From warrior to Wall Street vice-president.
Sounds like an unusual career move, but Charlie ‘Chuck’ Mills III, a former Marine corps captain and pilot turned investment bank executive turned entrepreneur, says it’s not as strange as you’d think.
“In the context of an aircraft you are required to think multi-dimensionally and think about multiple things at a very fast pace, especially in a combat environment. As a bond trader you are required to look at multiple screens very quickly and make decisions quickly just as you would in a cockpit. You are required to wear a uniform – I wore a suit and tie every day at Bear Stearns. In the military it was a flight suit. The transition, while it sounds like an entirely different career move, it was for me a very easy career move,” he declares.
Mills, who will be speaking at a US Embassy-hosted lecture entitled ‘Weathering the Storm: Your Business Survival Checklist’ on Monday at the Cave Hill School of Business, served in the Marines for nine years before he moved into the business world. He served in the first Iraq conflict of 1990-91 and eventually became the ‘Marine One’ helicopter pilot for Presidents George H. Bush and Bill Clinton between 1992 to 1994.
After leaving the military in 1994, he joined former Wall Street giant Bear Stearns, eventually becoming a Vice-president for emerging markets. In 1999, he began his third act when he founded Salera Capital Management to offer short term and asset based lending to small businesses.
After all of that, he took a hiatus from Salera from 2002 to 2004 at the behest of Virginia Governor Mark Warner to serve as the Director of the Department of Business Assistance.
Still, more difficult and more fascinating than his career moves, is his personal journey from a humble childhood as the last of six children raised by a single mother, to an adulthood filled with success and achievement.
He was just three months old when his parents divorced and his then 22 year old mother took on the burden of raising six children on her own.
With no high school diploma and now no husband, his mother literally had to work day and night in order to maintain the family.
“She had to work two jobs to make ends meet. We needed government assistance and other things to help support us. As a child for me it was just our life – it didn’t have a negative impact because my mum had a brilliant spirit,” Mills comments.
Even though she eventually went on to get her GED (General Education Diploma), college credits and a better job, the difficult circumstances imbued his mother with a fervent respect for the power of education.
“She would emphasize – look at what I have to do in order to clothe and house you guys. She was very seldom around because she had a morning job and an evening job and she would remind us ‘look at what I have to do because of my lack of education which would allow me to get just one job.’ Every parent wants their child to have a better life than themselves,” reflects Mills.
Not all of his siblings went on to have that better life she envisioned for her children.
“Based on where we had to live, my two older siblings started experimenting and were introduced to life circumstances that were not the best. So my mother lost her two oldest kids ‘to the streets’ to use that lingo. Both of those kids went on to pass away within a nine month span well before they were age 35, due to the environment that they found themselves placed in,” shares Mills.
That year of tragedy marked a turning point in the family’s life as Mills’ mother took drastic action to protect her family from the negative influences around them.
“When I was a freshman in high school, my mom she packed up her car and drove as far south as possible to get away from that environment. She just drove and drove – in her words ‘to save her last four kids from that type of environment,” says Mills.
The family moved from Illinois to Houston, Texas – over 900 miles.
“It was pretty clear for us what could happen – the impact your environment could have on you. That was loud and clear as a frustrated 16 year old, having left all of his childhood friends behind. It was also clear she was right. The way to improve your livelihood had to be education,” recalls Mills.
He took her message to heart.
A few years later, he left warm Texas for chilly Newport, Rhode Island to attend the Naval Academy Preparatory School so he could achieve his childhood dream of learning how to fly while staying true to “the instilled education values” of his mother.