Joe Moglia, FCRH ’71, blazed a trail of ascent at Merrill Lynch and then at the helm of TD Ameritrade over 24 years until, in 2008, he decided to return to the most rewarding work he knew—coaching football.
A New York City native, Moglia served as a baseball and football team captain while attending Fordham Preparatory School and then coached football at the Prep while working his way through Fordham College at Rose Hill. After graduation, he coached and taught at a Catholic boys’ school near the University of Delaware, where he earned a master’s in education, and later helped Dartmouth College win two Ivy League championships as defensive coordinator.
In 1984, after 16 years of coaching, family responsibilities and his interest in business led him to join the MBA training program at Merrill Lynch—as the one football coach among 25 MBA holders. “Everybody said, ‘This football guy is never going to make it here,’” he recalled. But he excelled, becoming the firm’s top worldwide producer and rising to high-level posts before joining TD Ameritrade as CEO from 2001 to 2008.
When he stepped down in 2008, shareholders had enjoyed a 500% return. In 2009 he became chairman of the board. Recently, TD Ameritrade announced that they would be acquired by Charles Schwab. The combined company will be worth $100 billion and have client assets of $5 trillion; When Moglia first arrived, these numbers were $700 million and $24 billion.
Prior to 2019, he was the head football coach at Coastal Carolina University, and in his first five seasons he led his team to the national playoffs all five years and to four conference championships, posting an overall record of 56-22 and a winning percentage of .718. In his last 11 years of college coaching, he has been a part of eight championship teams. He has also received multiple Coach of the Year honors, including the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year award, and was the recipient of the Vince Lombardi Award, and inducted into the Lombardi Hall of Fame.
His career is the subject of the 2012 book 4th & Goal: One Man’s Quest to Recapture His Dream, by Monte Burke. And Moglia has authored books on both coaching and investing—The Perimeter Attack Offense: The Key to Winning Football in 1982 and Coach Yourself to Success: Winning the Investment Game in 2005. This year he plans to start writing a third book, on leadership.
In advance of the Founder’s Dinner, Moglia sat down with FORDHAM magazine to talk about lessons learned in boardrooms and on the gridiron, as well as his struggles with a speech disorder that always draws surprised reactions whenever he tells people about it.
What was it like going from coaching football to the world of business when you joined Merrill Lynch?
While I didn’t have an MBA at all, I did have the background and skill set and characteristics that would make for an effective transition. I really believed that my 16 years of experience as a coach made me a better businessman. As a coach, it’s absolutely critical to be able to handle yourself under stress. You’ve got to be able to understand people, think strategically, and make decisions quickly. While it’s helpful for a coach to be reasonably charismatic, he or she has got to be a great communicator, a good teacher. And as a coach you’re very often representing a community at large, whether it’s a university, a community, a state, or a town.
What’s some other common ground between coaching and business?
You have to be sophisticated and smart enough to have a well-developed strategy that has contingency plans. It’s much easier to adapt and adjust it if you’ve got a well-thought-out concept behind it, and if it’s simple enough to execute. I’d say based on game plans and business plans that I’ve seen from my competitors, if they have a fault, it’s that they’re not simple enough. It may sound smart, it may sound great in a speech and in the board room, but if the 50 people who work for you don’t know it that well, they won’t be able to execute it.
In either field, knowing the strengths and the weaknesses of any part of your organization is critical. So if you want to expand in China and you have no competitive advantage in China, you should think that through. But many businesses will say, “You’ve got to expand in China! How can we not?” But if you don’t understand your core competencies, if you don’t know how to lever those competitive advantages, that’s probably not a smart idea.
You also have to adjust based on your people’s strengths and weaknesses. In football, when the first-string quarterback goes down, for instance, the second-string quarterback is often expected to know the same system. But he doesn’t have the same skill set, so you don’t ask him to do the same thing as the other guy. The second- or third-string quarterbacks will practice certain plays that the team has in common, but they should also practice the plays they know they’re pretty good at. And in business, for instance, there are certain skills a chief financial officer is supposed to have, but one might really have an understanding of marketing, and another might be stronger at strategy. So I will shape the job differently for one CFO than I would for another.
How did you come to return to coaching?
I stepped down as CEO of TD Ameritrade because the timing was right. But then I got a call from a group of alumni at Yale telling me there was a chance the football job would be open at the end of the 2008 season, and would I be interested? No transition like this had ever happened in college football. But I thought about it; I’ve always looked at the game like chess, with 22 pieces moving at once with a lot at stake, under serious time constraints with everybody watching, and I’ve always found that intellectually stimulating. And as a coach, I got so much satisfaction from working with the players. Having an impact on them was very, very important. That was my mantra my entire business career. My people mattered and I knew I had an impact on them. That’s what drives me.
So going back and representing the university, the community, the alumni, the faculty, and the students, but also having an impact on a 20-year-old, helping him really truly grow up—I didn’t think anything else could give me greater satisfaction in life.
Among your awards and honors are some related to stuttering, including the Hero Award from the Stuttering Association for the Young. Can you talk about your own struggles?
I have a pretty serious stutter. In grammar school through college, if I knew the answer to a question in class, I wouldn’t raise my hand, because I was afraid I couldn’t get my words out. And then I decided that I wanted to take this assistant coaching job at Fordham Prep. Well, of course a coach has to communicate. So I would practice in front of a mirror again and again. I had to speak at the Fordham Prep football banquet for three minutes; I can’t tell you how nervous I was, but I prepared 10 hours for that three minutes and I got through it. There is seldom a time in my life where I don’t have a fear that I’m not going to be able to talk.
I’ve spoken in a lot of different places and I am so incredibly well prepared. I know I’ve got something to say and I’ve probably said it 150 times already. So I have a confidence level with that. But sometimes when I’m tired or stressed, I really struggle to get my words out. Sometimes I would bridge to another word quickly—I can’t get out “banana,” but I’d say “fruit.” I’d trick myself, just to get “fruit” out there. I’ve done a good job of controlling it over the years, but stuttering is still a very, very real thing for me.
How would your life be different if you hadn’t gone to Fordham?
A big part of whatever success I’ve achieved across two career paths is because of Fordham. I’ve always said that. I’ll say it again.