Kwame Jackson story
By Bruce Freeman
Kwame Jackson is just as he appeared on television – a dynamic, intelligent, ambitious young man with a great future; it’s no surprise he was chosen from among thousands to appear in NBC’s first season of The Apprentice. Attempts to typecast him as a Donald Trump wannabe however, fail, when you talk with this polite and respectful son of a Howard University trained CPA.
Jackson, a Washington, DC native moved with his family to Charlotte, NC at eight when his parents decided to become entrepreneurs; his mom starting an accounting practice in the basement of their home and step-dad hanging out his surgeon’s shingle. Jackson describes his childhood as similar to Cosby’s Huxtable television family, with the expectation of college and success a given, despite his mischievous nature.
Still, Jackson faced hard times as a teenager after his mom passed when he was only fifteen. He credits his mom’s strong belief system and the realization that while you have to work hard, you’d better enjoy the journey because it could all be gone tomorrow. He is an independent spirit, who believes that it’s not what happens to you, but how you react that shapes your destiny.
As an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Jackson pledged the famous black fraternity
Kappa Alpha Psi, a brotherhood of highly motivated, “cool” professional young men where he formed relationships that are important to him even today. After receiving his degree in business, Jackson worked in sales and marketing for Proctor and Gamble for two years before entering Harvard’s Business School to work toward his MBA.
While at Harvard in the late 90’s, Jackson learned practical lessons along with academic credits. He lost his naiveté when two dot com companies he helped start were sold and only the shareholders with preferred equity were paid, his common shares received nothing. But this experience didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for becoming an entrepreneur.
After graduation Jackson went to Goldman Sachs, a premier Wall Street Investment firm, and started in a new Internet-based division which attempted to convince wealthy people to try trading for themselves online. Disappointed when project was sacked, he moved laterally within the firm into traditional investment management. Opportunity knocked soon after when a fraternity brother told him about The Apprentice, suggested they apply together, and use the resulting exposure and name recognition to jump-start their own entrepreneurial venture.
Assessing the downside risk, since Jackson would have to resign and still meet his student loan payments and other commitments, he reasoned that the name recognition he would garner if he didn’t win was just as important to an entrepreneur as winning the job with Trump. His motto had always been, “You have your entire life to be ordinary, but only one moment to be extraordinary,” so he applied.
Keeping his own agenda close to the vest, and mindful that his every hiccup would be magnified on television, Jackson played the game conservatively, hoping that 40 million viewers of the show’s climax would build his name recognition into a brand with value.
Today, Jackson and two fraternity brothers are building Legacy Holdings, a real estate development company currently working on a multi-billion dollar mixed residential, commercial and recreational use project called Rosewood, near Washington DC.
Legacy Holdings hopes to use the Rosewood project as a calling card for similar developments nationwide. If you want to know more about this remarkable young man, his experience on The Apprentice or his current interests, Jackson invites you to visit his personal web site, www.kwamejackson.com
Professor Bruce’s Words of Wisdom
When you talk with Kwame Jackson, the kind of drive it takes to achieve at the level where Jackson plays is hard to miss. He speaks of writing a book of his experiences, possibly titled, Betting on Yourself, but is modest enough to admit that he wants more experience as an entrepreneur before publishing. His message though is clear; you have to take advantage of opportunities that come to you.
Jackson believes that comfort is the biggest barrier to success and realizes that being an entrepreneur means being tenacious, willing to get, “punched, kicked and bitten” before getting right back up to ask for it again. He plans to keep on coming, taking three steps forward and two steps back, and enjoying being in the thick of the fray.
Entrepreneur’s Strategy: Assess the risk, but take opportunity and give it everything you’ve got. Even if you fail, there are assets to be gained and lessons to be learned.
Could This Work For Me? Change and mistakes are the only things that move us forward. Only you can decide to grab for the brass ring and hold on tight for the ride.