It is Dan Charlier’s determination and perseverance that landed him the position of Senior Executive Vice Chairman at his financial firm. He hopes to instill that same motivation in the rest of the colored community. Because of that hope, he started the Black Excellence Leadership Network. Just recently, the network had its first Zoom meeting and a couple of thousand individuals joined. Through this experience, he wants to give people the same opportunities he has had. Charlier even looks at this unique opportunity as a leadership development program rather than a financial line of work.
This endless motivation and want to instill passion stemmed from an early age. His mother always exemplified what it meant to have a strong work ethic, and Charlier adopted that attribute into his own life.
Charlier now shares that same encouragment with his wife, daughter and three boys. Rather than asking his boys what they want to be when they grow up, he asks them about the problems they want to solve instead, thus molding the same heart for others Charlier himself possesses.
Tricia Love: One of the things that captivated me about your story, is the honor you give back to your mom and grandparents who raised you back in Haiti. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Dan Charlier: Yeah, my mom left me with my grandmother in Haiti when I was two years old because she dreamed of going to the United States. And she
went through a really bad divorce, left Haiti, and went to the U.S. to make enough money to send home. I actually met my mom when I was nine years old when she sent for me. Once in the U.S., I grew up in Brooklyn, New York with a single mom in a little thousand square foot apartment.
One of the things I valued from my mom was her work ethic. My mom would get up at 4:30 a.m. and make a full-blown dinner. I remember waking up, and the house would smell like someone was cooking a full meal, which she was. Then she would leave the house at 8:00 a.m. She would come back at six o’clock in the evening, then she would go to her part-time job from 6:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. And I never heard my mother complain. She just made it happen. I never thought my mother didn’t spend time with me or didn’t love me. She was always positive and did whatever she had to do to provide a roof over my head.
When I got older and left, I went into the Marine Corps and I knew I wanted to support her because she was still working 16 or 17-hour days. So, when I first got into the Marine Corps, I would give her $25 a month. As I got promoted, the $25 went to $50 a month. The highest I went was like $120 a month. I was introduced to Ed Mylett in 1998 and he shared with me the business opportunity and I asked him how I could make an extra thousand dollars a month so I could support my mom. And that was my initial goal back in 1999, which I obviously achieved. She’s been retired since 1999 now. And two years ago, at our national convention, I brought her on stage in front of 50,000 people and shared her story. She thanked everybody so much.
I’m very grateful she had the courage when she was in her twenties to leave a third world country. It was also really dominated by men, so she could not do anything without my dad’s signature, and my dad wouldn’t sign anything. But she finagled her way out of the country. I really respect her toughness. That’s why I’ve always had a passion for single moms, because I identify with that.
Tricia Love: That’s beautiful. How old were you when you joined the Marine Corps?
Dan Charlier: It’s a funny story. Although I didn’t have a father figure, I had my woodwork teacher in high school by the name of Mr. Quigley. Mr. Quigley told me, “I want you to go to college, and I want you to become an architectural engineer.” So, I went to the University of Farmingdale, Long Island.
I was sitting in an auditorium with a couple of hundred people during my second semester. The top guy was talking and when he was done, I went up to him. I said, “Hey, my name is Dan. I want to do exactly what you’ve done. If you were me, knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?” He said, “I would drop out and go get a job because I did everything they told me to do and I’m hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. And I can’t find a job because I don’t have job experience.” For some reason, that made sense to me. So, I dropped out, went back home, and told my mom. My mother told me, “Well, if school isn’t for you, then you can’t live in this house. You’ve got to figure out what you’re going to do.” I was working at Harlem hospital as an exterminator and I saw a Marine one day while going to work. I got this idea and was like, maybe that’s what I’ll do. I told my mom and she said “Okay.” And the next morning she called the Marine Corps recruiter and told the recruiter I wanted to go into the Marine Corps. She puts me on the phone right there, and that’s how I ended up going into the Marine Corps when I was 20 years old. I ended up being there for 13 years.
Tricia Love: Wow. Mama doesn’t play.
