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).
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!
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…
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
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
Take Responsibility of Your Life – Henry Ukazu
Being responsible is one of the attributes of a reasonable rational being. Nobody wants to associate with an irresponsible man or lady. In fact, once you are perceived as an irresponsible person, you’ll lose not only credibility but also opportunities. It is instructive to note that you are the architect of your life. According to the Book of life, your joy is your joy, your sorrow is your sorrow, no one can share it with you.
Taking responsibility for your life is understanding that you are fully in charge of your own destiny through your own decisions. Taking responsibility for your life means that you acknowledge that no one has the power to determine how your life turns out – not your friends, not your parents, not even your spouse.
In the journey of life, we are always instructed to take care of our life. As a student, you are advised to take your academics very serious, as a man business man or woman, you are expected to make prudent decisions, as a Christian or Muslim, you are expected to be of sound moral character in order to not derail from the teachings of Christ or Allah.
When you take responsibility for your life, you are simply taking ownership of whatever concerns you. You don’t wait for anyone to create an opportunity for you, rather you create the opportunity yourself. Whether you fail or succeed, it’s up to you. Most of the time, we blame other people for the misfortune that comes our way. As much as you may reach out to cerebral minds to advise or suggest their kind opinions to you, it’s imperative to you know that the buck stops with you.
If you really want to get any work done, you’ll create the pathway. Isn’t it true that the whole world sets apart for the man who knows where he’s going? You may be experiencing many challenges in your personal life, marriage, professional work, academic, or business. In order to reset the button, you must take charge.
Let’s share some practical ways of how you can take responsibility for your life.
Marriage is a sacred institution for mature minds. In law, before you go into marriage, you must be of age and capacity. Capacity here means maturity. If you are not fully prepared for marriage, you are bound to experience challenges when you get married, Therefore, it is highly advisable for you to take care of your financial life by having a stable source of income nor matter how little it is, in that way, it will help in planning. You’ll only enjoy your marriage when you decide the buck stops
Another area you need to fix is emotional life and this has to do with your mental state of mind. When you are not mentally rich upstairs, you can make a little problem a big problem, but if you can mentally strong you can make a big problem little the way you handle it.
One of the best ways to study a human being is to see how he or she spends his or her money. Just like you can use time to decipher the interest of someone, in the same way, you can use money to know what someone likes. The true test of financial maturity is being able to control your appetite and buying only what you need as opposed to what you want. If you don’t take care of your finances it will control you like a slave. No one is responsible for your money or lack of it. No one can make you broke if you don’t give them permission. Have you ever wondered why some people are able to build wealth from humble beginnings, while others remain stuck in the same place despite having better incomes? To build wealth from your current income, you might need to spend money on a strict budget.
To succeed in work, you must be ahead of your game. If you need a promotion, you must be proactive and detailed. No one is responsible for your performance or lack of it. So long as you believe your boss is against you, you’ll never grow in your career. You’ll grow in your career when you realize you’re responsible for your professional growth. You’ll never be fired from any job when you know you’re responsible for keeping your job.
You Start Achieving Your Goals
This is one of the greatest benefits of taking responsibility for your life. Here’s the thing about success – it is never accidental. If you want to become a star athlete, you have to sacrifice your morning sleep so that you can train more. If you want to build a successful business, you have to sacrifice the weekly night out with your group of friends so that you can work on your business.
Quit the blame game
One of the hallmarks of someone who has not taken full responsibility for their life is the propensity to blame others for everything wrong in their life. Whatever kind of life you want to live, not one will give it to you or take it away from you.
Just like finding someone to blame, complaining about your situation or circumstances puts you in the position of a victim who has no control over their life. The reality is that the world is not an ideal place, and therefore, things will not always go your way. If things don’t go as expected, or if something happens to put you in a position of disadvantage, instead of complaining about the situation, focus on what you can learn from the situation and think of what you can do to get in order to get yourself from the situation.
Take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, words, and actions.
To take responsibility for your life is to take responsibility for your powers of thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting, because this is the structure of all human experience. You create your life with your thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. You take responsibility when you accept that the thoughts you have, are your thoughts coming from your mind. How you feel happens in your body and is a result of your thoughts. The words you speak come from your mouth and voice. The actions you take are taken by you.
