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My Bout with Racism in Corporate America- A personal Story

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This is how racism operates – a personal story…

I’ve been relatively private about my life and I enjoy things that way so most of you probably didn’t know this, but in 2013 I moved to Detroit during its bankruptcy to work with multi-billionaire Dan Gilbert, Chairman of Quicken Loans, Owner of Cavs, and overall really great guy on various special projects; it was a dream (truly a prayer) come true!

After about a year of working closely with Dan, we co-founded a tech startup together. I’m forever grateful to him for investing in me like that and in other ways. I led this company as CEO for a little over a year before I was suddenly ousted. It all happened within a week. September 15th, 2015 I was told that we had a problem, but not to worry. “We would figure it out.” I wasn’t told what the problem was at that time, but the very next week on September 22nd, 2015 I was escorted out of the building by security. I don’t know why they felt the need to have me escorted out by security, but such is life and some things you may never understand

To say this experience was traumatic for me would be an understatement, because on top of being rushed out of a company I co-founded and suddenly finding myself unemployed, I also was 3 days away from moving to/closing on a house that I had newly constructed which was less than a mile from my office and I was getting a dream come true deal on that house (through a $75k hud grant, a $20k live downtown incentive, and $20k reduced from the house via negotiation…

I was getting this house that appraised for just shy of $300k for $175k, that house last I checked now goes for just shy of $500k), I would have still closed on the house, but the day I was suddenly let go, they advised I pull my mortgage application (I was getting my mortgage w/ Quicken Loans…I’d later find out that I could have still closed, but it all happened so fast and I didn’t know it at the time). 

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Image credit: Kwaku Osei

I also learned the painful lesson that people I thought were my friends, were not really my friends. My offense? Being a young black male with a vision that worked hard to stick to it and execute on it. Of course that’s not the “official” reason lol – but let me try to briefly explain what happened. 

When Dan and I started the company, I was still doing work for him. Sooner or later I told him if we’re really going to do this thing I needed to be able to focus on it exclusively. He agreed and I carved out some office space on another floor to create some distance. The early days of the company were tough; I now better understand why corporate entrepreneurship is so hard to pull off. There was so much bureaucracy that I had to cut through – so many internal processes built for Quicken that were forced onto us – and anyone that has done a startup knows that the only thing that gives a startup a fighting chance is its ability to be agile and nimble. I wasn’t afforded that capacity as CEO early on, but I diligently fought to cut the red tape. These fights would take months and several meetings – time that I really wish I would have been able to put towards my team and the startup. But I didn’t complain – at least not much lol. This was still by far a dream come true!

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Image credit: Kwaku Osei

Fast forward and we’re making some real deal progress. Dan also has stepped up his commitment towards the venture; we land on him investing ~$2.8M into the thing to give us a real go! I’m excited as anything as you might imagine. Well, sooner than later that situation slightly changed. One of Dan’s advisors says something to the effect of “you’ve been burned before Dan, why don’t you give them some money and let’s set up some milestones and if they hit those then they get the rest of the money.” This made sense to me so I came up with the milestones and the target date, which they agreed to. Under the new agreement we would now get $1.2M with $1.7M guaranteed as long as we hit our marks

So far so good, but here’s where things get tricky for me. As part of this new agreement Dan also suggests an advisory board is put together; it would be a temporary one but so he could be fed updates along the way. This also made sense to me. The issue was the group of individuals who comprised the board were managers across the Rock Ventures Family of Companies. Only 1 person on the board, Jake Cohen, had any experience with startups. He was a gem, but was unfortunately outnumbered. Nothing against the rest of the board (with an exception of 1 person lol). They were good at their jobs, but managing a corporation and running a startup are 2 wildly different things….

As a young black male – I KNEW I had to show I was coachable. So when they provided a good amount of ill-advised guidance, I still took and implemented some of it — against my own desires. The advice I didn’t take? No one outright said it, but they treated me as if I was being stubborn or acting like I thought I was some major visionary and who’s vision they couldn’t see. In truth I just felt that I was the one working 70+ hours weekly on this business, talking to our users and prospective customers so I better understood the pain points we were solving for them and what excited them about what we were building – but what do I know lol. 

