Tayo Rockson: [00:00:00] To settle in for a career is a very — it's not something I would ever advise anyone to do. No matter how desperate you may be, always make sure that you're in an environment where you feel happy, where you feel like there's  room for growth.

Andy Molinsky: [00:00:17] Welcome to From the Dorm Room to the Board Room, a podcast where we provide insights, tips, and inspiration for college students and young professionals, so they can make a really successful transition from college life to the professional world and beyond.

Andy Molinsky: [00:00:35] My name is Andy Molinsky, and I'm your host. I am also a Professor of Organizational Behavior and International Management at Brandeis University's International Business School, where we record and produce this podcast.

Andy Molinsky: [00:00:52] So, our guest today is Tayo Rockson, who is a writer, speaker, consultant, and media personality who runs you 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. In addition to that, Tayo has been named a Top 40 Millennial Influencer. He also hosts the popular As Told by Nomads podcast. I've been a guest. And his book, Use Your Difference to Make a Difference, which is about how to connect and communicate in a cross-cultural world, is scheduled to come out on September 4, 2019. Tayo is a man of many talents, so I'm very happy to have you here with us today.

Tayo Rockson: [00:01:51] Thank you. Thank you so much for coming on — for having me. I'm so used to saying "coming on the show" because I've had you on the show multiple times. I think you've appeared the most, by the way, just so-

Andy Molinsky: [00:02:02] Have I done that? Oh, it's good. I'm glad. I've enjoyed each time. So-

Tayo Rockson: [00:02:06] Yeah.

Andy Molinsky: [00:02:07] So, tell us about what you do. I mean, so, we now know you have a podcast, you have a company. Tell us a bit about like for someone who is just not really familiar with this area, what do you do?

Tayo Rockson: [00:02:19] So, what I do today is I work with institutions of all sorts to, essentially, help them connect effectively across cultures. So, I help them create systems that make sure everyone in the company feels like they belong, and their policies are inclusive. Then, I also help them attract people from diverse backgrounds, make sure that the talent and the leadership reflects the world that we live in. But that basically boils down to being a diversity and inclusion consultant. It's no secret that we live in very, very multicultural world. But a lot of institutions, when it comes to educations with curriculums or companies with making sure that you create more room or more seats on a table, it's no secret that those things have been challenges, and especially in several industries. So, I just try to improve visibility and, also, make sure that we can be nice to each other. But, yeah, [crosstalk].

Andy Molinsky: [00:03:16] Yeah. So, I was going to say, so what would be an — just to make it super concrete for — I imagine there are people who don't quite know what a diversity and inclusion consultant does. So, what would be an example of something — I don't know, a way you've worked with a company before just to give us a concrete example?

Tayo Rockson: [00:03:33] Sure. So, companies bring me for a whole host of reasons. They might say, "Hey, we've noticed that we have problems attracting people of color in our offices. What can we do to make sure we improve that? How can we improve our pipeline, essentially? How can we make sure that we're more visible to black and brown people?" And so, I will come on down. We'll assess their needs. I'll see what they have in there. I'll see what they're doing in terms of marketing resumes. I'll also work with the HR team to make sure that you get people of color in, or women, or people in marginalized groups, that you're doing things to make sure that they feel like they belong. Because a lot of times, people bring me on, and say, "Hey, we have — we hire a lot people, but they tend to leave after the first year." So, that's one.

Tayo Rockson: [00:04:23] Another example could be a multinational bringing me on to say, "Our Chinese office doesn't work well with our Italian office," or "It doesn't work well with our US office. How can we make sure that we keep that" to use your term, " culture dexterity? How do we make sure we use that culture dexterity and make sure that everybody preserves their identity, culture identity, but, also, we have a working environment?" And then, obviously, I do a lot of workshops and executive coaching as well.

Andy Molinsky: [00:04:53] Got it, okay. Well, that's really helpful. So, let's rewind to how you got into this. And with most people, I ask them where they went to college. And I'm certainly curious about you, but I know you've— we're going to say a few words about like where you grew up because, I think, that's actually important and interesting too. And then, kind of then from there, a bit about your education, where you went to college.

