Disclaimer: I am a shareholder of $OPFI. That’s how I first heard of coach Joe Moglia.
About Joe Moglia
Joe is the former CEO and Chairman of TD Ameritrade, former head football coach of Coastal Carolina University, chairman of Fundamental Global Investors and Capital Wealth Advisors, chairman of FGNA (now $OPFI), Executive Advisor to the President of Coastal Carolina University.
As head football coach of Coastal Carolina, he led his team to the national playoffs all 5 years of his first 5 seasons, was conference champions four times. During his 25-year career as a college football coach, he was part of 8 championship teams. He also received multiple Coach of The Year honors including the Eddie Robinson national coach of the year award and was inducted into the Vince Lombardi Hall of Fame.
In the business world, he was at Merill Lynch for 17 years before becoming CEO at TD Ameritrade in 2001. When he stepped down in 2008, shareholders had enjoyed a 500% return.
Joe has received multiple other honors, I won’t name them all. He has been inducted into 7 hall of fames and is the receipent of 3 honorary doctorates. More details can be found in the wikipedia page on him.
His dad was an Italian immigrant. Came to America when he was 11, couldn’t speak english. Never finished 8th grade. Ultimately sold bananas and apples in the Bronx, his entire life.
Joe worked for his dad from the time he was 10 till the time he was 22.
His mom was an Irish immigrant, never had more than a 10th grade education. She came to the US at 24 to marry his dad.
They lived in a gang area of New York City and Joe was the oldest of 5. The seven of them lived in a 2-bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment.
Two of his very best friends got killed in high school. One from a drug overdose, and the other killed by the police while robbing a liquor store. Joe’s done a lot of bad things: been drinking since he was 10 (!), stole, was in fights all the time…but he never did drugs.
However, had it not been for high-school football, he would 100% have been robbing the liquor store with his best friend (the one who got shot and killed by the police). That was a wake-up call for Joe.
So he decided to try and get the best college education he could. He was doing well in football and baseball, and he wanted to go to a school that would allow him to play both sports. Instead…his girlfriend got pregnant, which meant he couldn’t go to college and play sports. Which meant no scholarship or financial support of any sort.
His dad told him “No problem, come work with me full time in the food store, maybe one day we’ll get two food stores!”. Joe thought he really needed to go to school despite having no money but his dad told him that would be a big mistake. Joe’s answer: “I’ll figure it out”.
So Joe goes to Fordham University in the Bronx. He’s got to pay every dime of his education while also supporting his wife and daughter by driving a yellow cab in New York City, a truck for the Post Office, and working at his father’s food store. Needless to say, it wasn’t the most fun a freshman ever had in the history of college freshmen. It was also the only time in his life when he didn’t have sports.
To fix that, he went to Fordham Preparatory School, an all-boys Catholic high school located on the same campus as Fordham University, and they offered him a coaching job.
So he majored in Economics, coached football during the season, and worked for his dad in the off-season. By the time he became a senior, he loved the coaching and decided that if he could get a high-school head coaching job with his 3 years of coaching experience, he’d pursue that. And if not, he’d go to Wall Street.
He applied to about a hundred schools and got the job as a 22 years old head coach (youngest head coach in the history of the State of Delaware) at the Archmere Academy in Claymont.
Fun fact: another guy that played football there, although graduated 3 years before coach Joe arrived but he got to know him a little bit, is no other than President Biden!
Fast forward a little bit, it’s 1981 and Joe is the Defensive Coordinator at Dartmouth. He wrote and published a book on football. He now has 4 children.
And remember: football is not an easy life. It’s 7 days and 80 hours a week, no days off for 5 months and your entire career is depending upon what you do on Saturday.
But then this happens: in October they’re in the middle of a staff meeting and the sheriff from town comes and asks to speak with Joe. He says “Coach I’m really sorry” and he hands him divorce papers.
Joe can’t afford to live independently and take care 4 children and their mother. So gets permission to move in the storage room by the football offices. He didn’t mind that so much, but…it had no heat. In New Hampshire. Four or five months a year, he could see his breath! He lived there for 2 years.
January 1984: Miami upsets Nebraska for the national championship. They ultimately offer Joe the Defensive Coordinator job. There could not have been a more perfect opportunity for his goals and the progression of his career. But…it meant he would have to live in Coral Gables, Florida, while the kids stay in New Hampshire with their mother. He couldn’t afford to fly back and forth. For 6 months a year, he would not be able to see his children.
Toughest career decision he ever made. He turned down the job. He didn’t think he could do his job as a coach if he wasn’t able to fulfill his responsibilities as a father.
This pretty much put a stop to his coaching career.
But he always had an interest in Wall Street. So he hustled. Eventually, Merril Lynch gave him an opportunity and put him in his institutional MBA training program. There were 26 of them: 25 MBAs and one football coach!
Everybody said this football guy who doesn’t know to spell “stock” is probably not gonna make it.
A few years later, all those MBAs were working for him.
His career at Merril Lynch lasted for 17 years and he could not be prouder of it.
Following the dot-com bubble burst, the technology firms (especially the online brokerages) were going out of business. Ameritrade was one of these struggling businesses. In 2003, they offered Joe a job and he decided to take it. He left Merril Lynch, a major global financial conglomerate, to go to a company that was literally going out of business.
After 7 years as a CEO, the stock is up 500%, outperforming every financial firm on the globe. He had never been in more demand in his life. After that, he moved on to the role of Chairman of the board. TD Ameritrade was later acquired by Schwab in 2020 for $26B. When Joe first joined, it was a $700 market cap.
