Life lessons from Brian Moynihan, Charlotte’s most prominent CEO

Life lessons from Brian Moynihan, Charlotte’s most prominent CEO
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I’ve heard Brian Moynihan talk to investors about interest rates and credit risk and litigation. I’ve interviewed him myself about Bank of America’s 15,000 employees in this city. But never before tonight have I heard him asked what he asks for when he prays.

The CEO sat down Wednesday night with Rev. Chip Edens at Christ Church for an intimate conversation on the intersection of leadership, faith and business.  This was a big event for Charlotte. Moynihan lives in Boston, though he says he’s here regularly on business. From time to time, he speaks at public events around the country, but this is the first time I can recall in the last four years that he’s spoken in public here in Charlotte outside of a Bank of America annual shareholders meeting or Chamber event.

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And it comes at a big time for him and the bank. Later this month, a special shareholders meeting will convene to essentially vote on whether Moynihan can simultaneously hold the CEO and board chairman role. The issue came up only briefly during the conversation, and Moynihan said he was all in no matter the outcome.

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Security was tight. At least a half-dozen police officers were in the church, and you had to show photo ID to secure a lanyard that got you in. We were reminded several times that photography and recording weren’t allowed.

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Here are some highlights of the hour-plus talk.

On being a CEO

Rev. Edens brought up a story about Moynihan working the scoreboard at his daughter’s lacrosse games, and asked how he had time to do it. Moynihan said he finds it odd that people expect him to have some kind of different life because he leads Bank of America. “I get up on the weekends and do things you guys do,” he said.

For young people aspiring to leadership, he said you have to try to learn all the time instead of being preoccupied with advancement. “If you try to have my job every day for the next 20 years, you’re going to screw it up.”

On work-life balance

Moynihan said this is nearly impossible to get right. “You just have to do what feels right,” he said. At one point, he found himself working until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., but he’s scaled back. “You have to create the ability for things to happen without you,” he said. It also is key to have a family who will challenge you on whether you’re living up to your obligations at home. Moynihan said he’s home on the weekends and typically one night during the week.

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On having a moral compass in the financial industry

Moynihan said the industry lost its way before the financial crisis. You can make money for money’s sake. But he said it’s imperative to start with the customer first and do things that solve problems for them. “Are you doing things that add value?” he said the industry must ask. How do you square your faith with business? “We’re here to help people,” he said.

On money

Growing up the son of a DuPont chemist in Ohio, Moynihan’s family was comfortable. But with eight children, there was a lot spent on education. Moynihan said his father at one point started charging them 4 cents per mile to drive them around. He worked growing up, including at the Bonanza steakhouse and mowing and cleaning at a Catholic church, where he said he gained an appreciation for the priesthood.

On the leadership lessons of rugby

Moynihan played high school football and spent one year on the team at Brown University. He quickly switched to rugby, which he played for 14 years. He said rugby is different in that there’s continuous play where everybody on the field plays all positions and touches the ball. It’s an organized team game. “If you’re not together, someone could break their neck,” he said.

On mercy and forgiveness

The conversation was led by a pastor, after all. Moynihan referenced the  mortgage modifications Bank of America has completed. He said it doesn’t make sense to forgive all loans, because that raises the costs for the rest of society. He also said that there’s the need in our society to live up to obligations, but that we shouldn’t put people in situations where they can’t possibly do that.

On diversity and inclusion

Twenty-five years ago, this was about statistical representation, Moynihan said. But nobody knew what inclusion meant. The bank believes it to mean that people of all religions and races can come to work there and not have to leave behind who they are at the front door and pick it up when they go home.

On what he prays for

Moynihan said he prays for wisdom, courage and strength to do what he needs to do. He said he hopes he’s remembered by his children as somebody who helped them, whether it was to be a better man or woman, to have opportunities, or when they were scared at night. “You really just want to have helped,” he said.

(Photo credit: Bank of America for Moynihan’s picture)

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