Tayo Rockson: [00:05:15] Right, right. That's a great question. So, me, my education essentially starts off when I was born. I'm Nigerian, but I grew up in five countries and four continents. And the first nine years of my life were spent under two military dictatorships. So, a lot of my education and my exposure to leadership was really what you would term as suppression of opponents, muzzling the press, and countless human rights violations. But that gave me an inkling into what I want to do with work. I was always curious about why people weren't able to fully exercise their voices or fully express themselves. And even though a lot of those things were outside of my drawer, it really just — it gave me the sparks to want to make sure that I created an inclusive world.

Tayo Rockson: [00:06:02] So, I remember watching the late Nelson Mandela, who was, arguably, my biggest inspiration, transition from just getting out of jail after 27 years to being South Africa's first black president. And I remember watching that moment in '94 and thinking, "That's what I want to be." And so, it served as a a robot of me because I was under a military dictatorship at a time, and it made me possibility, but it also led me down this path of really studying people.

Tayo Rockson: [00:06:34] And then, my dad's job as a diplomat started to take us to different parts of the world. After we transitioned to civilian rule, we then became -- I mean, me and my brothers, then, became minorities everywhere we went because we were the only ones of our kind, essentially. I was never quite black enough, or Nigerian enough, or man enough because I was always a mix of several cultures. And that initially led to an identity crisis, I'm not going to lie, because I remember being the skinny Nigerian kid with a thick Nigerian accent in a French-speaking country in America and at school going through puberty. And the identity crisis, then, became something that I wanted to work on. And once I accepted myself, I started using the nuance within my cultures to just try and help other people feel at home where they are.

Andy Molinsky: [00:07:22] Yeah, it's a really interesting story. And where did you end up going to college?

Tayo Rockson: [00:07:26] I went to college in Virginia. So, I went to this college called Liberty University. And then, I also got — I got my MBA at Fordham University.

Andy Molinsky: [00:07:37] And what did you major in, in college?

Tayo Rockson: [00:07:39] In college, I majored in marketing and business management. And then, I had a minor in French. And for my MBA, I got an MBA in Business Communications, as well as marketing.

Andy Molinsky: [00:07:53] And did you work between college and your MBA?

Tayo Rockson: [00:07:57] I did, I did. I worked for about two years. So, I was doing sales at an e-learning company. Ironically, it brought me on there to do marketing, social media marketing. But they quickly they quickly switched their role on me and said, "Hey, you've got a quote of $10,000, and you've got to figure out how to do that every month." So, that was my experience. But for those listening, so, I'm not a citizen. So, a lot of my path was very unique. I needed to find a company to sponsor me essentially. If you're not a citizen in America, you can stay here, whether through marriage, through job, or through school. Those are the three ways.

Tayo Rockson: [00:08:41] And so, I remember applying just to multiple places my junior and senior year. And it ended up amounted to about 85 places, and all of them said no to me. So, I was really panicking when I graduated because I didn't know where I was going to be, but they said no for a whole host of reasons. I guess, some thought I was too idealistic. Some didn't like that I wasn't a citizen. Some thought that I didn't have quite enough experience.

Tayo Rockson: [00:09:05] And so, the job that I took was, essentially, one that I went back to and said, "Hey, I know I interned for you before. If you just find something for me. This is something — I need to stay in the country." But I definitely learned a lot there. And big thing I learned is settling for a career is a very —is not something I would ever advise anyone to do. No matter how desperate you may be, always make sure to you're in an environment where you feel happy, and you feel like there's a room for growth for you. And I can expand on that later if you want.

Andy Molinsky: [00:09:38] Sure. No, that's great. And then, that part, your MBA. And then, how about post-MBA? It wasn't that long ago, right? What did you do transitioning from your MBA?

Tayo Rockson: [00:09:48] Well, I got my MBA. I graduated in 2015. But there's so many stories that led to even getting an MBA. But as I was getting my MBA, I launched my podcast. I launched my podcast in 2014, and I started school in 2013. And the reason why I started the podcast is because I had had a near-death experience in 2012.

