A mentor of mine once shared with me the four traits that define a good leader: confidence, dedication, integrity, and love. Karlo Young has all of this and more.
For nearly five years, I’ve witnessed Karlo’s unparalleled ability to lead with purpose. He has paved the way for the success of one of our largest university partnerships, working alongside Syracuse University to expand the depth and breadth of its offerings with now 18 master’s degree programs across six schools and colleges. And this year, his strategic and steady leadership proved pivotal to the notable launch of our first degree program with a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), Morehouse College.
Karlo’s focused, unwavering commitment to enabling greater access to education inspires trust in every relationship he builds. He has this natural knack for authentically fostering connection, which undoubtedly is the result of what his parents modeled for him at a young age: You can be successful and a great human being at the same time. Karlo’s also mission-driven. He credits his education for shaping him into the man he is today, which fuels his passion for delivering learning experiences that break the mold, push boundaries, and create pathways to prosperity. It’s for all of these reasons that I knew Karlo would make for a dynamic senior vice president, a promotion he earned in October.
Now that he is settling into his new role, I took some time to connect with Karlo to better understand what energizes him to positively impact the lives of others. Karlo has a reputation for inspiring creativity, engaging in thoughtful conversation, and practicing what he preaches, making him a role model to so many. Read on to learn why.
Karlo, you often say that your upbringing and community propelled you to the career you have today. Tell us about your background–where did you come from, and what’s your family like?
From the outside looking in, it may appear like things were tough for me and my brother growing up in East Baltimore, but we actually had an extremely fortunate upbringing. My parents believed in us, encouraged us, loved us, and laughed with us. We admired them–two incredible people who were cherished and respected by so many friends and colleagues from different races, ethnicities, and walks of life. As a kid, I learned how hard my parents worked to achieve success in their respective fields–my mom is an award-winning make-up artist for film and TV and my dad is a veteran letter carrier for the United States Postal Service (USPS)–and, by watching them, discovered how to navigate the world.
Karlo (right) as a kid with his mom and brother
My village and education were two other key ingredients in my upbringing. I have countless aunts and uncles–blood relatives and many who are not–who are part of my village and have poured a tremendous amount of wisdom, inspiration, and sometimes love with a heavy hand in order to keep me, my brother, and friends safe. Aside from building us up as strong Black men and women, they made sure that education was a priority.
So it sounds like education played a major role in your life.
My parents sacrificed quite a bit to make sure my brother and I attended the best schools. I went to one of the best public schools in Baltimore from first to eighth grade. And when I told my parents I wanted to attend a prestigious private school for high school, they found a way to send me even though that was not in their financial plans. I attribute a great part of my success to having the opportunity to experience the rigid dichotomy of both public and private school growing up while also navigating an urban upbringing. There is largely nothing I can experience in the business world that life has not already prepared me for. I can go about my days with confidence and fearlessness, while also being strategic, kind to others, and having fun.
I continued my education journey beyond Baltimore with a BS from Drexel University and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. These institutions imparted knowledge, skills, and values that I have added to the recipe that makes me, me.
Karlo (left) with his older brother, mom, and dad
Take us through your career. What were you doing before 2U, and what led you to the role you have now?
I launched my career in professional services, first in consulting at Deloitte and KPMG and then in investment banking at Signal Hill Capital. These firms provided me with an amazing training ground to understand how to translate my knowledge, advice, and expertise to clients to help them solve big problems or take advantage of life-changing opportunities.
Although I now support universities instead of Fortune 500 companies, my former and current careers are similar in nature. I still work with large organizations to help activate or accelerate their strategic plan or imperative of digital transformation. I’m proud to be a part of that change for universities–primarily because I have an eye towards the students that will benefit from the programs and courses just as I did.
Education has always been a great equalizer for me, and that’s what attracted me to 2U. I also saw joining as a vice president and general manager (VP/GM) as an opportunity to create added synergies between my work at 2U in higher education and my leadership roles in K-12 where I serve as board president of the Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust (B.E.S.T.), vice president of the Board of Trustees at The Gilman School, and co-director of The Gilman Black Alumni Leadership Institute (GBALI).
Karlo connecting with his buddy Otto the Orange while on a campus visit to Syracuse University
What are some highlights of your journey at 2U?
I have had many highlights throughout my time at 2U, but there are two that come to mind first.
In addition to serving as VP/GM over the past few years, I am also the executive sponsor of 2U’s Black Engagement Network (BNet), 2U’s Business Resource Network for Black employees and allies. In this role, I have had an amazing opportunity to work with so many talented leaders within BNet and at the same time work with members of 2U’s executive team to think about strategies, initiatives, and interventions that will continue to make 2U the best place to work for all employees.
The second highlight is more recent. As VP/GM for Morehouse College, I was offered the chance to witness the “Morehouse Experience,” the orientation class for our first cohort of the online bachelor’s degree program for non-traditional adult students. I had the privilege of listening to over 200 Black men in a class led by a Morehouse alum and faculty member share their excitement, passion, and stories of what it took for them to get to this point in their lives. It was powerful and yet very familiar. For me, it solidified that I am in the right place and doing the purposeful work that I was put on this planet to do.
Karlo (right) at Harvard Business School presenting "2U: Higher Education Rewired," The Harvard Business School case study on 2U, alongside Dr. Kyle Myers, Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School
Now on to your new role. What exactly does a senior vice president of University Partnerships and portfolio general manager do? What excites you most about this position?
I provide leadership and strategic direction to a portfolio of VPs and GMs who lead our partnerships with several university partners as we work together to build high-quality online education to drive positive outcomes at scale.
Leadership is important to me. I dream about steering teams and a company. My new position allows me to play an even more active role in helping to codify our vision, mission, culture, strategy, and values, while also building an incredible team and creating products that our partners and students want.
What about 2U’s mission–how does it inspire you?
We have a clear vision for creating greater access to affordable, high-quality online education. As someone who has benefited a great deal from all of my institutions of education, there is no more compelling purpose or passion of mine than creating that same experience for others around the world.
Karlo with his wife and their three children
Before we wrap up, let’s end with a token of advice. What is one lesson you’ve learned in leadership that you apply to your work daily?
I cannot overemphasize the importance of building trusted relationships with colleagues, partners, employees, mentors, sponsors, and even those who may not have a direct impact on your career or the work you do today. I try to practice being consistent, following through on things I commit to, extending grace, and empathizing with others. I also practice empowering others, being a good listener, not being afraid to create a safe space to allow people to be vulnerable, and showing my own vulnerability when I think the situation calls for it. You never know where people will end up and how a previous experience with you can positively or negatively shape someone’s perspective of you or your work.
Learn more about us.
At 2U, we’re on a mission—to eliminate the back row in higher education and help universities thrive in the digital age. To learn more about who we are and what we do, follow the links below.