Joe Mulla is using the research and data from his dissertation to help his company reach and connect with millennial customers.
“Maximize every moment,” says Mulla, a U.S. Marine veteran who will earn his Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) on May 13 from UNC Charlotte’s Belk College of Business.
Like many people in the last few years, his work life was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. When his employer offered a severance package in 2020, Mulla seized the opportunity to pursue his DBA.
The U.S. Marine Corps taught Mulla discipline, which he says has benefitted him in the pursuit of higher education.
“The DBA has real business world applications. It helps the communities that we serve,” he says. “It is the terminal degree in the academic world, and I wanted that achievement.”
The DBA degree also keeps the door open to the academic world, says Mulla, who is part of the third cohort of graduates from Charlotte’s DBA program. Mulla is one of 12 scholars who are earning a DBA this semester, completing a rigorous academic program, capped by dissertations.
Mulla’s dissertation, “Financial Literacy and Wellness,” focuses on the ways financial technology, confidence, and self-efficacy impact the relationship between financial literacy and millennial saving behavior.
The subject is an obvious response for Mulla, who is a millennial and has watched his peers struggle with finances, wanted to make a difference in their lives as well as his own.
Data from the Social Security Administration indicate trust funds are expected to be depleted by 2037, unless Congress makes changes. This could have an adverse impact on millennials, Gen Z and Gen X unless they have a financial plan for the future. Millennials make up 22% of Charlotte’s population.
“The DBA also gave me instant credibility. Not many corporate employees have a doctorate, and I know it helped me get the job.”
In July 2021, Mulla learned about a newly created senior leadership program at Truist Financial. After a lengthy interview process, he received a job offer as senior vice president.
“My scholarly endeavors kept coming up in the interviews, and my interest in research and passion for my community helped,” he says. “The DBA also gave me instant credibility. Not many corporate employees have a doctorate, and I know it helped me get the job.”
Mulla’s research points to a direct relationship between financial literacy, someone’s level of knowledge relating to personal finance concepts, and their saving behavior. Understanding the things that impact this relationship is vital due to the complexities of people and the lives they lead.
“Finance can be very binary; numbers on paper, projections, charts,” Mulla says. “What we often forget is that there are human beings relying on sound financial information and access to products and services to provide for their families and live successful lives. Millennials are the largest, and most diverse generation of people to ever enter the workforce, and they’re doing so with different products and resources than prior generations.
“We as financial professionals and academics must meet them where they are and help them become financially independent with easy access to the information and products they need for success.”
Mulla also gives credit to UNC Charlotte’s DBA program for his success, and professors like Dr. Reginald Silver as a valued mentor and friend who lent leadership and guidance.
“Dr. Silver knew the degree was more than just checking off a box for me,” Mulla says. “He taught me that what you put into something is what you will get out.”
Sliver, who now serves as Belk College associate dean for graduate programs and executive education, says Mulla was a model DBA scholar.
“Joe was always pushing to complete the doctoral process as efficiently as possible,” he says. “As an alumnus of the program, he has already started giving back by serving as an ambassador for the DBA program and providing mentorship for other scholars. Joe is destined to lead, and I am happy to have been a part of his academic journey.”
Leadership skills are important to Mulla, who stresses continual learning and being willing to be challenged and “comfortable being uncomfortable.
“I am on a path to executive leadership and investing in my city academically and professionally with the DBA degree. It is a win for everyone.”
UNC Charlotte began offering the first AACSB-accredited DBA program in the Carolinas in 2017.
This article is part of a series of spotlights featuring our class of 2022 Belk College graduates.