“Being an entrepreneur was not sexy in the mid-’90s.”

Jeff Wright, CEO, Urban Ministries, Inc.

Jeff Wright’s friends thought he was crazy. One friend even flew to Chicago to try to talk him out of it. Jeff decided, at age 39, that the only downside about becoming the president of a publishing company serving the black religious community, located in a storefront in Chicago, was that if it didn’t work out, he could always go back to Corporate America and everything would be “back to life as it was before.”

He was wrong. The move ended in a divorce and Jeff became a single dad entrepreneur with three children, balancing his time with his kids with time allocated to the company. The kids got 100 hours of the week and the company got the rest. He worked when the kids were asleep, but met the school bus every day after school. It helped that the company founder stayed around for the transition. Today, he credits that experience with his children as some of the most important times of his life.

Growing up in DC, Jeff had been surrounded by people who worked for the government but he decided he wanted to work for a business. Jeff became a senior Mergers & Acquisitions specialist, a vice president at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), who worked on one of the biggest mergers of the healthcare industry. He had a lot of valuable experience, having worked also at Johnson & Johnson before BMS. Prior to the healthcare experience, Jeff had worked in marketing and finance at TWA and had graduated from Georgetown Law and Columbia Business School, so he had a very good resume to fall back on. Jeff had accomplished his goal by becoming a senior executive in Corporate America, one of the few who was a person of color. But he was always unsure of when he would hit the glass ceiling, as those destined for higher office were usually white men.

Jeff didn’t have many friends who were entrepreneurs when he considered leaving the corporate world; Betty was one of the exceptions. They had graduated Columbia together, and she was one of the few friends who congratulated him on his jump into entrepreneurship. He had listened to Betty talk about the challenges of entrepreneurship, juggling clients like  Colgate-Palmolive, Allied-Signal and the New York Times Company.  She too told him he could go back to Corporate America if things didn’t work out.

But Jeff didn’t look back, even when many others thought he was going in the wrong direction and tried to talk him out of it. Today, Jeff has lots of friends who are entrepreneurs and he is a successful media company president, operating both online and on-ground tutorials and workshops to expand the African-American ministry throughout the country.

The moral of Jeff’s story/life? Have the conviction to carry out your plan but always have a fallback plan (go back to Corporate America?). And be prepared for unexpected circumstances because they always happen. 

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

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