How a stint as a corporate lawyer, leading People Ops at WeWork and an unconventional route to on-paper success led me to make a change.
Let’s take it back to the beginning. I’m 21. I’ve graduated from uni and now, naturally, I must become a corporate lawyer. Why? Well, because everyone says I should, of course. My proud, working class, single-parent, (and, in many ways, superhero) African mother, my teachers, even my friends. Law. Corporate law. It’s prestigious, ensures security and plenty of $. What could go wrong?
It’s a story you’ve heard before: the corporate lawyer who learns that the “dream job” (70 hours a week for a company adding nil value to society) is actually soul-sapping. I couldn’t play poker face with my dreams. I couldn’t contort myself and my personality to fit in with the old boys’ club in the office. And I wouldn’t wait until I was 45 and buying my mid-life-crisis Harley Davidson to make a change. No. It was here, in this moment, that things started to get interesting.
Professional expectation vs. reality
Ever had an encounter with someone who, unknown to you at the time, changes the way you view the world? This was mine: a recruitment consultant who helped me find a summer job as a paralegal. Like any of the best recruiters, they took the time to find out more about me as a whole person. Before long, they shared with me a truth that felt a little painful to hear: “Corporate law isn’t going to be for you and you should consider a career in which you can fulfil your potential and be truly happy.”
Happiness? Pfft, I thought. At that time, I hadn’t yet shaken off the “dream job” indoctrination so I ignored the advice completely. Some growing up and a taste of corporate lawyer life was required for me to unlearn and, eventually, escape. You only really learn by doing, right?
Turning my perceived weaknesses into superpowers
A couple of years later, however, that same recruitment consultant hit me up, suggesting we meet for a beer. They’d started their own recruitment company and wanted to talk to me about becoming their first hire. This time I was ready to make a maverick move, so I joined, co-built all areas of the company and experienced the breadth and depth of learning I craved.
Pro tip: the things that can be perceived as ‘weak’ in a corporate setting are, in fact, your superpowers in the right environment.
As a lawyer, I cursed myself over my inability to focus on one key skill. Turns out I thrive on variety. My personality also always felt like it had to be turned down from 100 to 0. But in recruitment? It was my greatest asset.
Finally. I’d found my stride in helping match great companies with talented people who could bring their whole selves to work. I knew all too well what it meant to be a shell of yourself in the workplace, and I wasn’t about to allow those around me to make that mistake again.
And then WeWork happened
Co-working was the industry I’d carved a niche in, and that brought me to WeWork. They offered me a job to lead their talent outside The Americas. Again, it was time to leave my comfort zone, so I went for it.
On day one of the job, my boss, WeWork’s EMEA Head of People, announced they were leaving and I assumed their role on an interim basis – as well as the job as I was originally hired to do. Sound familiar? As a regional People Ops team of one (me!), it was a major challenge, but mama didn’t raise no punk.
WeWork taught me what it meant to be a part of a startup brand with a clear mission and values that informed culture. I learned how to cultivate and scale that culture, and how to hire people who move the needle, while fulfilling their potential too.
Ever heard that age-old proverb (read: Instagram quote) about how your energy attracts? Well, in many ways, that’s what happened next. I started being approached by brands like Casper and Glossier for People Ops leadership opportunities. Through hard work, I’d become the guy founders work with to design culture that complements their brands.
Black Unicorn begins
Cue a ton of research and the discovery that there was an entire cohort of companies who were choosing good. Good in their products and services. Good in communities and employees. It was then I realised I could do even more than guiding people towards work where they’d be happier. I could guide people to do work that actually moves the world forward.
That’s why I founded BU: to be what I needed and, in most cases, never had.
I needed a buddy that didn’t just hear, but really saw me and my ambitions. I needed someone with experience to advise me on tackling the workplace bullshit that I was experiencing for the first time. I definitely needed a pro who knew what I was going through as an under-resourced Head of Talent and Head of People who was building things for the first time.
As a founder, I’ve needed experts in brand, ops and strategy who made me feel confident that they too are Futurists. They’ve given me, a time-poor founder, the partnership and perspective to bring my vision for Black Unicorn to life.