Tayo Rockson: [00:10:15] So, let me back it up. When I was graduating college, and I took that job that I just didn't have a choice to take, and I thought really limited in, I remember driving to work in my Burgundy Toyota Camry in Virginia at the time on August 2012. And I got to the part where the road merged onto the highway, and I was cruising in my lane, 60 miles hour, I guess, as you're supposed to. And then, all of a sudden, my lame duck cut into half. And then, a neighboring car lost control. And so, I was swerving out of the way, so I didn't get hit. I smashed into left guardrail, one car, two cars, right guardrail.

Tayo Rockson: [00:10:50] And then, I got back to left guardrail. This time, the car hit the guardrail with such impact that they lifted up. I was certain I was about to flip over the bridge and [inaudible] my life. And as cliché as it sounds, you certainly see your life flash before your eyes or, at least, you become aware of your mortality. And one question that came to my mind at that moment was, have I done everything I say I want to do? I was just asking myself that.

Tayo Rockson: [00:11:18] And so, adrenaline kicked in. I slammed my brakes. And all of a sudden, I, somehow, managed to get out of the car, but my car was completely totaled. There were two other cars hit. And I was, somehow, standing on the road unscathed. And that was when I knew I needed to really quit my job.

Tayo Rockson: [00:11:35] And so, I figured I had a second chance of life at 22. And so, I quit my job, started applying to schools in between, and then moved to New York City, which led to Fordham. Then, when I was in Fordham, I just essentially made New York City my campus, and I started to follow all my curiosities. That's where all the things about me a being diplomatic kid, I grew up in all these countries, me being fascinated by inclusive leadership led to the genesis of the podcast, where I started bringing on people who grew up in a similar way, who are more thought leaders in the field. And I just wanted to just investigate what exactly made them click, how do they embrace identities.

Tayo Rockson: [00:12:15] And so, I would go to school at night and do a lot of the research during the day. And that was just what I was doing. And when it came down to graduate and built enough an audience to decide that I was going to do what I do now.

Andy Molinsky: [00:12:29] And so, that's a great story. Did you have a sense when you started the podcast of what you might want to translate the podcast into? I know, nowadays, podcasts or we're on a podcast-

Tayo Rockson: [00:12:43] Yes, we are.

Andy Molinsky: [00:12:43] Podcasts are quite common. Many people use podcasts as ways to support or launch their business, build a brand, build an audience. Some people use podcasts for strategic reasons. Were you thinking that? Were you're going, sort of, one step at a time without thinking that? I think people would probably be curious to hear.

Tayo Rockson: [00:13:06] No, I wasn't thinking of anything. All I was thinking of was I was stuck in a place that I wasn't growing, and I sort of given up on even advancing in the job for two years, and I had a near-death experience. Now, my fear was not achieving my potential. Before that, it was failure.

Tayo Rockson: [00:13:24] And so, I was just doing things that I knew that I was passionate about and hoping that I would gain clarity along the way. So, I did a lot of my -- I have always been a writer. I was writing since I was 15. I start with poetry and things like that. But I started writing on my blog more and just doing these things.

Tayo Rockson: [00:13:44] And so, what I did was I just tapped into my research skills. I'm what you call a third-culture kid. And so, for your audience is third-culture kid or TCK is anyone who's spent their formative periods of their lives outside of their parents' culture. So, diplomatic kids, army brats, missionary kids, things like that, people like that.

Tayo Rockson: [00:14:03] And so, I just decided that I would be the thought leader in this field. That was the first thing I did. And I joined all the Facebook groups of third-culture kids. I used all the hashtags to join conversations. And I said to myself, "I have two years in school here. So, as I'm learning, I'm going to be building an audience." And I didn't know what that audience would end up being. I just knew that I wanted to provide value for something I cared about. And that was just what I was doing. And then, the other stuff just sort of became clearer as I grew.

Andy Molinsky: [00:14:35] Got it. So, you've had a interesting, really eclectic experience that's brought you to a place where you have started to have some influence, for sure. You're doing very interesting consulting. I know you've done several TED Talks. I know you've written this book, which is great. What's your impression about college students today in terms of like misconceptions that they might have entering the workforce? Do you have any thoughts about that?