What this means is that nobody can make you think, feel, say or do anything. Nobody can push your buttons, because you are the button maker!
Make yourself happy
Taking responsibility for your happiness is liberating. Firstly, to realize that happiness does not come from outside of you. It is not the job of your partner, parent, friend, child, to make you happy.
To be happy is a decision and the gateway to happiness is gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal and you will find lots to be happy about. Also, do things that make you feel happy. Listen to your favorite music, surround yourself with beauty, express your creativity, do acts of kindness, etc. According to Miya Yamanouchi, “Don’t let society fool you into believing that if you don’t have a girlfriend or boyfriend then you’re destined for a life of misery. The Dalai Lama has been single for the last 80 years and he is one of the happiest people on earth. Stop searching for happiness in places outside of yourself and start finding it where it has always been: within you.”
Live in the present moment
Life is now. There is only one moment, now. The past is history, the future is a mystery, so there is only now, this moment. Take responsibility for this moment and make the best of it to redeem the past and create the future you want.
It’s easier to blame your partner. It’s easier to blame your boss. It’s easier to blame a father who was never there for you. It’s easier to blame the economy. It’s easier to blame an errant boyfriend. It’s easier to blame a controlling woman. It’s easier to blame a misfortune in your past. While losers blame others, winners take responsibility for their lives.
Therefore, the first step to taking control over your life is to quit the blame game and acknowledge that everything boils down to you. Once you do this, several positive things will happen in your life.
You will start achieving more of your goals, your health and finances will improve, you will enjoy better relationships with others, you will become more courageous, your decision-making will improve, and your life, in general, will become better.
Henry Ukazu writes from New York. He’s a self-discovery expert and works with the New York City Department of Correction as the Legal Coordinator.
Exploring a new model for cooperation between business and society- Nonny Ugboma
Nonny Ugboma is the Executive Secretary of the MTN Foundation (Image source: Nonny Ugboma)
The hand-me-down capitalism models Africa inherited from her colonial masters have failed to yield a prosperous continent despite its vast resources. Therefore, Africa is in desperate need of something different that takes into consideration its unique history, qualities, and context.
Experts have mostly seen the interdependence of businesses and society as transactional, with the society needing business for products and services, for jobs, for government taxes revenues. In turn, business needs the society for the market, sales and profits and public infrastructure, security and the rule of law! According to Amaeshi (2019) businesses, though sympathetic to societal challenges, are reluctant to act positively through their companies as they sometimes see such requests as irrelevant to their objectives.
However, due to the interdependency and interconnectedness of business and society, companies must work collaboratively with the government for a common purpose. That purpose is to build local resources.
There have been calls for western economies to rethink their capitalism model (Jacobs & Mazzucato, 2016). There have also been calls for Africa to develop its model of capitalism, with theorists and entrepreneurs exploring ideas like Africapitalism (Amaeshi, 2015). Africapitalism, coined by Nigerian entrepreneur Tony Elumelu, focuses on the role of business leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs on the continent’s development to create economic prosperity and social wealth. It rests on the following four pillars: a sense of progress and prosperity; the sense of parity and inclusion; a sense of peace and harmony; and a sense of place and belongingness.
Africa does need its model. However, I would argue that this model should be spearheaded by the state in collaboration with willing stakeholders in the private sector and third sector, unlike Africapitalism. A government-led push is especially relevant now that a few 21st century economists are reassessing and rethinking capitalism in its present form. One of such critics is UCL’s Mazzucato (2018) The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myths who debunks the mainstream neo-classical narrative that the private sector alone drives innovation but takes the position that the state is the driver of innovation.
Mission-Oriented Innovation Approach (MOIA) could help address some of the identified gaps to ensure state and business work jointly to solve grand challenges, to co-create public value and co-shape a robust and sustainable society that it can bequeath to future generations.
There is, therefore, a need for an alternative model of collaboration for business, society and government. A suggested way forward for Nigeria, and indeed Africa, is to embrace a mission-oriented innovation approach. The concept of the mission-oriented approach that involves government co-creating and co-shaping the market with the private and third sectors has enormous potential for Africa. The four pillars of ROAR, developed by Mariana Mazzucato (2016), is a useful tool-set to anchor MOIA in Africa:
1. Routes and directions– Government and Public institutions and agencies to set
missions. Also, private sector leaders can nudge government agencies to agree to
work collaboratively on national priority areas.