Dan Charlier: Yeah. When I graduated boot camp in February of 1987 down at Parris Island, I told my drill instructors that I would be back to be a drill instructor within three years. My first duty station was Quantico, Virginia, and there in the military, they have what they call meritorious promotions, where you get promoted above and beyond your peers. It’s like the top 1%. I started qualifying to go on all the boards to present. I picked up three meritorious promotions, and then once I became a Sergeant, I went back to Parris Island to Drill Instructor school in 1991 where I trained five Platoons. From there, my first Sergeant sent me to Washington DC to compete for Color Sergeant of the Marine Corps. There were 35 other Marines competing. I was selected to be the 23rd Color Sergeant of the Marine Corps from 1993 to 1995. I was entrusted to carry the National Colors at the White House for all the State dinners and functions. I also led a group of 23 Marines for the military District of Washing DC.
From there, the Marine Corps asked me to take over the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, which is the number one drill team in the world. I was in charge of that platoon in 1995. I was also being groomed to be a Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.
Tricia Love: Then you made a career shift from a former Marine to today, a successful business leader who is a Senior Executive Vice Chairman of World Financial Group. Can you tell us a little bit about that leap of faith?
Dan Charlier: When I was stationed in Marine Barracks in DC, I was around a lot of civilians, and I was around a lot of Marines that had retired. I had an experience with a very well-known Sergeant Major that was a hero of mine. He had retired and said he was now working at a school, and then it really hit me hard. This guy had about 30 years in the Marine Corps and was every Marine’s idol. And after 30 years, he’s working at a school. And this isn’t from a judgmental standpoint, but I remember being disturbed by it. Then I met Ed Mylett in 1998 when he was 29-years-old. He was making over $50,000 a month and I was barely making $3,000 a month at 33-years-old. And I always had different jobs. I was at the air crash fire rescue, I worked 10-hour days at construction, and worked at Sam’s Club. Yet, I still found myself living paycheck to paycheck. I then realized I didn’t understand anything about the financial industry. I didn’t understand anything about entrepreneurship. But I understood if I associated myself with the right mentor and the right opportunity then I could learn those skills. So, it stemmed from not knowing what I wanted, but knowing what I no longer wanted.
That was probably one of the toughest decisions I had to make too. I was one of those guys that bleed green and wanted to serve for 30 years. Making the decision to leave the military to become an entrepreneur was a very emotional decision for me, but I got the courage from my mom. I thought of her strength. I thought to myself, if she can do that, I can do this.
Tricia Love: Where you are right now with the company?
Dan Charlier: Right now, I’m the only African American Senior Executive Vice Chairman within World Financial Group and I sit on the Field Council Board. We have a team of over 5,000 active associates right now. 60 of our leaders are six figure earners to a quarter million to a couple of million dollars a year. I am Vice Chairman for Miracles for Kids in Los Angeles which is a non-profit organization for children.
I’m also about distribution. I want to go from 5,000 associates to 10,000 associates, to 15,000 associates. And for me, it’s really about getting back into the community.
LA County has 9.8 million people. The average median income is $56,000 a year. The IRS put out a publication that said 93% of the population makes less than a hundred thousand dollars a year. What I want to do is have local examples of success. Then the kids of the community can see people that look like them and talk like them that come from the same adversity they did. Because of that, I look at what I’m doing as a leadership development company where I can take an average, ordinary person and give them a platform that allows for self-improvement in order to live the life the life they deserve.
Tricia Love: What does being the only Black Senior Executive Vice Chairman mean to you in these current times of racial injustice?
Dan Charlier: That’s a very touchy subject for me because I was born in Haiti. Growing up in Haiti, obviously everyone’s black. When I came to the U.S., I remember my first experience in Brooklyn at the age of 9 or 10. I was at the corner general store in my neighborhood. I remember coming out of the store at the time, and I didn’t speak English. This kid was smoking a cigarette outside the store and blew the smoke in my face. Then he says, “What are you looking at, nigger?” And I didn’t know what that meant because, first of all, I spoke French, and I didn’t grow up with that. But as I started talking to one of my friends, he got heated up about the situation and there ended up being a big fight in my neighborhood because of it. This prejudice was even in the African community. I remember the Jamaicans thought they were better than the Haitian. The prejudice wasn’t just white and black. I also remember in junior high school learning that any time you see the police pull up, you better run, because someone’s going to get someone. We always knew about police brutality. That was embedded in me ever since I was 10 years old.