I lined up 5 major pilot partners for our product (Xerox, VCU, CCS, Triad Retail Media, and DCA). They’re excited and I’m excited. Up until then we had only been piloting within QL, but due to a series of false starts and the product not being truly useful for a good portion of us, testing within QL it wasn’t the best sandbox for us. That being said, that summer a good portion of interns expressed real excitement for what we were doing and them being fresh to the org and thus to the product made me confident…well we are getting close to finally piloting outside of QL but I’m butting heads with the board increasingly frequently, I only had 1 ally on the board, Jake Cohen, the VC guy who deals with startups for a living – go figure…  

Suddenly on September 15th – the overly arrogant perfect picture of white privilege “chair of our board” says hey Kwaku we’ve got a problem, but don’t worry we’ll figure it out…I’m like okay…?!? Days go by and the writing is on the wall some major changes are coming…despite this I try my best to focus on the company and still hit our upcoming milestone…it wouldn’t matter, Sept 22 I was escorted out by security, it was embarrassing as hell, in fact it was indecent the way that was handled but ok fine…

To this day most of the people within Rock Ventures and QL don’t know this story. 5 years later I still run into folks that say “hey, so what happened to you?” I could talk about the reason they told me I was being fired, but it wasn’t the real reason…now let me be clear and honest…was I perfect in this position, no not at all, I made plenty of mistakes, did some things that were foolish, and I was 25 at the time so I was still growing, but I will tell you despite the multi-faceted challenges I was put up against – to this day I’m proud of how I lead and how I evolved as CEO over time…

I give myself a B (an A easily for effort) and anyone that knows me knows I’m a tough grader…did I deserve this opportunity, I didn’t deserve/expect it to happen and in all honesty I probably didn’t deserve it but I thank God it was afforded to me, but I will tell you what I know for certain, I didn’t deserve being ousted in the way I was…especially because the official reason they gave me for my firing I had witnessed done in the organization several times by others without nearly the same consequence (thanks Milton Fletcher, my executive coach, for advising me to share the lesson here: As a black male, I don’t have the license to do what others might be able to…)

So let’s talk racism here

I was replaced by a nice guy (a white guy 1 year older than me I think that started at Rock Ventures same time as me) he was paid about $30k/year more than I was when he replaced me, he occupied the CEO role up until a few months ago…the company since he took it over for 4 years thereafter didn’t do a fraction of what I accomplished with the company within about 6 months with less resources etc…it looks like they are finally about to do something meaningful almost 5 years later…

Also Read: Cornerstone Partners focused on black and diverse businesses invest £170,000 in Coordinate Sport

My replacement CEO is no longer CEO, but is supposedly still with the company where he now makes clean into the 6 figures (btw if you read this please take no offense, I’m not discounting you and I think you have proven throughout your life that you are highly intelligent and highly capable and in fact I respect you) the other black leader at this company is being severely underpaid compared to the others, it’s crazy to me that this is happening given the tremendous amount of value he brings to that team…let me close on this thought – racism is when a billionaire supports me in the multiple ways he did but somehow despite that the organization still plucks me out

BTW: I am not the only person that Dan Gilbert has supported in this way, so what’s interesting to me is when I look at what others have been given the space to do vs. what my situation was it startles me – more leeway, support, and other leaders that did things that were FAR worse than my official reason for being ousted, some of them are still with the company today, those that aren’t left on their own terms (as far as I can tell anyway)

Am I complaining? 

Are you kidding me…I co-founded a company with a billionaire when I was 24! That experience gave me tremendous exposure and validation because I was doing things that people could only dream of, I was living my dream and it showed me that all of my dreams and prayers can become reality, I’ve carried that knowledge with me ever since…and I’m extremely thankful to Dan Gilbert and several leaders of Rock Ventures, too many to name but in short Angel Price, Betsy Stone, Karen, Matt Cullen, Jim Ketai, Jake Cohen, Todd Lunsford, Richard Mandell, David Carroll, Steve Ogden, Matt Rizik, Bruce Schwartz, Doug Seabolt, Matt Roling, Victor You, Sam Vida, Ross Sanders, Maria LaLonde, Leslie Andrews, Tony Nuckolls, Todd Albery, Howard Luckoff and truly countless others

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Image credit: Kwaku Osei

Final note

These days I’m thankful that I was pushed out, I may still be within that organization to this day otherwise… I had a great time there, but God works in mysterious ways, see now I’ve started businesses and I’ve failed and suffered tremendous setbacks so it’s taken a while, but in the last couple months my newest ventures have been growing INCREDIBLY. It’s truly remarkable and at times I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming (or is this a bug in the Matrix?!? Lol jk)…I am now the founder vs. co-founder and now I’m finally in control and in a position to show the world what Dan saw in me when he decided to take a bet on this young black male…

