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March 11, 2014

Steelers Partnership: From rags to riches, Croton native finds success by putting God, others first

NEW CASTLE — As a boy, Damian Williams believed in himself even when circumstances didn’t seem to merit it.

Growing up in poverty in lower Croton, Damian didn’t always know when his next meal was coming.

When hunger pangs caused his stomach to growl, rummaging through a Dumpster in the back of a neighborhood grocery store usually sufficed. There, he found bread and other items that had been tossed out due of their expiration dates.

His family received food stamps, but they were often used to provide others in the family with cigarettes.

At Ben Franklin Junior High, Damian qualified for free lunches, but he wouldn’t use the green tickets to get them. “I had too much pride,” he said.

It might have appeared there was no way out, but the boy was determined to prove that persistence — along with faith in God and one’s self — can overcome obstacles.

Even as a youngster, Damian had an entrepreneurial spirit. He’d stop at Q’s Dairy and use money earned from doing chores for his neighbors to buy a box of snack cakes. Then he’d sell them out of the box for 50 cents each to other students.

“I always found ways to survive,” he said. “We have control over how we respond to adversity.”

BUSINESS LEADER AND CEO

Today, the New Wilmington resident is founder and chief executive officer of Leadership League LLC, a multi-faceted company. Damian lives on a 10,000-acre farm with his wife and business partner, Anne, and their two children, Jerica and Markus. His Pittsburgh office is located at the top of the Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh.

In partnership with the Pittsburgh Steelers and former player and current broadcaster Tunch Ilkin, Damian has co-authored a new book “Forged in Steel: The Seven Time-Tested Leadership Principles Practiced By the Pittsburgh Steelers,” published by Mark Miner Communications.

These principles are used to teach leadership at the annual Forged in Steel leadership forum and in corporate training programs.

Leadership League manages a number of events for professional sports teams, the latest being the inaugural “Steelers Cruise” — involving more than 35 current and former players, as well as hundreds of fans. They set sail yesterday for a Caribbean tour.

“At 38, Damian is wise beyond his years with great poise and maturity,” said Miner, who passed on an initial offer to publish the book. When a second overture came weeks later, Miner hopped on board because of what he saw in Damian. “He understands human motivation and how teams respond to leadership and what good leadership is and what it is not.”

Damian learned it all along the way.

“My parents divorced and we bounced around a lot when I was young,” he said. 

After attending Ben Franklin in seventh and eighth grades, Damian went to New Castle High School for his freshman year. But he went to live with his grandfather, switching to Neshannock High School, where he competed in cross country.

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