Forbes

When we are given the op­por­tu­nity to lead… I truly be­lieve that we’ll out­per­form other pop­u­la­tions be­cause of the dif­fi­culty we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced over time.”

| Adam roo­sevelt CEO, SEM North Amer­ica

- ADAM ROO­SEVELT knows black Ex­cel­lence Productivity · Lifehacks · NATO · Republican Party (United States)

CRYS­TAL ASHBY:

how about we start with you telling me about your jour­ney to be­com­ing a CEO when you are just 26 years old? Ex­tra­or­di­nary!

ADAM ROO­SEVELT:

Well, i grew up poor in vir­ginia, 17 years try­ing to sur­vive on the streets, gangs, pretty typ­i­cal dis­ad­van­taged African-Amer­i­can story. then my mother said to me, “What’re you go­ing to do with your life?” i made a com­mit­ment right then and there to do some­thing more mean­ing­ful. since i thought i might want to be in pol­i­tics, the best road for me seemed to be the mil­i­tary. so, i joined the army, was as­signed to a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent units, NATO on cy­ber se­cu­rity, some in­fantry work, twice to Afghanista­n, and all of that re­ally ce­mented my need to com­mit to a larger pur­pose. When i tran­si­tioned, i just de­cided to start a busi­ness, be­cause i knew i wanted to own some­thing, to build and de­velop it. i was very com­pet­i­tive, and i wanted to be con­tent at work, but I also wanted to put to­gether a fi­nan­cial foun­da­tion for my fam­ily for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

CA:

your young life clearly formed a strong foun­da­tion for who you have be­come. how does eq­uity – and by that I mean fair­ness – be­come a prac­tice you per­son­ally sup­port?

Ar:

the mil­i­tary made me a fair and im­par­tial leader. that’s em­bed­ded in our lead­er­ship style. i was lead­ing a very di­verse team in high-fric­tion en­vi­ron­ments, so the right es­prit de corps could mean the difference be­tween sur­vival or death.

CA:

hold­ing some­one’s life in your hands, that’s a very dif­fer­ent re­spon­si­bil­ity and ac­count­abil­ity.

Ar:

Yes, the war men­tal­ity is very dif­fer­ent. it’s not trans­fer­able to the civil­ian sec­tor, but it did teach me that a team that’s not oiled cor­rectly can lead to disas­ter. Putting a team to­gether in the civil­ian en­vi­ron­ment is more com­plex. i didn’t see the same es­prit de corps, the same trust. the team’s needs, the in­di­vid­u­als, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s mis­sion, those were dif­fer­ent.

CA:

your an­swer al­lows us to pivot to my next ques­tion. how have your mil­i­tary val­ues trans­lated into lead­ing your team now in a pur­pose­ful and au­then­tic way on race-re­lated is­sues, es­pe­cially given the crises we’re fac­ing now?

Ar:

I ran for of­fice in Vir­ginia as a Repub­li­can, so i found work­ing with a ma­jor­ity of lib­eral em­ploy­ees and a small con­tin­gent of con­ser­va­tives a very en­er­gized en­vi­ron­ment. i al­ready had been branded, so i had to de­ploy a mul­ti­fac­eted and un­con­ven­tional strat­egy. i showed in­tel­lec­tual di­ver­sity of thought at work and the emo­tional ca­pac­ity to un­der­stand sit­u­a­tions as a per­son of color. But it took time to un­lock the trust fac­tor. i had to role model the me be­hind the brand. And ex­ter­nally, i use so­cial me­dia to han­dle peo­ple who say i’m not African-Amer­i­can enough, to in­form peo­ple who don’t know me.

CA:

Is there any­thing else you want to share around en­gage­ment with your stake­hold­ers, your in­vestors, your cus­tomers, to ad­vance the pur­pose be­hind eq­uity?

Ar:

i would say that con­ver­sa­tion was very un­com­fort­able for a lot of stake­hold­ers, in­vestors, and em­ploy­ees, but we’re now mov­ing to dis­cus­sions. i’d say i fall where the gov­ern­ment is: di­ver­sity of thought across a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions fos­ters in­no­va­tion. And i know the African-Amer­i­can tal­ent is there. there’s a ge­nius in us be­cause we’ve strug­gled for 400 years to adapt to im­pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tions. When we are given the op­por­tu­nity to lead, you’ll see high-qual­ity im­pact to your or­ga­ni­za­tion. i truly be­lieve we’ll out­per­form other pop­u­la­tions be­cause of the dif­fi­culty we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced over time.

CA:

I think you crys­tal­lized a com­po­nent of who black peo­ple are. thank you for ev­ery­thing you have shared to­day, and con­grat­u­la­tions on ev­ery­thing you’ve achieved.

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