At first glance, Bank of America Merrill Lynch executive Craig Young is exactly as you would imagine a coach and corporate manager to be. Sagacious and motivating, Young began his professional career as a football coach, coaching at Southern Oregon University, Princeton, and Sacramento State.
In 2005, he switched careers, leaving football for the wealth management arena
We spoke to Young about his improbable journey from football to finance..
LAS: Football to finance, how does that happen?
CY: As a young kid, I wanted to do something in business. Football was my passion but as a college student, I was also interested in finance. I felt that business would allow me to bring who I am into what I do and to put my best skill sets to work.
LAS: Did you ever play football?
CY: Yes – as a kid I could run very fast. I was the youngest in my family so I had a lot of experience running away from my older brothers. When I was 10 years old I was given the ball in a game and I ran the wrong way. I realized it and turned to run the right way. I scored a very long touchdown. In that moment, I fell in love with the game and it became an important part of my life.
LAS: Do you have a favorite pro team?
CY: The Denver Broncos. In 1987, the Denver Broncos were playing the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. My parents were rooting for the Broncos and as a young squirt, I wanted to root against my parents, so I became a Giants fan and have loved them ever since.
LAS: Now that you live in Los Angeles…USC or UCLA?
CY: (Laughing…). I just moved here from Texas so I root for the entire Pac-12 versus the SEC or Big 10. I just love great football!
LAS: Can you share a few of the life lessons that you learned from football?
CY: My mother was the first person to coach me and she taught me very early in life to have my own identity and to find my purpose in life. With that being said, football taught me that you have to rely on your partners/teammates. You have to help people understand and value their role, their importance on the team and the team is always greater than any individual. Football taught me how to be a great teammate, partner, and son…I carry those lessons with me everyday.
LAS: If Bank of America Merrill Lynch were a football team, what professional team would you say they resemble and why?
CY: Well…first let me say, we would be undefeated! It’s hard to align the firm with one specific team because there are so many different flavors to the firm. The beauty of Bank of America Merrill Lynch is that it allows you to bring those distinct flavors into your specific corporate role.
LAS: What has surprised you most about the field of finance?
CY: What I’ve learned is this: that you can come from any background and have success. If you come into this field thinking of others first, you will have tremendous opportunities to do well.
LAS: In leadership, you have the joyful side of it and the disappointments that come with being a leader. What has brought you the most joy as a leader at Bank of America Merrill Lynch?
CY: The most rewarding thing for me is seeing others reach their potential. That’s very gratifying. I don’t believe in terms like disappointment because I believe that disappointments are simply temporary setbacks to greater opportunities.
LAS: So how do you deal with temporary setbacks?
CY: You stay focused on your purpose. My philosophy is that I live my life in reverse. I figured out what things were most important to me, what I want to be proud of when I look back on my life and I live for those things…being a great father, husband, leader, mentor, and friend.
LAS: You spoke of your mother’s influence on your life. What characteristics do you possess that you inherited from your mom?
CY: My mother taught me so many lessons…she taught me the importance of non-judgment…being okay with who I am, and accepting myself. I learned to be a good steward of myself and if you can give that gift to yourself, then you can be that way with others. I’m an introspective person so I’m thoughtful about the decisions that I make because of her.
LAS: If you were asked to speak with African American males in high school, what would you say to encourage them to seek a career in finance or to work for a company like Bank of America Merrill Lynch?
CY: I would tell them to live their purpose first. I also would tell them that Bank of America Merrill Lynch places value on leadership, putting clients first…that this particular firm would allow them to be their unique self and to bring that uniqueness to the job.
LAS: Do you feel like you are judged differently in the wealth management arena because you are African American?
CY: I personally don’t and here’s why. I’m just a human being and I cannot allow the perception of others to become my reality. I’m not naïve to things but I know that if I’m a good steward of the business then I will be okay. My mother taught me early on that I couldn’t allow the emotions or thoughts of others to control who I am.
LAS: Talk to me about the company’s commitment to diversity. Have you seen it in action?
CY: Yes – I can say that Ben Prince, the divisional executive here in LA, is extremely committed to building a diverse team that reflects the communities that we are a part of. As you know we participate in the Taste of Soul, Urban Professionals and we have a strong African American leadership council within the firm. We do have a voice within the firm.
LAS: As the youngest of five, how did birth order impact your view of leadership?
CY: It taught me to be selfless especially when you are competing for resources…you have to learn how to negotiate…how to forge partnerships. My parents split when I was young so I grew up primarily with my mom and I got to spend a great deal of time with her. She was everything to me…my father…best friend…a great human being so I have an understanding, sensitivity for others that being the youngest helped me to forge.
LAS: As a son who was raised primarily without your father, how did that shape your view on manhood?
CY: Because I saw the after effects of what happens when someone is acting less than a man…because I suffered through that…it made me realize that I would be a real man. That I would provide for my family…my two sons…that I would be there for them, for my wife. So when I get home, tired after a long day, and my son brings his Tonka truck and wants to play, I get down on the floor and I play. That’s meaningful to him and to me.
LAS: You get to have a dinner party and invite six people (living or dead), who would they be?
CY: Mike Tyson because he was portrayed as such a monstrous person and he has managed to reinvent himself; Grover Washington, Jr., because I would like to thank him for his music and tell him how it got me through some difficult times in my life; Martin Luther King, Jr., because I would like to ask him how he was able to keep going in the face of risking his life during the struggle; my mother because I always told her that there would be a seat at the table for her and she was just an awesome person; Deepak Chopra – because his book, Seven Spiritual Laws of Success changed my life; and my oldest son so he could listen to their experiences and teach the future.
LAS: Do you have a personal manta for your life?
CY: Yes – live your purpose and don’t be afraid. That grounds everything that I do. It simplifies life in so many ways. As an African American man, sometimes we really don’t’ know what we are living for. We have to dig deep to find our individual purposes and live in reverse knowing that we can fulfill our true purpose. Finally, don’t be so scared to really live that you fail to try. It’s just life and you got to live it