Kevin Liles has taken his experiences as an undergrad, who chose a career that wasn’t his passion, to a top-level music executive (head of Def Jam and EVP of Warner Music Group), and poured them into entrepreneurial endeavors that advocate for education and purpose.
President and CEO of KWL Enterprises, (an umbrella company that includes a music management firm that represents Trey Songz and Estelle), Liles recently launched a philanthropic campaign called the Make It Happen Career Motivations Challenge to help people across the nation discover their purpose. A career assessment tool part of the challenge serves as a virtual guide, providing a detailed report on a professional’s leadership style, motivational qualities and personal strengths.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Liles to talk why he decided to incorporate education into entrepreneurship, why assessments are important — no matter where you are in your career path — and why it’s vital people follow their passion and purpose.
Black Enterprise: Let’s talk about NextGenEDU. What inspired you to start an ad company focused on education? Throughout my life, even with me starting at Morgan State University as an electrical engineer, I felt the need to have educated people around me, making educated decisions. Coming from where I came from, to have everyone around me making important decisions in my life, be educated to the point where they’re smarter than me. Throughout the past 20 years of my life, I’ve dedicated to seeing that education is two-fold: There has to be book knowledge, but also education from experience. I wanted to show people you can’t just call yourself a CEO without going through the steps to be one.
Many young people see the boss concept promoted in popular hip-hop music today, and oftentimes romanticized the concept. What does it really take be a young boss or CEO?
What hip-hop has told us is that we can be anything we put our mind to. We gave people the courage that ‘I believe in myself, therefore I am what I believe myself to be.’ I think we have to continue to focus on is starting with education. And while you’re getting educated, get employed, whether internship or actually going to work. I was working three jobs getting through school. Then on top of that, I always talk about entrepreneurship and then empowerment.
I want people to call themselves CEO, but I just want them to go through the process of it. And you don’t have to wait for a piece of paper to do it.
Many youth see examples of millionaires and bosses who didn’t finish high school or college or dropped out and still found success. Why is it important to urge pursuit of education to a youth culture enticed by these stories of success?
I’m not one to take the smallest part of the bell curve and say everybody can do that. Some of the greatest companies in the world — I’m talking valuations over $30 billion to $40 billion—every one of the CEOs have some form of college education. Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates may not have stayed there, but they started there. They took the initiative to learn skills, came up with ideas, and were able to take the marketplace … but everyone else around them h — the CFO, the chief administrative officers — as an education.
As part of your Make It Happen challenge, there’s a career assessment tool. Why is this important — even for those who are already employed or at mid-level in their careers?
When I came out of high school, I had a guidance counselor and social studies teacher who got me into the engineering program that started at Morgan State University. The days of localization around guidance counselors are gone. So, I feel we need virtual guidance counselors.
If you’re driving your car, and the light comes on indicating you have engine trouble, you’re going to take your car in and get it assessed. With the unemployment rate being so high for minorities and youth, don’t you think it’s time to get your oil checked? Don’t you think it’s time for you to press reset on your life, and find out who you are, why you are, what you are. Don’t you want to say, ‘I never worked a day in my life,’ because you’ve found something you’re so passionate about that it didn’t seem like work.
That’s why we must consistently assess ourselves whether you’re 13 years old, 21 years old, 30 years old, 40 years old. We have to assess ourselves every single day, making your own owner’s manual. Why don’t you have your own guidebook that says these are things I love, and everyday I’m going to work on the most important thing, and that is me.
For more information on the Make it Happen Challenge and career assessment, visit KevinLilesChallenge.com.