With the average age of an incoming CEO at a company in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index being 53, a professional aged 40 or younger leading a company may seem like an anomaly.
But not so fast. On many high-profile lists of companies showing promise in market share, impact and revenue growth—or all-out ‘killing it’ in re-branding and profit boosts—are CEOs under the age of 40. On the higher end of the scale in terms of Fortune 500 companies, there’s Burger King’s Daniel Schwartz, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer. Then there are startup and small business CEOs, such as Tristan Walker, Angela Benton of NewMe Accelerator, and Jason Njoku of iROKO TV.
There’s much to be learned from young risk-takers when it comes to leadership, tenacity and a global perspective that leads to optimal results. One young business leader, Abiola Oke, is among those beginning journeys to disrupt the market and build impact.
Oke, 34, was recently appointed CEO of Okayafrica, a digital media platform that explores the continent’s vast and colorful music, film, culture and entertainment scene. The hub is an off-shoot of Okayplayer, an online hip-hop and alternative music Website founded by The Roots‘ drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and author Angela Nissel, in 1999.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Oke to talk about the role of young CEOs today, his successful transition out of Wall Street, and the legacy he seeks to leave in expanding the international perception and reach of African artists.
BlackEnterprise.com: You’ve worked on Wall Street in the financial services industry. How has your experience there helped you in your current role at an entertainment and music brand?
Abiola Oke: Skills in analytical thinking, leadership, and financial analysis are all vital to being a CEO, especially when we’re talking about duties that go beyond the fun, cool factor of working at a music and entertainment brand. In my time, at companies like Barclays and Citigroup, I was able to use skills such as forecasting, risk reduction, and business management in order to forge growth and meet deliverables. All of these aspects come to play with any business, no matter what type of industry it is.
You are of Nigerian descent. How has your experience as a Diasporan, and your culture, played a role in your career transitions and journey as the CEO of a global brand?
I had a very diverse experience growing up. I spent the ’80s in the Bronx and then in the ’90s, I went back to Nigeria and spent my formidable high school years there. In the 2000s, I came back to the States. So I’ve had a unique experience with the American way of life, as well as the traditional Nigerian way of life. It’s something that’s made my network diverse, as well as [molding] how I think about the world and myself as a professional. Also, in my household growing up there was a lot of music—all different kinds and genres from all over the world. So I grew up with a love and range of tastes for music. My parents always exposed me to something different.
There was a point in my career where [a position at a company didn’t work out], and I took that time to build a studio, work with some global artists, and really get into music a bit more on that side. So, even in doing that, my network grew in terms of artists and being part of their world. In reminiscing about all this, it’s interesting how your life can come full circle without you even realizing it.
What would you like your legacy to be as a young CEO?
The profile of CEOs is changing from that of a professional who has worked 30 years at one company to young innovators disrupting their industries; whether it’s via their own companies or at more established brands. As a young CEO—and just a CEO in general—I’d like to see the brand return back to the continent and have a foothold on the ground. I’d like it to provide a platform for artists from across Africa to be able to express their art and share it in a way that is authentic and far-reaching. I’d also like to be part of expanding it into a lifestyle brand, where there’s a feeling or vibe associated when you hear Okayafrica, that goes bey0nd music. We have a lot of great things down the pipeline in that respect, and I’m excited to be part of it all.