Wriiten By: Kwaku Osei, CEO at Cooperative Capital

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Africa speaks

Open Letter to President Joe Biden

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President Joe Biden © The U.S WhiteHouse 

The Legacy Premier Foundation joins the rest of the world in saluting and congratulating you and the amiable Vice President – Madam Kamala Harris, on your outstanding triumph in being elected the 46th President and Vice President of the United State of America. It was an all-round resounding victory that showcased your fruitful political career over the years. It was also incredible to know about your magnanimity in clinching the presidential seat. How beautiful It is to see one who gives so much get rewarded! You are an icon as you have consistently expressed your genuine thoughts, and the electorate has regarded this honorary virtue.

Reiterating the words of Fashina, et al.(2018), their study revealed evidence of a long relationship among economic growth, foreign aid, human capital and other growth determinants namely; real domestic investment, foreign direct investment and trade openness. It is also evident in the study that among other factors considered responsible for economic growth, foreign direct investment and trade openness appeared the most viable for explaining growth attainment in Nigeria as there were more statistically significant factors. On this account, we would trust that you will keep on offering the truly necessary help; support and aid for Africa-oriented programs. Currently, we need a great deal of help in the advancement of Africa development.

Going down memory lane, since the escalation of World War II, there has been a significant development in Africa’s general foreign exchange. The development contrasts well to that of other continents, for example, Latin America. The estimation of imports, notwithstanding, has exceeded exports bringing about an unfavourable lopsided exchange for most African nations. One way to overturn this is through foreign aid and grants.

Over the years, there has been a huge surge in African commodities by and large, and this can be credited to the increment in the demand for essential commodities during World War II and in the prompt post-war refurbishment period. Thus, the fulfilment of independence by most African nations, particularly in the mid-1960s was trailed by an offer for economic development that is fortified by the export-expansion drive.

Another wholesome reason for the rather slow growth in African exports is the perseverance of the present circumstance that has been essential for the explanation of the economies of numerous African countries.

To salvage this, the African Union has launched the operational phase of the Africa Continental Trade Area (AfCFTA), which could become the world’s largest trade area, going by number of participating nations, once it’s fully operational. Nigeria is on the verge of developing a national AfCFTA strategy. In Nigeria today, we have the road, maritime and air transport options well utilised, but the railways would have an edge over the others when the trading bloc starts operations because of its relatively lower costs. Nigeria therefore is positioning itself to take very good advantage of these policies to come.

After years of talks, the end goal is to determine one marketplace for goods and services across the 54 African countries, allowing the free movement of business travelers and investments, and making a continental union to streamline trade; which thereby attracts long-term investment.

There is also the “African Growth and Opportunity Act,” (AGOA) which has been the foundation of U.S. monetary commitment in the last twenty years, with the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa and has assisted with expanding two-path exchange between the U.S. and Sub-Saharan Africa.

AGOA builds on existing US trade programs by expanding the (duty-free) benefits previously available only under the country’s Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) program. Duty-free access to the U.S. market under the combined AGOA/GSP program stands at approximately 6,500 product tariff lines, including the tariff lines that were added by the AGOA legislation. Notably, these newly added “AGOA products” include items such as apparel and footwear, wine, certain motor vehicle components, a variety of agricultural products, chemicals, steel and many others.

In conclusion, we see that the agreement will expire by 2025, but we want to see to it that this applaudable act is extended further to help bolster economic development in the whole of the Africa continent.

For this, we humbly request for aids and policies targeted towards trade openness, laxity on stringent policies against migration and support on democratic practice that will enhance human capital and socioeconomic development on the continent. We also offer you our wholehearted partnership in your future works, and we expect your tenure achievement to be all-encompassing and all-reaching.

This wouldn’t just imbue more credibility to your governance, it will be a far-reaching policy towards igniting hope in the heart of the African populace.

We look forward to meaningful collaborations through our organization, Legacy Premier Foundation – a global intergenerational non-profit organization committed to empowering and developing underserved communities through human capital and socio-economic empowerment.

We remain open to a meet and greet opportunity with your team.