2. Organisational Capacity– Building of dynamic Capabilities within the Public sector through advocacy, capacity building, conferences and training.
3. Assessment and evaluation– Agencies, academia and organisations to determine new
dynamic tools to assess public policies to create new models and markets.
4. Risks and rewards– Government and private organisations need to engage on the
best risks and rewards sharing formats from initiatives to ensure smart, inclusive and
In conclusion, as Western Economies are reviewing and rethinking capitalism and their operating models, Africa must ensure she does the same. The reason is that the future of the development of the continent depends on the economic model that it chooses to adopt, in the future, especially with the growing youthful population.
Aurthor: Nonny Ugboma is the Executive Secretary of the MTN Foundation and has recently returned from one-year Sabbatical studying for a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of London Institute for innovation and Public Purpose.
The Education Of Our Youth is the Key to Nation Building – Matthew Odu
Matthew Odu (Image credit: Matthew Odu)
Like all of us I was shocked and outraged to learn that unarmed youths were confronted by live bullets on Tuesday evening (20.10.2020) at the Lekki Toll Gate Lagos, Nigeria after almost 2 weeks of a peaceful, relatively successful protest.
Initialy I had observed the start of the #EndSars demonstrations with admiration for the cause. The lamentations of the youth are genuine and difficult to argue against. If we haven’t personally been affected by an encounter with a callous police officer then I am sure we know somebody that has. Calling out police brutality and demanding an end to the extra judicial killing of predominantly young Nigerian males is a moral duty. It is clear that the vast majority of Nigerians had some empathy for the social movement.
Unfortunately what soon transpired in Lagos and across the nation was a display of anger that was about so much more than police brutality. The open agitation exposed a frustration with the system. What we have witnessed over the past week is an extreme manifestation of decades of youth segregation from governance and opportunity which has left millions of Nigeria’s youths unemployed, under employed and absolutely desperate for a way out of poverty and despair.
According to Nairametrics, data from the National Bureau of Statistics reveals Nigeria’s unemployment rate as at the second quarter of 2020 is 27.1% indicating that about 21.7 million Nigerians remain unemployed. The highest unemployment rate was recorded for youths between 15 – 24 years at 40.8%. This is followed by ages 25 – 34 years at 30.7%. To put things into context, Nigeria’s unemployed youth of 13.1 million is more than the population of Rwanda and several other African countries. Youth Population is also about 64% of total unemployed Nigerians suggesting that the most agile working-class population in the country remains unemployed.
I am a firm believer in the economic future of Nigeria and the catalyst to this future is our young people. Youth engagement and youth inclusion in governing arrangements is paramount if Nigeria wishes to succeed. As 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific recently acknowledged:
“Young entrepreneurs have been a source of innovation and economic dynamism, creating jobs and providing livelihoods to millions. To achieve and accelerate action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we urgently need their expertise and voices on creating solutions to social and environmental challenges, as well as economic opportunities. First, we need to ensure that the next generation of business leaders think about social purpose as well as profit. To achieve this, education will be critical. Governments play a key role.”
Alisjahbana is right to call out the government’s role in ensuring their youth are sufficiently educated, however private investment is also needed to solve the problems that the education sector is currently facing in Nigeria.
A lack of access to quality education and the sluggishness in adopting new methods of learning has immediate and long-term effects. The immediate effects have been playing out on the streets of Nigeria over the past few days. The long-term consequences are almost
HESED Learning is an initiative and my own personal contribution to providing quality education to Nigerians, as a borderless structure with an unrestricted curriculum. The e-learning platform compliments the current school system by using a national curriculum with the option of studying an international syllabus.
It is time for our youth to become more competitive. Not a select, fortunate few but the vast majority. Increasingly in the sectors where our children do excel – in medicine, science and finance – they sadly leave the country for better prospects abroad. Who can blame them?
Education is the key to nation building. A quality education propels industry. In countries where the children are educated the likelihood of civil unrest is reduced.
We cannot afford to under educate our youth.
Aurthor: Matthew Odu, A Fellow of the Chartered Accountant of Nigeria
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