Former NFL Defensive Back Chinedum Ndukwe Finds Success After the Whistle

The next time you watch an NFL game, pay attention. Every Sunday gladiator on your screen will leave the game and have to answer the question “What’s next?” For most, it is a daunting prospect.

Chinedum Ndukwe, a Notre Dame graduate who played five seasons in the NFL, is fortunate. He founded a successful real estate development firm in Cincinnati, Kingsley + Co., that he feels is making a difference.

Last month, Ndukwe, 37, spoke with BLACK ENTERPRISE about his path to a fulfilling second career and why home ownership is not an elusive prospect for Blacks. (Note: Ndukwe declined to comment about being an FBI witness in P.G. Sittenfeld’s political corruption trial until after Sittenfeld was sentenced. The former Cincinnati councilman was found guilty in July.)

BLACK ENTERPRISE: How did you find your passions beyond football?

Chinedum Ndukwe: I have two amazing parents who are both entrepreneurs. A lot of pro athletes don’t have that two-parent household. I was very fortunate to find very good mentors who really showed me how to do it the right way and to invest the right way.

What was the best lesson you got from one of those mentors?

The best advice I got early is, “Hey, if you don’t understand it, then don’t do it.” But then motivate yourself to learn it, so you can do it.

People are, like, did you get into crypto? And I’m like, “No.” I’m still trying to understand how the whole thing works. It’s no different than me trying to go out and do a deal in a space that I haven’t done before. For example, when I first started investing in real estate, I bought a two-family house because I understood it and then I bought more multi-family properties because I got it. When I ventured into the hotel space, I strategically partnered with a very, very experienced hotel developer and operator. And I spent a lot of time learning and understanding. Now I own one of the only minority-owned, Black-owned hotels in the city of Cincinnati.

What advice do you have for people looking to start their own business?

You’ve really got to understand the risk and you’ve really got to calculate that. Then, at that point, you have to look at your personal wherewithal. Is that the appetite of risk you’re able to take on at this point in your life, at this point in your career? The art of going through that exercise, really calculating is this something that really is good for me and my family, is something that I don’t think people do enough.

Chinedum Ndukwe at work. (Photo: Peggy McHale Joseph Photography)

You mentioned before about the thrill of playing football. Does anything in business come close to that?

Our group focuses on urban redevelopment and on underutilized properties that are kind of hiding in plain sight. You go around [the city where you live] and you’ve probably seen a building that you’ve probably passed thousands of times. And you’re like, “God, this building just looks [terrible]. Why is the property not developed?” We take it a step further and we continue to dig.

What gets me excited is we go the extra mile to figure out a way to create value. And that value is created by distressed properties that have a complicated title or really got a ton of hair on them. They’re properties in great locations, but they just have challenges that the majority of the bigger development firms don’t have the patience to work on; the smaller firms maybe don’t have the time to work on them. When we get to a point where we have a purchase agreement and then close and then a shovel is in the ground—I mean, it’s one of the best feelings.

What is important for your readers to understand is you really need to find something that you’re truly passionate about and you’re curious about. Make sure your profession is your passion. I mean, as cheesy as that is, there is a lot to it. Because you will invest that time. You will try to seek out those answers. And, for me, it’s fulfilling.

The news seems to change every day about whether it’s advisable to sell a home, buy a home. What’s your take?

Regardless of what’s going on in the market, there are buying opportunities and selling opportunities—good and bad. The last thing you want to do right now is overpay. The last thing you want to do right now with the rising interest rates is to be locked into something that you’re not passionate enough about. I would encourage people before they make that purchase to really understand what’s the history of this property. Is that its all-time high or is there room to appreciate? If you’re not a real estate agent, find a good Realtor who understands the market, who can give you a little bit of direction. Conversely, if you’re considering selling your property, link up with someone that understands what some of those comps are.

Whether it’s real estate investing or home ownership, the idea of owning land oftentimes has been out of reach for many people. I would just encourage people to explore the value of real estate ownership and the value of creating wealth through real estate. My eyes were open to it at an early age.

Something that I want to continue to leave with young people is that you can own land. You can own an investment property, but more important, you can own your own home and really seek out those tools that are available to get that pathway to home ownership. I think it’s something that we can’t talk enough about. As an African American in my thirties, I’m doing my best to try to impart that on people of color, to let them understand, hey, it is possible to be a homeowner. It is possible to be a landlord. That is a viable route. You can be a real estate developer one day. That doesn’t happen overnight. It’s taken me close to 15 years to really get in a good rhythm and I’m still learning every single day. But you start with that first class. You start doing research on what it takes. Then you start seeking out people you may have a relationship with to learn more.