There are two red flags that take turns flying outside of Brandon Shields’s home in Delaware (but neither is any cause for alarm). One displays the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor — the official insignia of the United States Marine Corps — and the other has a big white W to display Badger pride. Both symbolize institutions that have played major roles in Shields’s life and career path.
In a 2016 issue of On Wisconsin magazine, Shields reflected on his six and a half years as a marine and his two years as a UW graduate student. Shields was a single dad to one-year-old Bam in 2015 when he enrolled in the Wisconsin School of Business to earn his MBA through the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management — a scholarship program dedicated to increasing racial diversity in the corporate world. As Shields prepared to graduate in 2017, he expressed how important the goals of the program were to him. “When [my son] is going to the Wisconsin School of Business [someday], I want him to have a minority CEO to look toward and aspire to be,” Shields said.
Shields is still working to be that role model for his two sons, Bam and Braxton, shared with his wife, Diamond Howell-Shields — a current UW doctoral student who used to watch Bam in Eagle Heights while Shields attended classes. Shields is now a vice president and Chase-branded cards portfolio manager at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Wilmington, Delaware, where the Shields home serves as an East Coast outpost for past, present, and future Badgers. Howell-Shields is continuing work on her doctorate from the UW School of Education, and Braxton, born just last summer, can’t sleep without a nightly reading of Goodnight Badgers. Keep reading to get more updates and inspiration from Shields.
In your 2016 interview in On Wisconsin, we asked what led you into the business world. But you first started out in the U.S. Marine Corps — what led you to enlist?
It was a year after college, and I was going to take time off and study for LSATs (law school admission test) and be a lawyer. But in the meantime, I was doing a nine-to-five office job and going into the cubicle every day. The Iraq War was still pretty big. I felt a higher sense of calling. So, it’s funny, because I was in the business world, which led me to go to the military, right? I had already graduated from college with my degree and was working a job, and I felt like I could be doing more. So that’s when I called my mom and said, “I’m going home. I’m going to train. I’m going to go join the military.” Initially, I was going to join the air force, but I met a marine recruiter, and from there, the rest is history.
What made you decide to pursue your MBA at Wisconsin?
I wasn’t sure exactly how long I wanted to serve, whether it was going to be four years or 20. At my six and a half [years], I did a lot of what I wanted to do, and I wanted to start the next chapter of my life to support my family. And so that’s why I decided to get out and pursue a business degree specifically, because I felt like the skills that I learned and developed in the military could match well with a business education to give me a rewarding career.
How has six and a half years of experience in the marines translated to your civilian career path?
In some sense, once you leave the military, you’re always transitioning. There are always parts of the military that you are leveraging in your civilian life. There are always parts of things that you will never be able to let go, right? And then there are always skills and experiences that you can use to help you progress in your civilian life and career. As long as you can be mindful of your past, and as long as you can have an open mind to what will come in the future, that’s how you can bridge the gap when you’re transitioning from the military to civilian [life]. But there are things that I still experience today that remind me of my time in the military, and there are experiences that I go through every day in the corporate world that are brand new. I’m always learning in the corporate world. So, in that sense, I feel like I’m always transitioning.
What are some of your career highlights so far? What are you most proud of?
What I’m most proud of is that I’m able to provide for my family a great quality of life and also be present. I think I’ve managed to have a good work-life balance and also provide for them, to the best of my abilities, a good lifestyle. I work very hard. I’m able to perform at work and, hopefully, be a good husband and father.
You mentioned in 2016 that there were very few African Americans in the marines and very few Black executives for your young son to look up to. Have you seen any progress in that regard in your current role?
There’s a lot more progress and attention being paid to diversity, equity, and inclusion in corporate America. And I’m hoping that when my son is on his career journey, there [will be] more examples of people that look like me and him for him to look up to. I’m still bearing that responsibility, as well, to be at that table to give him that person to look at as an example. I have examples, but I still notice a Black person — a Black senior leader — when I walk into a room, and I’m like, “Huh, look at that.” So, until it becomes more commonplace, I will still strive for that level of diversity for my children and all children. And now I’m at the point in my life — in my career and comfort level — that when I see a senior Black leader at the table, I’ll go up to him like, “What’s up? Hey, good to see you here. Thank you.”
How did your UW experience influence you?
I’m very thankful and proud of the opportunity to be a Badger and part of the UW alumni community. I think it provided an environment that allowed me to pursue my degree while raising a young child while transitioning from the military. And I’m not sure that every school could have provided that environment. If there wasn’t Eagle Heights, honestly, I don’t know how I would’ve — if you were living downtown or at a different school, I don’t know how you’d be able to make rent and have the safety for your children and all that. So, I do attribute a lot of my success today to what I was able to leverage during my time transitioning out of the military while at the University of Wisconsin.