Damon C. Butler – CUP Member Spotlight

What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field?

I am a problem solver. As a Corporate Vice President at New York Life, I make the New Business process better, faster and more efficient. My interest in solving problems began at an early age and led me to major in Applied Mathematics. After graduation, I served my country as part of Air Force Space Command for six years. Despite the lifelong friendships, excellent leadership training and my belief in the military mission, I wanted to expand my skill set in order to have a greater impact.  As an officer responsible for nuclear weapons, I thought that the best way to develop transferable skills was to obtain an MBA. Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business had a rigorous curriculum, but more than that, our entire class challenged each other to become leaders of consequence. Following Fuqua, I accepted a 2-year rotational program at New York Life in order to get a broad range of experience in Corporate America. Ultimately, I identified an opportunity that suited my skills / interests, created a job description and now work to improve processes, as well as develop performance metrics and research new technologies.

What is the biggest challenge of your work?

My biggest challenge is developing innovative strategies and working within the cultural norms of a 169-year old company to get our strategies implemented. Every day, my team and I try to think strategically yet understand the motivation behind the people who are going to execute the plan. One of my mentors shared the quote, "When strategy and culture collide, culture always wins." As we all know, even the best plans will fail without the buy-in of the people involved.

What is your proudest achievement?

Thus far, my proudest achievement has been paying forward the opportunities my family, professors and mentors have afforded me. While at North Carolina State University, I connected with the Diversity Coordinator, Dr. Wandra Hill, over our shared interest in improving the educational outcomes of African American boys in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). After watching boys who loved to learn transform into young men who hated school, we debated current teaching methods and how we would create a school where kids would feel more engaged through experiential learning.  Years later, I had the opportunity to develop growth strategies and implement operational solutions for the Community Academy Public Charter Schools in Washington, DC and saw firsthand how difficult it was to educate our youth.

Armed with these experiences and Dr. Hill’s tireless support, I founded the Wilson A. Butler Academy in 2010, honoring my father’s continuous pursuit of education and strong work ethic. This 1-week academy provides 6th – 8th grade underserved boys hands-on learning, leadership development and the knowledge that there are more opportunities in life than just entertainment and athletics. Every year, my father tells the students how his drive to succeed took him from the tobacco fields of Southern Maryland to the Senior Executive Service (SES) at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). My hope is that these young boys become part of the next generation of leaders and continue to pay it forward. I am so thankful for all of the opportunities my parents provided me and I’m proud that we are able to give back in a tangible way.

What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?

There are so many people whom I admire, but the single person outside of my family and close friends who has had the most significant impact on my life is Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Many of you may recognize his name from "The Tuskegee Airmen" movie but I had the privilege of escorting General Davis around Oxon Hill High School as a Junior ROTC cadet.

General Davis’s speech inspired me to join the Air Force and to search for solutions…not excuses…when life got tough. To become the first African American to graduate from West Point, General Davis persevered through four years of silent treatment from his fellow classmates. When I face adversity, I try to think about the adversity and obstacles that General Davis overcame. His courage, tenacity, discipline, and focus have left a lasting impression on me and set an aspirational standard for all of us to strive toward.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Life is a journey, not a destination. I have tremendous faith that a higher power will put me exactly where I’m supposed to be. My career goal is to not only be a critical component of a successful team, but also to make a positive impact on the world. Going forward, I endeavor to become a tri-sector leader by combining and leveraging my corporate, military and non-profit experiences. On a personal level, I want to learn to dance salsa, travel the world, find my soul mate and start a family.

What would be your advice to young people who want their careers and lives to have an impact?

Do what you love and do it often.  Work hard; play hard.  Learn continuously. Travel often. Getting lost will help you find yourself.  Some opportunities only come once, seize them.  This is your life. If you don’t like something, change it.  If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV or updating your facebook page.  Open your mind, arms and heart to new things and people. Ask the person next to you what their passion is and share your inspiring dream with them. There is synergy in our differences. Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them, so go out and start creating. Life is short. Live your dream and share your passion!