Brandeis International Business School

029: Use Your Difference to Make a Difference

Finding ways to meld your hobby with your major for your career and future

Tayo Rockson is a writer, speaker, consultant and media personality who runs UYD Management, a strategic, leadership and consulting firm that helps organizations incorporate sustainable diversity and inclusion practices. As someone who's lived on four continents, he is an authority in communicating effectively across cultures. He also hosts the popular As Told by Nomads podcast and his new book, Use Your Difference to Make a Difference, which discusses how to connect and communicate in a cross-cultural world, is scheduled to come out on Sept. 4, 2019.

Today, Tayo works with institutions of all sorts to help them connect effectively across cultures. He helps them create systems that ensure everyone in the company feels like they belong and their policies are inclusive. He then helps them attract people from diverse backgrounds, making sure that the talent and the leadership reflects the world that we live in.

From the Dorm Room

Tayo went to college at Liberty University in Virginia with a major in marketing and business management, and later got his MBA in Business Communications at Fordham University, but his education essentially started off when he was born.

Tayo is Nigerian, but he grew up in five countries and four continents. The first nine years of his life were spent under two military dictatorships. His early education and exposure to leadership was suppression of opponents, muzzling the press and countless human rights violations. But that gave him perspective into what he wanted to do for work. He was always curious about why people weren't able to fully exercise their voices or fully express themselves, and it sparked the idea of creating an inclusive world.

Tayo is not a U.S. citizen, so after graduating college he needed to find a company to sponsor him. He applied to about 85 places during his junior and senior years – and all of them said no. When he graduated, he began to panic because he didn’t have a job lined up. He went back to one he had previously applied for and said, "I interned for you before. If you [could] just find something for me. I need to stay in the country." He got the job, but he learned then that settling for a career is not something he would ever advise anyone to do. No matter how desperate you may be, always make sure you're in an environment where you feel happy, and where you feel like there's room for growth.

After Tayo took that job out of desperation, he was driving there one day. All of a sudden, a neighboring car lost control. He swerved out of the way so that he didn't get hit and smashed into the left guardrail.

He saw his life flash before his eyes, and the one question that came to my mind at that moment was, “Have I done everything I want to do?”

He made it out of that unscathed – and that was when he knew he needed to quit his job.

To the Boardroom

Tayo quit his job, started applying to schools and moved to New York City, which led to Fordham. Then, he essentially made New York City his campus, and started to follow all of his curiosities. His childhood let him to being fascinated by inclusive leadership, and all of those experiences led to the genesis of his podcast and business.

Tayo wasn't thinking of launching a business when he started the podcast. He had given up on advancing at work for two years, and with that near-death experience, his biggest fear had become not achieving his potential. Before that, it was failing.

Tayo is what you would call a third-culture kid, or someone who spent their formative years outside of their parents’ culture. He decided to become a thought leader in that field. He joined all the Facebook groups of third-culture kids and used hashtags to join conversations. He told himself, "I have two years in school here. So, as I'm learning, I'm going to be building an audience." He didn't know what that audience would end up being, he just knew that he wanted to provide value for something he cared about.

He would go to school at night and do a lot of the research during the day. When it came time to graduate, he’d built enough of an audience to do what he does now full time.

Tayo isn’t sure his MBA is essential for what he does today. However, it did help with networking and opening doors to enter conversations. Whenever he was getting guests on the podcast in the early days, he’d say, "I'm getting my MBA at Fordham," and people would associate that with credibility.

In September, Tayo releases his first published book. The book comes from a signature speech that he gives called “How to Effectively Connect Across Cultures.” As he was coming up with that speech, he thought, "This is a framework that I can use in my coaching and in my workshops."

The title of the book, Use Your Difference to Make a Difference, comes from Tayo’s personal mission statement. Because he wants us to get to a place where differences aren't used as barriers, but used as gateways. 

Tayo wants us to get to a place of understanding and nuance because that's the only way we can grow, and that's the only way we can be more effective.

The Entrepreneurial Edge

Every week, we highlight one piece of advice for aspiring, struggling and successful-but-want-to-be-even-more-successful entrepreneurs:

Understand how to brand yourself. Learn how to be better at telling your story and understand how that leverages into different audiences. Even if you don't feel you are learning as much as you can in school, understand that the story can help open some doors and allow you to tell better stories.

Understand that your passions don't die once you go to college, regardless of your major. Even if you are an engineer, or you are a business person, do not lose sight of your hobbies because we live in a world today where your hobbies can become your careers. Because of digital media, because anyone can create an audience. So find a way to meld your hobby with your major, and then use that to ultimately inform what it is that you want to do with your career.


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