BE Modern Man is an integrative program that honors the essence, image, and accomplishments of today’s man of color. With features of today’s leaders, executives, creatives, students, politicians, entrepreneurs, professionals, and agents of change—these men share the common thread of creating a new normal while setting the bar in tech, art, philanthropy, business, and beyond. The BE Modern Man is making a positive impact, his way, and has a story to tell.
BE MODERN KENNY D. THOMPSON JR.
Name: Kenny D. Thompson Jr.
Profession: Senior Director, Government & External Affairs, PepsiCo
One Word that Describes you: Perseverant
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
When I was growing up in Texas, the latest edition of Black Enterprise was always on the coffee table. To be recognized by such a phenomenal organization is incredibly humbling. It means the world to me to be counted among so many inspiring men of color who come from all corners of the country with different professions and different backgrounds. They have all decided to make a positive impact on the communities where they live and work.
What are some examples of how you have turned struggle into success?
A close friend of mine passed away from cancer in 2015. It shook my world. This was someone who was healthy and strong, genuinely kind-hearted and the nicest person I had ever met. When he died, I began to question everything. I felt confused and lost. I struggled with feelings of guilt that I had the chance to go on with my life and he did not. This was the first real loss I had ever experienced, and it left a huge hole in my life. Because he died, I learned not to take days for granted. I live life to the fullest and try to give back as much as possible. I try to remember we are all here temporarily, so we might as well do the most good and have the most fun we can.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
A sense of humor is critically important to me in any relationship. I enjoy being around people who take their work seriously but don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s important for me to laugh because it helps me relax and keep life in perspective.
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
Throughout my career, whether in government or the private sector, I have consistently tried to maintain the attitude of a public servant. I am grateful to work for a company that values positive engagement with communities across the globe. I worked in the Obama administration when he launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.
I am currently leading PepsiCo’s efforts to build strong, lasting relationships with organizations that lift up boys and men of color, including National Action Network, Rainbow PUSH, NAACP, National Urban League, Congressional Hispanic Fellowship Program and the Obama Foundation.
What is the best advice you ever received?
At a very early age, my father gave me a piece of advice that I have always leaned on. “Follow people who you admire and want to be like.” It’s a simple premise, but it has significantly impacted my life. I have always tried to mimic the personality traits of people who are successful personally and professionally.
What advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
If everything you do is focused on someone else, you will always come out ahead. Take the time to get to know people—not for what they can do for you, but for who they are as an individual. You should want to understand people who are different from you. It’s important to obsessively invest in people.
What is your “Extraordinary Impact”?
My time as a student-athlete at Texas Christian University shaped my professional career in a pivotal way. I am completely invested in being a role model for students of color at TCU. I am a member of the TCU Black Alumni Alliance, and I also sit on the Board of Visitors for the TCU school of liberal arts. I am on the Chancellor’s Advisory Council as well. I try to give back to the university that gave so much to me.
It’s our normal to be extraordinary. Follow @BEModernMan and join the conversation using #BEModernMan.