After stepping down from the role of CEO of Ameritrade, Joe got a call from a group of alumni at Yale telling him there would soon be a football coaching role available and they wanted to know if he’d be interested. At this point in his life, he hadn’t coached in 20 years. He thought about it for 5 or 6 months and decided why the hell not. He wounded up for two years at Nebraska, one year at UFL in Omaha, and finally was recruited in 2021 by the President of Coastal Carolina to be their coach.
Life After Football
At some point, football comes to an end for most players. Most of the time for college athletes, it happens after college.
Every college football coach in the country will say: “Oh yeah, we want to lay a foundation that will allow our guys to grow and find a career, etc”. But when you ask them: “What exactly do you do about that?”. To which they will reply: “Well we have counselors on campus, we give them talks…”. But what does a football program do to help them? In reality, they don’t have that much to say, other than being supportive of the concept.
Here’s what Joe did at Coastal Carolina, that nobody in the nation did.
They gave up 30 mins of practice a week for that. Nobody else in the country does it. Thirty minutes with the team to talk about stuff that has nothing to do with football: leadership, important things happening in the world that the guys should be aware of, or anything that could help them later on in life (financing, budgets, etc).
A specific example: terrorism and ISIS.
A real threat and the awareness that there are people everywhere in the world with unlimited funding and the desire to take out the United States. How do we defend against it? Through the military. So coach Joe’s guys developed an appreciation for the military and an understanding of the sacrifices needed for everyone to enjoy the freedom they have. Which then leads to a conversation about responsibility and the question of how do we take of the military? Well, we push our political leaders to have enough courage to make the right decisions for our country long-term. So what right do we have there? We have the right to vote.
In 2016, in 140 years of college football (division 1, 2, 3, any place), the only program whose entire football team voted was Coastal Carolina. Today, it has become a common practice to give athletes the day off so they can vote. Joe was the first to do that when nobody was talking about it.
Other types of conversations happening within LAF: what happens when you get pulled over by a cop? Let’s talk about the difficult neighborhoods you grew up in. Why is it important to save money? Etc.
No rules but BAM
Under coach Joe, there were no static rules. But there was a standard.
The standard was and still is:
- stand up on your own two feet
- take responsibility for yourself
- always treat others with dignity and respect
- live with the consequences of your actions
This standard applies to every area of Joe’s life whether it’s football, personal life, business. This is what he expects everyone around him to live up to.
This is called B.A.M. (Be A Man) because in football Joe had 250+ men to lead between the athletes and the staff. But the standard applies to everyone including his three daughters and every female executive working with him. The standard is about leadership.
Joe’s definition of love is the “commitment to the well-being of others”. You can witness it in sports teams where the players care for each other; it can also happen in businesses, in the military and of course in primrily in the family.
Leadership, in that sense, is not about how cool or smart YOU are. It’s about your people and how you take care of them: your family, your colleagues, your employees, or your shareholders.
A few personal examples.
Joe grew up in a gang, saw himself as a badass. When he was about 13, they had a family meeting. The meeting was about his mom who had to go to the hospital. No big deal he thought, she’ll be gone for a couple of days and be back. Didn’t think much about it. Remember: 7 of them living in a 2-bedroom apartment, so not a whole lot of privacy.
Joe remembers seeing his father kneeling on the bed and he was crying. This is the only time in his entire father’s life that he saw him cry. He was that worried about his wife.
When Joe went to bed that night, he realized he could lose his mother. He also realized: he never told her that he loved her. And for her, after leaving everything and everyone behind in Ireland. her five children were her entire universe. She unconditionally loved them, always had a great glass-half-full attitude. It hit Joe that just those words would mean the world to her, and he - the tough guy, never said them. So he started praying to have a chance to make up for that. Which he did after his mom came back from the hospital.
He had just started at Ameritrade and BOOM: 9⁄11. The buildings collapse. Merril Lynch headquarters were 100 yeards to the World Trade Center. Joe lives 200 yards from there.
At the time, two of his kids had gotten jobs at Merril. He gets a call from his daughter. She first tells him everyone is OK. Two hours later, she tells him that her brother went back to the site to see if he could help and they hadn’t heard from him since.
For the rest of the day, in Joe’s mind, there was a good chance that he had lost his son. But he couldn’t do anything about it. And as horrible as that would be, he had a sense of peace about it. Because if he did lose his son that day, there was nothing in the world he could have told him that he hadn’t told him already. His son knew how unconditionally he loved him.
Let’s apply these two examples to the business world.
These two examples show how Joe leads his life and his businesses.
If your people know that you have their best interest at heart, they’ll follow you anywhere. They’ll do whatever they can for you and your company.
So a true leader commits to the well-being of others around him.
Bonus: who did Joe learn the most from?
By far, what had the greatest impact on Joe’s growth and mental framework was what he learned from his parents.
His mother was always glass half-full, unconditional love, always had a smile on her face. Of course, you couldn’t disobey her, but she was always POSITIVE. Joe’s personality and sense of humor undeniably come from his mom.
On the other side, his father was working in the store 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. They never took a family vacation. His priority was to make sure he took care of his family and Joe inherited that from him; that and the hard work ethic, the willingness to do whatever he has to do to be excellent.
But contrary to his mom, his dad’s glass was always half-empty. And any problem was never his fault. It was somebody else’s. And because he had no hobbies, he developed some real stress over the decades just working in the food store. He had three or four guys working for him in the store, but he didn’t treat them very well, often yelling and screaming at them.
So despite loving his father, one of the things that Joe learned from him, besides work ethic, being the best you can be and taking care of your family, was how to manage people and even more importantly: taking responsibility. The opposite of what his father did.
So much of the leader that Joe has become, he learned from his father, in terms of what not to do.