Author, speaker, financial and millennial expert, Peter Yobo, of Peter Yobo International shares how his upbringing in Ghana and US education and experiences led him to develop programs to support empowered entrepreneurship among black millennials.
I‘ve always noticed how much the US has achieved and continues to achieve year-after year compared to stagnation in other countries. You have one part of the world that’s growing, another part that’s not, and some parts just going down. It dawned on me that in order for us evolve as a species or human race, we need to pursue greatness so we can all be successful.
I followed the same predetermined route that every immigrant follows. Come to the US, get a good job and do well in school, and you will be successful. Everyone pursues what they believe success is. In your village you can achieve success even if it is just be to be the first one in your family to own a hut—it then becomes the level of success to achieve. However, we will skip out on greatness if we do not start pursuing the things we believe to be impossible successes. Be the African kid who says, “I’m going to be the first one who goes to Mars.”
I was born in New Jersey before my mom moved back to Africa. We grew up in Ghana and my mom was an entrepreneur. She was a strong God fearing woman who raised my two sisters and I, but she was often busy working. My father was Nigerian and wasn’t in the picture. My mom did everything, but she was an entrepreneur so she taught us how to stay busy when she was. She worked around the clock and gave us money, telling us if we could can make it profitable she’d double it. So we’ve been going after it since we were kids. My 19 year old sister started a business during the summer and made about $2k in summer profit. She invested in us and trained us to be entrepreneurs.
When I moved to the US at 19 my mom was still looking at me in the same way most black women have been conditioned to look at black men. She told me to stay out of trouble, not to get in trouble with the law, get a good job, and go to school… she basically put me down the safe path to become the black guy who made it. I went to boarding school, the norm in most of West Africa so I was okay with leaving home, but it was tough. I’m very outgoing, but people were telling jokes I didn’t get, making references to movies I’d never seen, etc. I played sports in Ghana and that was the only medium through which I found connection with people. A lot of people think Africa is full of poverty. But Accra you could compare to Dallas, with fewer highrises. With regards to the kind of cars you see on the streets, the kind of clothes people wear, and food they eat, you can compare it to Dallas. The only difference is you have about two cities in all of Ghana and the rest is similar to what you see on TV regarding poverty.
As a teen in Ghana I watched a highlight of USC running back Reggie Bush and the USC Trojans. I saw it, saw the fans, and decided I was going to that school. I visualized the campus every day. My friends would go out to lunch and I just sat behind the screen to look at USC pictures. Back in Ghana I visualized and saw it enough times to learn every corner of the campus just through pictures. I didn’t have the money for school, but I applied to play basketball, ended up sending the application to USC at the last minute, and got accepted. I played track and field and football, the sport that actually got me interested in USC, so that felt fantastic!
I got an academic scholarship through PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as well—I got the internship during freshman year after arguing with my accounting professor. I was looking for ways to prove him wrong when he recommended me to PwC. He made the call and told them they needed to hire me. Learning to speak up was a big deal because I come from a society that tells you not to speak until you’re spoken to, to respect your elders, and to follow rules. Then I come to the US where people were challenging the professor in the classroom—I was thinking “somebody is about to get a whooping”.
Despite my social conditioning to stay quiet, I had a life-changing moment in the back of the class one day. I decided to take action and simply ask whenever I felt the compelling desire, like a fire building up within me, to ask a question and not worry about the rest. Naturally I’m a debater, that’s my personality. Unless you can prove to me something is right, I won’t let you get away with just saying it is. I asked, and the professor conceded I was right. All the fear I’d built up about being wrong or shamed disappeared After that, every time I desired to say or do something, I did it just to see the outcome, and it has taken me to heights I would never have achieved.
Understanding why people in this country have been so successful, I had the idea to package all this learning and teach it to the kids in Ghana. In Ghana, the United States is the place to be. It is where everyone wants to go. The British came to our shores with all these great mirrors, magical boards that you can see your reflection in, clothes, and liquid; a potion way more potent than our local palm wine or any alcoholic beverage we have. You automatically see these gesture as grand, bigger than life, bigger than what you know, and so it becomes the basis.
That is the picture I try and paint when I talk about slavery in West Africa and our view of slavery from a West African perspective. They learn the language, become the mediums, and begin to gain power because they have access to goods. As a result, we have gotten very used to to looking at white people as having better quality products and a more desired way of living. The way we dress and the way we compose ourselves is very reflective of this method of extraction where we take in international goods and distribute them in local businesses. These resources are only important when it comes back in molded and fashioned into what people in the West would use and wear. As a result, being able to leave Ghana or Africa or the West Coast to go and get your education in the US or in London or somewhere else is a big deal.
Professionally, I’ve been put in great positions to support a lot of work around diversity and millennials. However, there is a need and a desire for me to spend more time investing and creating. My mission is helping people achieve greatness in all they do. My company, Peter Yobo International, focuses on helping entrepreneurs engage and retain millennial clients in their workforce. We do this by helping them integrate an idea around their existing products and services, and find new ways to build service offerings and offer product offerings that speak to the millennial generation. It’s geared towards entrepreneurs looking to build a big company, generating upwards of $2-$10 million a year. It is my desire to drive growth and achievement and interact directly with entrepreneurs and young professionals.
I’m uniquely suited to this task because 1) I’m a millennial, and 2) I’ve done this for PWC global around the world. I’ve done more research about millennials than anyone I know and it is what I do, talk, and live out every single day. I’m in a position where I bring a different perspective, and when it comes to innovation, I come from a place of scarcity. I come from a background of scarcity, which allows me to see opportunities many people don’t. I don’t the follow methodologies, I will create methodologies. If you’re in Ghana and you need a tool, or you’re an athlete and you need to do something you don’t have the resources for, most people find a way to make it happen—that’s the skill I bring.
I’ve observed that many millennials and a lot of people in general are externally focused, and when the external shifts, they shift internally (for better or worse). But if you’re able to cultivate what’s within and create a foundation, when the things on the outside shift, your grounding within will not.
I’ve shared these messages, thoughts, and supporting career framework in a feature appearing in the Wall Street Journal and my debut book called the Seven Steps to Creating Your Masterpiece Day. I was inspired to write it after losing $50,000 in a business loan right out of college; a significant financial setback that challenged my ability to remain internally focused. The guy responsible for losing it said he would pay me back, but I’d lost it all. I lost my hair, I lost sleep. Then it was as if God spoke to me clearly to forgive his debt, and in a year 50 grand was paid off. I still don’t know how. I can’t tell you today how that happened.