Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tough Leadership Lessons from ex-CEO Joe Moglia

After succeeding in business, Joe Moglia is living his dream as head coach at Coastal Carolina.
Since high school, Joe Moglia wanted to be a college football head coach.  He was certainly en route to becoming one, when he was offered a job in 1983 as a defensive assistant coach for the University of Miami.  But he determined that the paltry $33,000 salary was not going to be enough to support  his ex-wife and four children, so he turned it down.
He quit football. He decided, somewhat improbably, to go to Wall Street (he was 34 years old and had no experience in finance). The man who hired him for an entry-level position at Merrill Lynch said that Moglia was "a complete lunatic. But his intensity was incredible."
Reference: Former CEO Joe Moglia proving coaching chops at Coastal Carolina (emphasis, added).

Moglia strikes me as a tenacious man, who clearly has what it takes to transition from one arena to another, then back again.  What is his stuff?  Let me draw some working lessons for his story.

He has to have (a) the elemental smarts to learn, and thus acquire the knowledge he needs to succeed in football and business.  But knowledge in itself is not sufficient to be as successful as Moglia clearly was in business. Clearly he also has (b) the smarts to size up a situation and make sound decisions about it.
Moglia quickly became the top salesman at Merrill, and eventually worked his way up the corporate ladder to just a few rungs from the very top. In 2001 he made a risky jump, becoming the CEO of what was then known as Ameritrade, the online trader that looked, at the time, like a crisp cinder falling back to earth after the fireworks of the dot-com bubble bust. What later became known as TD Ameritrade grew from a $700 million company to one worth $10 billion in just seven years under Moglia's leadership. Perhaps most impressively, Moglia -- despite much pressure from investors -- refused to deal in subprime mortgages, which caused the bubble that nearly led the world off the financial cliff. In those dark days in 2008, when competitor E-Trade lost $1.3 billion and Moglia's former employer, Merrill Lynch, lost $28 billion, TD Ameritrade actually made a profit of $800 million.
Even then, it's even more than sound judgment: He has (c) the courage to make tough decisions, while under duress and against convention.
Moglia's ultimate goal upon leaving TD Ameritrade was to land a college head coaching job. After some understandable trepidation from athletic directors, he took a job as an unpaid coach for the Nebraska, where he was hamstrung by NCAA regulations. Essentially barred from performing any on-field instruction, he still spent long hours with the coaching staff studying film and soaking up everything he could from head coach Bo Pellini and the rest of his staff. After two years with the Cornhuskers where he remained unable to attract any college head coaching offers, he got the Nighthawks head job. Initially recruited for his managerial expertise as someone who could save the cash-strapped team and league (from financial ruin, Moglia eventually demonstrated that he would make a capable coach for the team. Moglia treats his stint with the Nighthawks as one of his final opportunities to prove that he is worthy of a college head coaching job.
That meant everything came down to one job: Coastal Carolina, the 9,300-student school located in Conway, S.C., just a few miles inland from Myrtle Beach. (The school was once affiliated with the University of South Carolina, thus its unusual mascot: The Chanticleer was a clever rooster in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales). The fact that there was an opening at the school was a bit of a surprise. David Bennett had been the coach at Coastal since the football program's beginning in 2003 and had a record of 63-39. But earlier in 2011 he'd become better known for his wacky "We need more dogs!" video that went viral. To the president of the university, David DeCenzo, it was just another sign of a program that had gone adrift. He'd had enough.
After a blowout (70-10) loss to South Carolina this afternoon, Moglia's Coastal Carolina is now 15-7 under this wing.  It's a remarkable record for a man who spent nearly 30 years away from football and who basically slummed it before realizing his high school dream as head coach.

Needless to say, (d) drive for results was a key thread that wove through the fabric of his personality and thus football and business as well.  There are many well-intentioned, tenacious people out there, but they do not succeed unless they can produce the goods, so to speak.  

Finally, it takes (e) considerable people leadership skills to persuade others to do what one needs them to do: Not just his previous employers and managers, but also his players and staff.  No doubt, he had the football acumen to win the head coach job with Coastal Carolina.  But it is imperative to have influencing, engaging and teaching skills to have such a successful run.

Congratulations to Joe Moglia, indeed.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

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