Crocker Coulson is the founder and CEO of AUM Media Inc., a business management consulting firm based out of Brooklyn, New York. With years of industry-related experience, their team of professionals works diligently to develop corporate strategies for public and private companies. As a highly motivated individual, Coulson takes pride in providing businesses with the tools and resources needed for sustainable and long-term growth.
Alongside his professional obligations, Coulson is also a committed father and active member of his local community. He currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of MUSE Academy, a non-profit independent school. He is a director and the former chair of the Brooklyn Music School, a community music school that makes music instruction accessible to a wide range of families in Brooklyn.
What do you love most about the industry you are in?
I love that I’m dealing with very bright, highly motivated people. If you somehow made it to be CEO of a company, it means you had a lot of drive, and you figured out something unique to offer your customers and employees. It’s enjoyable to deal with people like that. On the other hand, dealing with the investment community, sometimes there might be difficult personalities, but overall, the people are all super bright. They have incisive analytical skills, and they will cut to the heart of the matter with questions that you didn’t anticipate. That keeps your brain moving, and I like that.
What keeps you motivated?
I’ve had two sides to my life that have different motivations. In my work life, I’d say I’m motivated by learning new things and taking on new challenges that I’ve never faced before. I’m always trying to find something that’s going to keep me mentally engaged, and obviously, I’m motivated to provide for my family, which I think most people would say if they’re truthful.
In my philanthropic work, I’m motivated to create opportunities for kids that might not have had access to that type of education. I play a small part in a team that allows these children to reach their full potential and discover sides of themselves that they would not have been able to explore in a different educational environment fully. Seeing those transformations happen is beyond rewarding.
How do you motivate others?
The most important thing to motivate people is to help them understand why their work is meaningful. Money and compensation are important to everybody. But I think that even more critical for most people – although this may not be true on Wall Street – is they want to feel like they’re doing work that’s important. They want to feel like their specific contribution is unique and valued and that their skills and opinions are respected.
If you want to motivate people, you have to help them understand why their work is valuable. If you have to provide constructive criticism, you always have to keep in mind the 80/20 rule, where 80% of the time they’re getting very positive reinforcement from you and then maybe 20% of the time are some ideas for how they can do a little better. I think there’s a tendency for people – and I have a bit of a micromanager personality, so I can fall prey to this if I’m not careful – to focus more on the “how can we improve” part. Motivation takes practice, and the last thing you want is for your employees to suffer from burnout.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
My father, Robert Coulson, is the biggest inspiration for me. He died a couple of years ago. He was a guy whose first career was as a corporate lawyer with a Wall Street firm. He was not very successful at it. It was a prestigious firm, but he did not move up the ranks and didn’t enjoy the work. He spent as much time as he could racing ocean yachts or doing other things that he was more engaged with.
When he reached his late thirties, he transitioned to work for the American Arbitration Association, and after a couple of years, he became president of that organization. He had found his life’s passion, and from that point on, he was just locked in. He loved the mission, he loved public speaking, and he wrote over a dozen books on various aspects of arbitration. In my father, I saw a guy who had stumbled and then found his calling. They had to literally kick him out the door. He went three years past mandatory retirement. They had to step in and say, “Okay, Bob. This is enough! We’re locking the door. Go home!” He made for quite an example to live up to.
He also had an early, short, and unhappy first marriage, but then had a very long and happy second marriage with my mother. And that’s also quite inspiring to see your mom and dad be together and happy for decades. That’s something I think everybody wants in their life, and he lucked out, and he got it.
Who has been a role model to you and why?
They are maybe not as inspirational as my father, but I’ve had some professional role models. The first place I worked out of college was a magazine called The New Republic, and the editor-in-chief was a guy named Michael Kinsley. He wasn’t the most approachable person in the world, but he was so whip-smart. The way he could frame debates was inspiring to me. I enjoyed the opportunity to work with him. I haven’t worked with him for decades, but I still think about him.
When I transitioned in my late 30s into this new field of investor relations consulting, I looked up to Bill Coffin, the guy who had been the founder of the firm that I joined. He took me under his wing. I responded to a help wanted ad, and I was hired as an administrative assistant. He’s the type of guy who rewarded hard work, so three years later, I was president of the firm, and we were growing fast. I lucked out there because I could have joined another firm that might have been bigger and maybe more prestigious. But I never would have had the opportunity to go from administrative assistant to the president in that short of a time frame. I have to hand it to him. He was very generous in sharing what he knew and also generous in giving runway to try ideas and start to grow the business in a serious way.
How do you maintain a solid work-life balance?
If you talk to my partner, she will laugh if I tried to answer this question. She thinks I don’t have any work-life balance at all. I’ll give my version, but she would probably disagree with everything I’m going to say.
I do try to carve out time for the kids every day. I make breakfast and lunch for my kids every morning. My older boy likes to walk to school, but I like to drive the other two to school. I pick up my four-year-old from school every day. Unless it’s a crucial board meeting or a business meeting in the evening, I make dinner, and we all sit at the table, and we talk. My twelve-year-old twins are now at the stage where they like to disappear into their rooms, so I think having our meal together is essential. After dinner, we also do a thing where we spend at least half an hour reading a book together. Maybe we’re not all talking, but at least we’re in the same place where we’re all doing something similar.
What traits do you possess that make a successful leader?
I think everything is kind of double-sided. My strength is I have a lot of ideas, and the ideas tend to come in rushes. But then the weakness of that is you need to sort through those ideas and see which are the ones that are the ones worth investing in. You also need to be careful not to burn the people out you’re collaborating with by giving them much more than they can chew on.
Another strength is I’m extremely direct in terms of what I expect and how I define success. A weakness might be if somebody has a little bit more of a softer personality, maybe they take my communication style as a little too direct or even offensive. So, I need to be careful how I deliver the information. I have a deep respect for anybody committed to the mission and have a strong work ethic. I think that comes through very strongly, and I think it’s motivating. Again, if people are not so committed, then they’re going to know that, and it might make them feel extremely uncomfortable. So that’s a weakness, as well.
Explain the proudest day of your professional life.
I would say that every day when I see something unique that the kids at MUSE Academy have done, that’s my proudest day. I’ve seen this magical school grow from just a series of PowerPoint slides and an Excel budget to now having it be a living growing thing that has a real impact on kids. Aside from how I feel about my own kids, that’s the proudest moment. Every time that I see them do something amazing and new that you couldn’t have expected, that’s when I feel glowing with pride.