ALUMNI PROFILE: Ellen Crowley MBA ’87

Author: Christine Cox

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A babysitting job for a professional athlete inspired Ellen Crowley’s career path. But not in a way you might expect.

Though she was just 14, she noticed how the athlete’s family, her neighbors in St. Louis, spent money unwisely. “I saw excess and waste and people not shepherding and protecting their treasure,” she recalls. “It didn’t seem right based on how I was growing up. And my father [Jack Crowley ’57] and I had a lot of candid conversations about it. One time I said, When I’m older I’m going to help athletes save money so that their life is not turned upside down when their careers end.”

She does just that through her position as a vice president and financial advisor at CAPTRUST Financial Advisors in Raleigh, North Carolina. In this Q&A, Crowley MBA ’87 explains her unique job.

How is it different advising professional athletes versus non-athletes?
Athletes tend to make a lot of money in a short period of time. And if they maintain a lifestyle that is appropriate, they could be retired for 30 or 40 years. So as an advisor I really become part of their lives and do my best to create that legacy that maintains them for whatever they want to do. I even educate their kids about their future responsibilities and the privileges and perils of being in that lifestyle.

Also, my job is different because of the average career span of my clients. For example, the average NFL career is three years. And to receive the lifetime benefits of the NFL—health insurance, pension and other benefits—you have to have four years of active service. And that’s not an accident that the number is four years. My role is to guide them through these hurdles. Also, I need to understand the different leagues and how they get paid. For example, in baseball the contracts are guaranteed—if they get hurt, they still get paid. But in football they’re not guaranteed. If they get hurt or in trouble, they can get cut and the contract can be terminated.

Do the athletes listen to you?
Most of the time they do. I only have one rule, which is as long as you tell me the truth, I will have your back. But if you lie to me or try to be dishonest, I can’t work that way. It is best if they are open to advice.

Is your career as fulfilling as what you expected as a 14-year-old?
Yes, I absolutely love what I do. I feel like I’m making a difference. I have seen some people who went straight from high school into baseball and have done wonderful things with their money.

Why did you choose Notre Dame for your graduate degree?
I did my undergrad at Saint Mary’s with an accounting degree, but I wasn’t interested in going into auditing. And Notre Dame had the accelerated MBA with a concentration in taxation, so it just was a very natural progression to stay an extra year. As a result, all the offers I had from Big Eight accounting firms came back with higher offers, and the increase in salary paid for the degree in about three years. What a wonderful return on investment!

How do you stay connected to Notre Dame and Mendoza?
I was always involved in alumni clubs, and as I progressed in my career I started to network more. When I relocated to the Raleigh/Durham area, I didn’t know anyone so I did a LinkedIn search for Notre Dame grads and ended up meeting folks for coffee. As usual, the alums I met were more than helpful and welcoming. It’s always very comfortable walking into a game watch by yourself or going to a student send off with something major in common. Now I am president of the Eastern North Carolina club, and it’s been a great experience so far. I love it.

How did your graduate business student experience shape your life in general?
I think it gave me a good balance for work life. I learned the social aspects of interacting with colleagues and clients. But then I also benefitted from solitary time studying, which helped me learn discipline. Both gave me a very good business mindset.

What are some of your goals, either personal or professional?
Well, I love to travel. I once took six months and traveled to Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific. Work took me to Japan and South Africa. Now I want to go to Thailand and the Pacific Rim.

And another goal is peace of mind knowing my clients are going to be financially secure. That’s my professional goal.