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Lessons from a Quarterback, Technologist & Treasury Secretary

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Pershing’s INSITE 2017 conference had many fans this year. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers took the stage for the final session on June 16 in San Diego, wrapping up three days of sessions on leadership, investing, technology and more that drew about 2,000 financial professionals. (Rodgers filled in for tennis star Serena Williams.)

Rodgers, who was interviewed by Pershing Advisor Solutions CEO Mark Tibergien, told the crowd that, “When you play in Titletown, they expect titles. I hope to get back there soon.”

The athlete, who grew up in Northern California, shared that he follows other sports and sports legends carefully. Rodgers said that NBA star Michael Jordan once explained that he drew inspiration “and challenged himself [from] negative things being said” by his critics.

“In business and athletics, you’ve got to be self-motivated and continue to be so,” the NFL player said. “Find [your] sources of motivation and harness them. Never settle. Never. [It's about] continuous improvement.”

The 2011 Super Bowl champ added: “I have a deep personal desire to be great and to have the satisfaction of proving people wrong.” In other words, put that chip on your shoulder to good use.

Other keynote speakers at INSITE, which was held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, included Jack Lew, former head of the U.S. Treasury; Oscar Salazar, founding CTO of Uber; Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit; Rana el Kaliouby, co-founder and CEO of Affectiva; and Platon, an award-winning portrait photographer.

“The annual INSITE conference is a true testament to BNY Mellon’s investment across the enterprise in our clients’ success,” Pershing CEO Lisa Dolly said in a statement. “This year, we [brought] yet another group of exceptional speakers to offer clients unique insights and the latest thinking on macro trends impacting their business, as well as emerging issues and new technologies that are transforming the industry.”

Leadership Lessons

Tibergien told the crowd during his chat with Rodgers that Sports Illustrated and leadership blogger Brian Dodd have highlighted the following management tips from the quarterback:

  • Be a continual leader

  • Always be in control

  • Create multiple options

  • Commit to continual personal growth

  • Be comfortable in your own skin

  • Always have something to prove

To these nuggets, Rodger added: Be a really good notetaker. He said he is always listening to what the coaches and players say about certain game strategies or plays they like to run. “Be as engaged as they are,” the NFL player said.

The two-time Most Valuable Player also said that being aware of one’s image and public persona at all times is extremely important for leaders. “As the face of the franchise, I don’t want to be in the headlines, be in the wrong place at the wrong time or make the organization look bad,” he explained.

With the ubiquity of technology, “You’ve got to be smart today.” Back in 2005 when he was drafted, “You could get away with [things], which is very different from 2017. Now, the stuff will get out there. … A reputation takes forever to build and one second to get thrown away.”

Succession Planning, Team Work

Rodgers said he is in the process of creating a “post-career plan” for himself. “Seventy-five percent of NFL players are either broke, divorced or unemployed after [they start] retirement, which is alarming. A lot of it, I think, is about taking the time to find a mentor or explore [other] interests,” he explained, adding that the NFL’s off-season programs for players “are great.”

He advises others to “make contacts” and “to have an exit strategy.” To get to know other players, “Today, you have to make a more concerted effort [than in the past] to interact with teammates,” and that means taking time away from smartphones.

Earlier, players used to sit around and play cards, backgammon and other games. “Now, we’re all on [our] phones in the locker room,” Rodgers said.

“It’s key for leaders to be authentic in their style of leadership and to make the effort to get to know” those they work with, he explained. Some younger players are nervous interacting with Rodgers at first, he said, “so then I have to give more of myself to make them comfortable.”

He spends time going out to dinner with his teammates and taking some of them to special events like the Kentucky Derby. “A well-connected team off the field is going to show up at the right time on the field,” Rodgers said. “Chemistry and leadership often get you over the humps you face.”

The quarterback does try to relate to younger teammates via technology, as well. “You’ve got to find out what apps they use and follow them on Instagram,” he said. It’s about learning “what makes them tick and what they are into, so you can figure out how to motivate them — what buttons to push on … to see how people are inspired.”

Further Thoughts

When asked about the current trend in kids sports to give out trophies to all players and teams, rather than trophies just to the winners, Rodgers said he sees participation trophies “as garbage,” adding “I never had one.”

While he pointed to other sports legends as role models, the quarterback also described the impact of his fourth-grade teacher. “He challenged me academically and personally to be a better person,” Rodgers explained. “He opened us up to ideas about life, very interesting ideas … like how your heart and your life intersect … and the importance of being a well-rounded individual.”

Other topics on the quarterback’s mind these days include managing off-the-field issues. “I want to be in control of my narrative,” he said, rather than letting others speak for him. “I challenge you to take back the narrative of your life, one, and, two, to live presently.”

In seeking to sharpen his focus and be more present “in the moment” — in conversations and overall in his life — Rodgers has turned to meditation. “For me, it’s about … living in the present, which is not a cliché, … and putting down [phones and other devices] to enjoy being with people, nature and just being,” he explained.

In other words, he aims to find the time to be authentic. “I just love these opportunities to share who I am,” the quarterback said. “Don’t let special moments pass you by [which can happen] when you’re looking at something that is stealing your attention.”

Privacy is ‘Currency’

At a session on June 15, technologist and Uber co-founder Oscar Salazar shared his view that privacy “is a currency” and not a convenience. He also explained the value in taking time away from technology, which for some might mean feeling bored.

“When you are bored is when you think, ‘What do I do next and what is there to do?’ Being bored is a trigger of creativity,” said Salazar.

Kids today have easy access to the games they like, and entertainment is available 24/7. “When I grew up, you had to wait for your favorite shows!” he said. And though he helped build a global business after getting tired of waiting for a cab in the rain, “Patience is important for the future,” he explained.

When it comes to decision making, however, we need to accept our limits, Salazar said. “I love humans, but at the end of day it’s about … limiting human decisions. We have emotional, cultural and confirmation biases, and with so many data sources … how you feel … influences your decisions,” he explained. With technology, humans should be able to make better decisions. “It gives humans superpowers, I say,” Salazar said. “For certain decisions, we are not the best; humans can do better.”

Former Treasury secretary Jack Lew believes humans have an edge. At INSITE, Lew said that while decision making “is all in the data,” we “cannot trust formulas and machines.”

Speaking as a lawyer who works with economists, Lew argued, “Common sense means that analysis works or doesn’t work.” Humans can look at information critically, and this common sense “is the thing that technology will not replace.”

At the same time, Lew acknowledged that the American people “are not in the place where we used to be” due to globalization, technology and other factors. “Where things are going for our kids and grandkids, the key to the economy of the future is to be flexible, if you are working in services or industrial professions,” he explained.

“It’s no longer likely that the precise thing you trained for is going to be the same for the next 10, 20 or 30 years,” Lew said. “Our post-secondary schools are not doing as well they used to at [teaching] critical thinking and at giving today’s students a technical background for math and [computer] science. It’s all about flexibility,” the former Treasury secretary said.


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