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Chris Dodds MG

Chris Dodds with his beloved family, William (left), Andrew, and wife M.J.

 

Chris Dodds, State High's all-time leading basketball scorer, longtime CFO at Charles Schwab and self-professed lifetime student is nothing if not well-rounded. To hear him tell it, he credits a good bit of it to 'good genetics,' a teacher who taught him how to tell a compelling story, and the drive to learn something new every day.

We caught up with this Maroon & Gray honoree to find out more about his life and career, and the teacher who made the difference. Read on:

 

SCASDEF: You've been nominated for the Maroon & Gray Society for your impact on State High. Can you tell us what that means to you?

 

CD: It's nice to be honored, and I'm glad that I'll be able to come back and visit my father while I'm in town for the banquet. The thing I'm most looking forward to, though, is the chance to talk with the basketball teams and the business students while I'm there. That's been my life's work, and it's so gratifying to give back and make a positive impact. There have been a lot of ups and downs in my life, and I think wisdom from setbacks is even more important that what we learn in success. I'd like to share that with them and hopefully make a positive impact.

SCASDEF: How did your time at State High prepare you for your career in finance?

CD: To tell you the truth, I give most of the credit to my genetics. My dad, Gerald Dodds (now 87) is a brilliant mathematician. He worked in defense work when my siblings and I were young – we didn't know many details at all until we were much older. He did not really devote himself to his career until we were out of the house, and after we were raised, he rose to president of HRB Singer. It was very important to him that he not neglect his family while he pursued his career, something I took to heart when my career was taking off.

I had good grades in high school, but my entire life was basketball. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master something, and my 10,000 hours were entirely spent on basketball. (Dodds would average 32.6 points per game during the 1975-76 season and 28.7 points per game in 1976-77, becoming the team's all-time leading scorer with a total of 1,844 points.)

The person who had the most impact on me in high school was my English teacher, Mrs. York. She taught me how to critically write, and it has affected me my whole life. Writing is a key differentiator, and gave me the skills to set me apart. Years later, when my sons were in high school, I taught them what she's taught me. No matter what your job is, if you can write well and tell a story, you will do better. Period.

SCASDEF: Do you have a favorite memory or funny story about your time on the basketball team, or at State High?

CD: There was a game my senior year (1977) against Westinghouse High, which was located in inner city Pittsburgh. It was an urban school, with a really competitive team. Their fans took over one side of the gym, and we had the other side filled. We had a group of students who would sit behind the opponent basket called “The Rowdies” who would do everything they could to shake up the other team. It was a madhouse. We weren't favored to win, but it turned out to be the greatest game I played in high school. I scored 36 points with 9 assists. After the game, their players came into our locker room to get my autograph. It was such a great moment after such a fierce game. Wonderful.

SCASDEF: In an article from SFGate in 2002, there's a lot of focus on your ability to find balance in the midst of a lot of financial turmoil, investing in your family and community. Can you catch us up on the last several years -- how do you find balance? What are you currently involved with?

CD: I took lessons from my father, and never lost sight of my family. I went to work early, but was always home by 6:00. I'd eat dinner with my boys and my wife M.J., talk about their day, put the boys to bed, then get more work done after they were asleep. When my sons William and Andrew were in high school, I didn't need to work full-time any more. I was at the pinnacle of my career – executive vice president and CFO at Charles Schwab, overseeing 20,000 people – but I felt like my time was running out with my growing sons. I wanted to have the freedom to do other things.

So I did! For the last 11 years, I've been living my version of the American Dream. I felt like when I played basketball, I was a uni-dimensional person – basketball was all the mattered. Then after that, I was uni-dimensional in finance, working my way up the totem pole. But now, I set out to be more dimensional. I read all the great works of literature. Watched all the great films. My wife and I have visited virtually every great museum in the world. I still serve on four board of directors, and that takes 40-50% of my time, but that leaves me with time to do a lot of other things that I love. My blessings are simply innumerable.

SCASDEF: If you could give high school students one piece of advice as they prepare for adulthood, what would it be? 

CD: It's very simple: Pay attention. Everything in life is a learning experience. My older son, William, is about to graduate with a PhD in economics from Stanford. He makes my dad and I look below average in math. My younger son, Andrew, is getting MBA at Stanford, and he's a seriously brilliant person with an incredible work ethic. I've told them relentlessly: be a learning machine. Set out to learn something new every day. In my career, I've been under some bad leadership and some good leadership, and I've learned something from every single one of them. Don't sleep walk. Pay attention. It's amazing what you can do.

Chris Dodds is a 2019 Maroon & Gray Honoree. The Annual Maroon & Gray Society Banquet will be held on May 18, 2019. Individual tickets are $80. To register, click here