God bless the President
God Bless Madam Vice President
God bless the United States of America

Signed: Dr Remi Duyile, Legacy Premier Foundation Management

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Africa speaks

What’s Happening To Democracy In Africa?

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Yoweri Museveni and Bobi Wine (Source: PML Daily)

Nobody was genuinely surprised that Uganda’s Electoral Commission declared the incumbent, 76-year-old Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) the winner of the country’s violent Presidential ballot. It was a forgone conclusion. The victory is Museveni’s sixth since fighting his way to power in 1986. Although his 35-year rule has been extended, this time around the desperate groans for change were felt across the entire world.

African leaders have a long history of using violence and fear against political opponents. At the time of writing, Bobi Wine, Uganda’s 38-year-old musician turned formidable political opponent, is under house arrest. Wine insists that the election was rigged against him and his life is under threat. Many of his supporters and close political allies have been tortured and detained by the country’s security forces. After his arrest in November at least 54 people died following protests. This is taking place all under the watchful gaze of the media, the United Nations and the African Union. At one point Museveni ordered the shutdown of the internet. 

2021 will be a busy political season for the African continent with more than 13 countries heading to the polls to elect new leaders. The invasion of the Capitol and the legacy of President Donald Trump is proof that Africa can no longer look outside of its borders for positive influence. Constitutional change, fair elections, independent courts and free media is fundamental if Africa is to truly govern itself. Without these basic pillars of a democracy, civil war is the inevitable outcome.

Somalia 

Presidential Election
February 8th 

Incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed will face former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. The threat of political violence still lingers as the tensions among key parties remain high and electoral preparations are lagging.

Niger

Presidential Election
February 21st 

Former prime minister Mohammed Bazoum of the ruling party will go head-to-head with former president Mahamane Ousmane. Niger is attempting its first peaceful transfer of power since gaining independence from France 60 years ago.

Republic of Congo

Presidential Election
March 21st 

The President of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou Nguesso, who is one of the world’s longest-serving leaders is seeking a fourth term. His challengers include Mathias Dzon, who is the former Minister of Finance between 1997-2002 and Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas, who came second in the highly contested 2016 presidential election that Sassou Nguesso won. Congo is an oil-rich but impoverished country. It is in the grip of a deep economic crisis, triggered by the slump in oil prices but worsened by long-standing debt and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Cabo Verde

Legislative Election, March
Presidential Election, October

President Jorge Carlos Fonseca is stepping down in 2021 following the conclusion of his second and constitutionally limited five-year term.

Chad

Presidential Election, April 1
Legislative Election, October 24

President Idriss Déby is seeking his sixth term in office, having previously overseen the removal of term limits in 2005 and then their restoration in 2018—though they are not to be applied retroactively. The 68-year-old former military leader came to power in 1990 following the toppling of the despotic Hissan Habré. 

Djibouti

Presidential Election, April

Ismail Omar Guelleh, President of the small but strategically vital country of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, announced in late December he would be running for a fifth term in presidential elections this April.

Benin

Presidential Election, April 11

Benin will hold its presidential election on April 11, 2021, the country’s election commission announced Tuesday. The first round of the election will take place on April 11 in the West African nation, the Independent Election Commission said in a statement. A second round will be held on May 9 if none of the candidates passed the 50% threshold, the commission added. Although current President Patrice Talon said that when he was elected for the first time in 2016, he would remain in the government for only one term, his candidacy for a second term is seen as almost certain.

Ethiopia

Parliamentary Elections, June 5

Ethiopia will hold a parliamentary election on June 5 as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seeks to quell political and ethnic violence in several regions. Abiy’s Prosperity Party, a pan-Ethiopian movement he founded a year ago, faces challenges from increasingly strident ethnically based parties seeking more power for their regions. Africa’s second most populous nation has a federal system with 10 regional governments, many of which have boundary disputes with neighbouring areas or face low-level unrest.

São Tomé and Príncipe

Presidential Election, July 31

President Evaristo Carvalho is seeking his second 5-year term in presidential elections in July. Carvalho was previously prime minister, president of the national assembly, and minister of defence. São Tomé and Príncipe enjoys a competitive multiparty democracy and a history of peaceful transfer of power between parties. The 2021 elections are expected to be freely contested and transparent.

