Content provided by Robyn Murray, Freelance Writer
Four years ago, Sean Hollingshead was traipsing around the campus of Brigham Young University with celebrity media pundits from CNN and MSNBC and journalists from little-known publications around the world. It was in the midst of Mitt Romney’s bid for the White House, and everybody wanted to know what Mormons were all about.
“The first couple hours were always the most fascinating,” Hollingshead said. “Everyone had preconceived notions.” Hollingshead, who worked as a lead contact in BYU’s public relations department, was responsible for introducing the campus to the media and making sure reporters got a good impression. “It was pretty fascinating,” he said, “I met some remarkable people.”
Today, Hollingshead lives in Omaha, NE and works in an entirely different industry. After two years in a position he never thought he’d have, he made a move for love. He met a girl from Omaha, and her father convinced them both to move back to her home. That father was Todd Clarke.
Hollingshead, who grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, says his favorite experience as a PR point-person at BYU was walking the halls with Richard Quest, the host of CNN’s “Quest Means Business” and a flamboyant personality, asking students what they thought about the election. His best moment, he recalls, was watching Quest’s preconceptions puncture when, out of the first six he talked to, only one student said he was supporting Romney.
Hollingshead was a good person for the job. He’s open, unafraid to express his opinions, and as an inadvertent representative of the Mormon faith, doesn’t portray his church as superior or others as worse off for not believing. Basically, he makes good impressions — which is how he got the job in the first place.
As a business major at BYU, Hollinghead was looking for work. His brother, a spokesperson for the university, helped find him a position as a “paper pusher” in the PR department, and by his senior year, Hollingshead had made a good enough impression on his boss to get promoted to lead the PR team and guide the influential media tours. Hollingshead credits hard work for the step up. “Whatever I was doing, I was trying to do it well and exceed the standard quota,” he said. He also wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, and he made himself available to help out with whatever was needed. “Being reliable and having a consistent work record always has an effect on people,” he said.
Six months later, Hollingshead made another — even more consequential — good impression. He met his future father-in-law, Todd Clarke, formerly the CEO of CLS Investments who took over the company his father founded, in Salt Lake. Clarke was attending a meeting at the Montage Deer Valley Resort, which Hollingshead describes as straight out of Hollywood high life. “Picture ‘The Shining,’” he said, “but with more opulence.”
Hollingshead drove his beat-up ’99 Honda Accord to the hotel’s valet-only entrance, handed his keys to the reluctant keeper, and headed to dinner. After getting past the server’s first question of “What kind of water can I start you with?” with a confident “Ice water,” Hollingshead started to get more comfortable as he chatted with Clarke about his business and efforts to build CLS’s parent company, NorthStar. By the end of the dinner, Hollingshead felt a little better about his plans to ask Clarke for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
But before the wedding bells had even begun to ring, Clarke started working on him to get them both to Omaha. He first found a position for him in inside sales at Northern Lights Distributors, but it wasn’t a fit and Hollingshead turned it down. So Clarke came up with another plan — a sales and marketing liaison at CLS that would bring the two departments together. That sounded intriguing, and Hollingshead agreed. “He gave me a chance,” Hollingshead said, “which was enough.”
Today, Hollingshead is the director of CLS’s Investment Advisor Division where he directs CLS’s Autopilot program that offers low-cost tools for financial advisors and investors to access professionally managed accounts. It’s quite a change from working in PR, but Hollingshead has always been interested in finance, and he’s enjoyed learning a new industry. He also serves on CLS’s Culture Committee, a role he finds interesting and a way he can bring his PR skills to the table. He wants to help break down institutional barriers at CLS and sees potential for more collaboration between departments as well as between the subsidiaries of NorthStar.
Hollingshead enjoys the role and sees opportunities for growth within the company, which appeals to his entrepreunarial zeal. He dreams of growing businesses, in the mold of his father-in-law, who he autodescribes as having achieved the quintessential American dream.
While he’s now a long way from Utah, Omaha is home. His wife is happy to be back with her family, and they’re expecting their first child in January. “We’re happy,” he said. “But the road map hasn’t been completed yet.”