all depends on what you can do, but the minimum that you should be investing is the amount necessary to ensure that your company is giving you everything that it can from a matching perspective, that is the minimum amount. And as far as a loan, um, again, I’ve been fortunate enough where,I haven’t needed to take that loan but I would suggest that it would need to be something where, you’re right the interest rates are so ridiculously high. But the concern that I have depending on what that amount of the loan is that that means that money is not working for you generating additional income, you know, being collected and aggregated with the rest of your 401k savings. So I do think it is an individual decision, depending on a lot of other different factors, including the interest rate of a loan. Like you said, other than a home loan that you actually have to make the decision and, and for many people, it actually makes good sense. I would suggest though, that if the loan that you have outstanding is a revolving credit, and it’s a credit card. If you’re going to take a loan out of your 401k to pay that off, then close that credit card account, or at least cut up the credit card. Cause you really want to continue to build your credit, but at least cut up that credit card. So you don’t have access to it because oftentimes what happens is you have the best intentions. You take that loan out of the 401k plan. You pay off your credit card, you’re now repaying your loan, which is actually good, cause you’re repaying yourself, including the interest, but then you start charging again.
Chris Pratt: I love that. Well, um, we’re out of time. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to you now. I think some really key takeaways there. You mentioned that sacrifice. And we had a saying in our college program that you want to sacrifice now so that you don’t have to sacrifice later. And, uh, so I think that’s really good. I think another great thing to keep in mind is like you kept bringing up and I mentioned originally being intentional with your money. And the last thing that I think is super important is how you mentioned that at a young age, you were developing savings habits. You weren’t saving arguably any meaningful amounts of money, but you were, uh, developing good savings habits. And those have clearly served you well throughout your life. So for folks listening, if you haven’t started saving it for like, Oh, I only make, you know, 50 bucks a week to just buy basic stuff. And it’s not really going to contribute towards my retirement, just saving, you know, 10 of that $50. It’s not going to contribute mathematically, but it’s going to help you in terms of developing those habits and, and those principles and, and building that character like you mentioned. So thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me.
Danelle Waynick: Absolutely. Best of luck. Take care.
Chris Pratt: Thank you.
Danelle Waynick: Bye-bye.END TRANSCRIPT