Zambia

Presidential and Legislative Elections, August 12

Presidential elections will be held in August 2021. The election will be the sixth (and, he says, last) attempt by opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development to win the presidency. Hichilema was the business-friendly candidate in 2016 who campaigned on fixing the then struggling economy.

The Gambia

Presidential Election, December 4

The Gambia’s upcoming elections will be the first since Yahya Jammeh lost power in 2017. President Adama Barrow’s first term has largely been about rebuilding after more than 20 years of Jammeh’s rule. This mammoth task requires reforming every sector of the country, not least of which the economy and the security sector and finding avenues for the country’s youthful population. 

Libya

Presidential and Parliamentary Elections, December 24

In November 2020, Libyan politicians convened by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to sketch out a plan to reunify the country agreed that Libya would have elections on December 24, 2021—the 70th anniversary of Libyan independence in 1951.

By: Juliana Olayinka (Broadcast Journalist)

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Africa speaks

Coronavirus and Societal Inequality- Nonny Ugboma

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Coronavirus image: credit politico

In reflecting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world, there is a huge realisation that  the world has reached a critical juncture and  there is a harsh wake-up call of the impact of in-country inequality both in  advanced and developing nations.

The massive gap between the haves and  have-nots may  have exacerbated  the havoc caused by  the spread of the coronavirus! This means that we can no longer ignore, what is arguably, the worst global crisis–societal inequality.

Interestingly, inequality is not a problem found in the global south alone as it has also been growing in advanced countries like the UK and USA since the 1980s. In the USA in 2018, the total income of the top 10% is 1.8 times more than the total income of the bottom 40%, according to the Palma ratios published in the OECD report on inequality.  The figure for the UK was  1.6 in 2018.

The inequality statistics is even more alarming in the global south with the total income of South Africa’s top 10% being 7 times more than the bottom 40% as at 2015. It will be interesting to know what the 2020 figures would be across the globe.

So, solving the inequality crisis should be governments’ priority in 2021 and beyond. The pandemic has already shown that the state of our collective health can only be as strong as the weakest link– the very low income group – and that this monstrous virus does not care about income brackets or status as everyone is a qualified host.

When it comes to exposure to the virus, the fact is, in addition to front-line health workers, low-income earners are also exposed and are more likely to be transmission vectors because they are key to the provision of essential services as cleaners, cashiers, waiters, couriers, and drivers to name a few.

The bottom line is that we are all vulnerable because these essential members of our society come into contact with people at different levels of society and they are faced with choices that touch every stratum!  For instance, whilst the extremely rich and middle-income professionals are able to take time off, to work from home or self-isolate, the lower income group, usually hourly-paid or zero-hour workers, cannot afford to stay home because without work they will not be paid, and without pay they cannot provide for themselves or their families. The implication is that they are more likely to put themselves and others at risk.

However, we note that the level of devastation of this virus in Sub-Saharan Africa has not been as pundits had expected with these countries’ high poverty rates and poor health systems. Experts are speculating that, paradoxically, it appears that these harsh conditions may have helped insulate the mostly young population from dying from Covid-19. Nevertheless, this does not mean that inequality in Africa is not negatively affecting the transmission in the poorer countries.

On the contrary. Residents of developing countries like Nigeria should be a lot more concerned because they live in extremely connected and linked societies. The more resilient and asymptomatic poor  are often in close contact with the working class and affluent as they are employed as cooks, domestic workers, drivers and artisans. Also, no matter how isolated people keep their domestic workers, they eventually have to come in contact with others in the markets ,the over-crowded public transportation systems or poor housing facilities.

The resultant effect of the inter-connectedness of the different levels of the society is that the elderly, as well as those who lead more insulated lifestyles with various underlying health matters are more vulnerable and more likely to develop serious symptoms and complications. Furthermore, the number of existing public health facilities are not adequate to handle the treatment and private facilities are too expensive thereby resulting in more deaths for this group of the society. 

Therefore, it can no longer be business as usual because the more unequal the society continues to be, the more unsafe it will be for the rich in all aspects! Governments, especially in developing countries, should see this as a wake-up call to rethink policies to address inequality in the long-term,  not just by providing short-term reliefs. Instead of focusing on growth indices, governments would need to work collaboratively with the private sector and other sectors in a mission-oriented approach to build public infrastructure and to ensure the establishment of more inclusive institutions and systems that sustainably create social value.

Author: Nonny Ugboma – Executive Secretary at MTN Foundation

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