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“Put your values first”, Craig Cecilio and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Put your values first: Raised by a mother who was the head of our household, I naturally believed in women as leaders. In my company, 45% of leadership roles are filled by women. Having grown up with strong female representation has enabled me to recognize the contributions the women in my life make to the […]

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Put your values first: Raised by a mother who was the head of our household, I naturally believed in women as leaders. In my company, 45% of leadership roles are filled by women. Having grown up with strong female representation has enabled me to recognize the contributions the women in my life make to the world around them.


As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Craig Cecilio.

Craig Cecilio is the CEO and Founder of DiversyFund, a loving husband, and a dedicated father to three beautiful daughters. A family man at heart, Craig’s mission is to break down the barriers that keep most Americans from investing like the privileged, well-connected, and wealthiest 1% in our country. Craig believes the American Dream should be available to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. That’s why he founded DiversyFund in 2016. With DiversyFund’s online platform, Craig combines the power of crowdfunding with cutting-edge technology. Craig is a graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1996. He received his California real estate license in 1998. Before DiversyFund, he sat on the board of ARTs (A Reason to Survive) which promotes art as a means of therapy for children.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in a working-class family in Connecticut. My mother was a schoolteacher, my father was in retail. They both were very hard workers. My father struggled with his career, and my mother always would tell my father, “I have a stable government job, why don’t you start your own business?” but he never did.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I am an avid reader. It is tough to pinpoint one book that made such a profound impact, as I have taken a bit from everyone’s story. If you want to start somewhere, start with Napoleon Hill’s The Law of Success, which is an older book. Throughout, Hill mentions that you need to have 20 traits to be successful, that you will need to be a perfect 20 for 20. It is an easy read; it may seem intuitive — but it really resonated with me.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

There are a few quotes that I really enjoy, for example, “Never say never, because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.” ― Michael Jordan. I often find myself thinking that you have only one shot at life so you might as well go for it. At my age and at this point in life there have been many times where I’ve had to remind myself of that.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

You are not born a natural leader, nor can you read a textbook and become a great leader. Leadership is developed over a lifetime. Especially living in today’s environment, where everything is in constant flux. How could anyone prepare for that? I believe leadership is having the courage to make the tough call. Sometimes you don’t have the data or all of the information to hand, but you still have to make a decision, which is tough for some people. In today’s environment, there is a leadership void, and people are worried. They want certainty in uncertain times, so we must provide as much transparency and empathy as possible and balance that with holding people accountable.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I am a lifelong fitness junkie. I have a CrossFit trainer that I meet two times per week and combine running an additional two to three days a week. I also practice the Wim Hof Method Daily which is a tremendous stress reducer. I found it worked so well for me day-to-day that I recently built an ice bath in my garage that I use two to three times per week for about four to five minutes at 37 degrees. In order to effectively deal with daily stresses, I make sure to stay proactive when it comes to health, fitness, and spirituality. This not only makes me a better CEO, but a better father, husband, and person. Usually, when I have something stressful on my calendar, I make sure to stay on point with my routine as I always figure out a way to get through it. For example, we are in the process of a key hire, and I have several candidates I am considering. Before I make a decision I will go for a long run, which will help give me clarity on who the right candidate is. As a CEO, I have shareholders as well, and they all have different personalities. Before a big shareholder meeting, I occasionally dive into some meditation or breathing exercises to help me stay calm and have a clear mind to lead the meeting.

Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

Systemic inequality has been an issue in lots of places for a long time, particularly in the financial services sector. This unequal access to investing options was a key reason I started my business. I am determined to find ways that utilize FinTech platforms to help democratize access to wealth-building tools and strategies. The issues we are now seeing play out in a cross-industry, cross-demographic way are not new. There is nothing going on today that I have not been a witness to my whole life. I think it is very healthy that we are dealing with these issues.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

Diversity and inclusion should be a part of the foundation of every company. It’s a win-win: you maximize your business potential by creating the largest possible audience for your product while simultaneously building a product that serves the needs of all. I am consciously aware of the need for a diverse perspective in all that we do and that intent is reflected in the organization we are building. Here at DiversyFund, we just launched our financial literacy program. Everything that I do starts with considering the needs of the everyday investor. We create initiatives to provide services and tools to everyone, regardless of their net worth. You can say the creation of the company has been based on the principles of diversity and inclusion for everyone.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Given the tumultuous landscape that has characterized all of 2020, it’s clear to me that decisive leadership that is informed by diverse perspectives is the way forward. Research shows that companies led by diverse teams are more profitable than those that aren’t, so from a business perspective, making sure your teams are diverse just makes sense. The social impact that businesses wield is increasing every day, and it’s going to be the companies that serve the most people in the best way that are going to see long term success. That dedication to diversity and serving the everyday investor is a cornerstone of how I run my business.

Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

Surround yourself with diverse people: Since childhood, I have surrounded myself with people from all walks of life. I’ve had African American friends, mentors, and have kept this philosophy when it comes to my company. I view the world as everyone being equal and this informs how I run my business.

Put your values first: Raised by a mother who was the head of our household, I naturally believed in women as leaders. In my company, 45% of leadership roles are filled by women. Having grown up with strong female representation has enabled me to recognize the contributions the women in my life make to the world around them.

Be genuine in your efforts: It doesn’t seem genuine to me when people have to put processes in place, it seems a bit like the Rooney Rule in the NFL. Don’t do it just for the sake of doing it — really believe in creating a diverse and representative team.

Consciousness is key: You have to consciously have intent until it becomes a habit. It won’t just come to you one day; I have spent my whole life with diverse and inclusive groups of people and have gotten to the point where it is natural and genuine for me, and I surround myself with a staff that is the same way.

Weave these principles into every aspect of your work: If it’s not a consideration in everything you’re doing, you’re going to fall short. My company is dedicated to creating a more equitable society and it is a key part of our mission. This guides all our initiatives and ensures that it is always top of mind.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

Here is a quote that I have on my desk:

From the Book of Tao: Healing

“Fire cools. Water seeks its own level”

No matter how extreme a situation is, it will change. It cannot continue forever. Thus, a great forest fire is always destined to burn itself out; a turbulent sea will become calmer. Natural events balance themselves out by seeking their opposites, and this process of balance is at the heart of all healing.

This process takes time. If an event is not great, the balancing required is slight. If it is momentous, then it may take days, years, even lifetimes for things to return to an even keel. Actually, without these slight imbalances, there could be no movement in life. It is being off balance that keeps life changing. Total centering, total balance would be only stasis. All life is continual destruction and healing, over and over again.

That is why, even in the midst of an extreme situation, the wise are patient. Whether the situation is illness, calamity, or their own anger, they know that healing will follow upheaval.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Right now, I would like to have a meal with my father who is 83 and has underlying health issues. He has not met his newest granddaughter in person, Caprice Bella who was born on 02.02.2020.

How can our readers follow you online?

My Social Channels:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/craigcecilio/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CXCecilio

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cxcecilio/

Facebook: https://craigcecilio.com/

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