What is your position on social responsibility and business?
I believe that positive social change is not necessarily a responsibility of businesses, rather it is a result of business. Let me explain. The attitude a business takes toward stakeholders is what really makes change in society. For example, if a business employs people and treats them fairly, in terms diversity and inclusion, wages, benefits , respect etc, those people in and of themselves are going to be a positive addition to any community because they’ll have a sense of dignity. Their sense of dignity has a bearing in the way that they will treat others and take care of their community. So in a sense all business leaders can have a tremendous impact on social change.
I have spoken on the subject of social change at places like NYU and CUNY, and also mentored a lot of young people about it through my relationship with Creative Visions Foundation. People often ask me why I never went for an Executive MBA, why I chose a social change program for my executive education, my answer is simple, I know how to run a business at senior executive level, I worked my way up from the ground up, there's not much an MBA will teach me, my interest is on making social impact as I do business, I wanted to be able to show the entrepreneurs and employees with whom I work how they can genuinely support social change through their own community of stakeholders.
What are characteristics of successful
There are many different kinds of entrepreneurs, and you will also find different types of entrepreneurial people within any organization. Entrepreneurship is a mindset. What I mean by this is that there can be founders and organizational leaders who don't have an entrepreneurial mindset, and they will struggle as a result of this. In terms the profile of the average entrepreneur, there are many different and unique levels of openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, introversion, ambiversion, extraversion and neuroticism.
Entrepreneurship does not occur in a vacuum, and as such your personality, experiences in life, and the cultural environment in which you find yourself tend to shape what kind of entrepreneurial mindset you have. So it's not so much about your age as it is the experiences that have shaped your life. Interestingly enough, according to research by the Kauffman Foundation and others, the average age of 'successful' start-up founders is somewhere around 40, with high growth start-ups almost twice as likely to be launched by people over 55 as they are by folks 20-34.
Star Wars/Star Trek
You are a big fan of 'Star Wars' and 'Star Trek', what are the lessons you take from both?
I love both the 'Star Wars' and the 'Star Trek' franchises because the parallels with business and society are incredible. They force leaders to ask questions of themselves, questions about their responsibility to humanity.
'Star Trek' points to a future in which human civilization is advanced enough to provide everyone with the basic necessities of life. It also shows us the ways in which we have already achieved great things in that society, yet some folks decide not to make some of those things accessible to all people. The importance of inclusion and diversity are my takeaways from Captain Kirk.
'Star Wars' teaches us that feats of human courage, rather than technological utopianism (the idea that technology in and of itself will guarantee a more free future) is the path to a better civilization. 'Star Wars' to me is all about the circle of life. Human potential is limitless. Nobody can put out our fire when we are in the right state of mind.
Please walk us through how you got your start in retail, technology and ecommerce, and how this paved the way for your work with start-ups.
I started working for Best Buy when it was still a fairly small company with about 50 stores and only based
in the midwest. Then mobile computing and the internet got really big, and that's what we were selling, computers, electronics, entertainment and connectivity. The company grew to about 1000 stores in the following 10 years and became a leader on the Fortune 500. So I guess I was in the right place at the right time, and doing the right. I started part-time on the sales floor in Ohio, and worked my way up into executive management as leader of one of the company's largest of geographic zones, headquartered in Philadelphia.
During those years I reported directly to Brian Dunn, and indirectly to people like Shari Ballard, both of whom went on to be CEO and President respectively. So my mentors were some of the best minds in all of modern American retail. When you start at ground level the way I did, then work your way into executive leadership at one of the fastest growing companies in American history at the time, you become really good at launching, growing and transforming businesses, it becomes a part of your DNA.
You are a born American, grew up in Europe and have Africa roots. Explain.
I was born in upstate New York when my father attended college in the United States, following which we moved back to West Africa for a few years. When I was 5 we moved to Europe and lived there until I was 17, then I came back to the US on a permanent basis. Throughout those years in Europe (Northern Ireland, England and Austria), my parents made sure we traveled back to Africa and the United States, so I remained very connected to both my African heritage and my American birthplace. Since then I have worked and/or lived in the United States, Europe and Africa as an adult, so it's all full circle.
You led teams on the west coast and the east coast, then your career took you abroad, please share a little about why you decided to take an international detour.
Mid-career in the Fortune 500 I realized that more and more businesses were starting to engage outside US borders, we were entering a new era in business, especially in technology related businesses. Many companies consider the ability to work across cultures a required skill set for all top executives. I have always taken the long view on my career/goals, and realized that I would need to gain international experience not only in terms of working on international projects, but also actually living abroad while I did this.
As an executive or consultant in today's world, it is important to be able to work across multiple cultures and demographics. Demonstrating multi-cultural and international experience helps you in building trust and confidence with the people you are working with.
I was raised in 5 different countries, so I have always been a global citizen, but there's a difference between being a global citizen and having actual international experience as an executive. As a contractor serving a global market it's not easy, you are constantly being tested in terms of your ability to work in different cultural environments. Ultimately, all these experiences help you grow as a leader and a human being.