This played into my military experience too. I said, I’m going to be so good at what I do that I cannot be denied. During my first parade, this guy comes up to me and says, “Color Sergeant, I have a question for you. This is a beautiful parade, but where are the African Americans? You’re the only one on deck.” And I looked around and I was like, “Oh shit, that’s a good question. I don’t know.” The next day, I went to my First Sergeant and asked that question. My First Sergeant looked at me and said, “You don’t need to worry about that. Stay in your pay grade.” So, I went to go see Colonel Sollis. I posed him the same question and he says, “Well, go talk to the First Sergeant because he’s in charge of recruiting.” And I told the colonel he told me that I needed to “stay in my pay grade” and that I didn’t “need to worry about that.” The next day, Colonel Sollis relieved the First Sergeant. They put an African American First Sergeant in his place. And we found out that the previous First Sergeant would go down to recruit and only recruit young, White Marines that fit the criteria. Non-African Americans. So, that’s how we got African Americans to come to the parades.
I remember saying to myself, “I’m going to be the first one.” And that’s what I did. This is also why we started a Black Excellence Leadership Council. Since we did that, so many African Americans come up to me and say, “Now that we see one of us up there, we know we can do it.”
Now when it comes to my career in finance which started at World Financial Group, I remember my first convention in 1988. I was watching the Gala Award ceremony, and none of the big leaders that were winning were African American. I remember saying to myself, “I’m going to be the first one.” And that’s what I did. This is also why we started a Black Excellence Leadership Council. Since we did that, so many African Americans come up to me and say, “Now that we see one of us up there, we know we can do it.” That’s why we formed the Black Excellence Leadership Council. Now we’re highlighting all the African American females and men and their different stories. We’re starting a movement because as a culture, we have blocks. And I didn’t really understand how other cultures strategically do things to stop us from going to certain levels.
Tricia Love: That’s powerful! Let’s dive into you and your beautiful wife and your baby. Have you received negativity about being in a biracial relationship?
Dan Charlier: Yeah, that’s a really good question. My wife, Sophia, is German, she’s a businesswoman of her own, and also a celebrity in Germany. When we first started dating, I went to Dusseldorf for the first time and I asked her how Germans feel about biracial relationships. She started laughing and said Germans love Black people. For example, Heidi Klum dated Seal for many years. No one in Germany cared about that either. They both became highly successful. As soon as we went public, the reaction toward our relationship was just positive, especially when our dear, beloved daughter Amanda was born. Actually, when my wife revealed her pregnancy in the TV show she was filming, “Celebrity Big Brother”, we received an announcement that RTL, Germany’s biggest network, wanted us to do our own documentary show. The whole pregnancy through birth was filmed to share our love story with all of Europe. The whole time I was in Germany with my beautiful wife, I didn’t feel any adversity. I know in the U.S., there has always been that stigma about African American males dating perceived white women. I never gave it a lot of energy, because I believe if two souls find each other, that’s a wonderful, rare chance. My wife and I feel very blessed that we found each other and that we are able to create our own beautiful family. We call ourselves ‘love-birds.’
Tricia Love: Do you think this movement has brought opportunities for people to talk about these kinds of issues?
Dan Charlier: Especially with George Floyd, it’s brought a lot of these conversations that have been going on for years. The police thing has been going on for years. But more people are now educating themselves on these different topics and are seeing that it’s not a victim mentality. So, now it’s becoming a movement and people are starting to ask questions.
Tricia Love: Being a parent, do you plan on having conversations around people saying, “You’re not black enough” for your kids?
Dan Charlier: Like, what exactly does “you’re not black enough” mean? For example, our beautiful daughter Amanda is like her mom with very, light skin. As for me, people have made comments like, “He’s so articulate and such a great speaker,” as if because I’m black, I have to speak a certain way. Is that really a compliment or have the standards dropped because I’m black? So, one of the things I try to teach my children is to be comfortable in their own skin because mixed doesn’t mean they need to wear their clothes a certain way or talk a certain way or anything like that. When someone says you’re not black enough, it’s really a level of ignorance on their part and we can’t control what other people do. Growing up, I used to get a lot of that because they used to call me Haitian boy. Even the blacks were like, “You’re not really black. You’re Haitian.” I would get it from the whites, and I would get it from the blacks. It was kind of both sides. Then you carry this guilt and what happens is they get overloaded on one side because they’re biracial. Some kids feel like they have to overdo it so they can prove their blackness. The principle is wrong that they have to act a certain way, and not be themselves.
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