Tayo Rockson: [00:15:05] Yeah, I think this — I don't want to sound controversial, but I think a lot of the education system, sometimes, doesn't prepare you for the real-world way I think it should be, the way it is today. A lot of times, at least in my experience, you're sort of told, "You do this. Then, you do that. Then, that happens." And I don't know that that allows for a lot of variance and a lot of expression of self or identity.

Tayo Rockson: [00:15:33] So, what I always do when I talk to college students, especially when I go to my alma mater, is I always allow for people this. I was make sure that people understand that your passions don't die once you go to college, regardless of you major. And so, I always tell college students that even if you are an engineer, or you're a businessperson, don't lose sight of your hobbies because we live in a world today where your hobbies can become your careers because of digital media, because of an audience you can create. 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 be with your career.

Andy Molinsky: [00:16:17] Is there anything from college or graduate school — so it sounds like you studied business in both places.

Tayo Rockson: [00:16:24] Both places, yeah.

Andy Molinsky: [00:16:25] Yeah. Was there anything that that you felt was particularly useful now in retrospect about what you actually studied?

Tayo Rockson: [00:16:32] Yeah, the electives I took. I took, I remember, communication. I think, communications class, which ironically is what I do. Public speaking was essential for me because that allowed me to be able to articulate my ideas and present that. And the reason why I encourage you to always to take electives is because things like public speaking or improv allow you to be able to communicate ideas no matter what you do, whether it's Math, or Science, or STEM, or anything like that.

Tayo Rockson: [00:17:01] So, yeah, all the classes I took outside of my major helped because I was very intentional about that. And they also helped me meld my right and left brain thinking. So, yeah, for business, that was helpful to me, but I don't know that my MBA helps with what I do today, but what I do know is that it helped with the networking and opening doors for me to even enter a conversation.

Tayo Rockson: [00:17:30] I'll give you an example. Whenever I was getting guests on the podcast in the early days, sometimes, I'd say, "I'm getting my MBA at Fordham," and people would associate that with credibility. And then, it'll be easier for them to say yes, or I'll use that to get a medium that I can use to interview, and then write. But as far as skill sets, I think it's really a mixture of being intentional by your electives and turning that into something that you're passion about. So, I don't know if I'm the best person to talk about how school translates to life, but that's what I did.

Andy Molinsky: [00:18:07] Yeah, it sounds like you didn't sort of just — certainly, in terms of your MBA, for sure, you didn't just sort of passively say, "Okay, these are the courses I need to take. These are the requirements. And then, when I'm done, and I have all these courses, well, I'm going to get some great job." Instead, you sort of — it sounds that you kind of like really used the platform and the experience of getting an MBA and, also, of being in New York City to your advantage.

Tayo Rockson: [00:18:30] Yeah. The one thing that I got really clear on was understanding how to brand yourself. And I started becoming better at telling my story and understanding how that leverages into different audiences. And so, even if I didn't feel like I was learning as much as I could in school, I understood that the brand of getting an MBA or getting this helped me get into some doors, which will allow me to tell better stories. So, I just became more self-aware, and that's what I did. But I also was very intentional about not doing a job that I didn't feel like growing anymore.

Andy Molinsky: [00:19:09] How about mentors? Tell us a bit about that, either your experience having had mentors or even being a mentor. What role do you feel that plays?

Tayo Rockson: [00:19:21] Mentorship plays a huge role. I've had mentorship for as long as I've been interested in leadership. And I was very intentional about this. Even when I was in Virginia with school, I identified someone that I admired, and I went up to him, and I said basically, "I see that you're where I want to be. Would it be okay to have just maybe a call or a meeting every month, if that's okay? And I'm flexible, and I can work with your schedule. It doesn't have to be in person. We could do in person, certainly, if we want to. But I'm happy to have a phone call or meet you at your schedule." And so, I was very intentional about that.

Tayo Rockson: [00:20:00] I, also, identified mentors from afar. That's the late Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, or mentors that I will be interested about. And when I was younger, what I used to do is I would identify people I admired, and I would spend hours reading their bios, and their stories, and the interviews, and I'll print them out, and I'll put them into my little folders, and I'll have them labeled according to the names. And I'll just use the highlighter to mark out things that I noticed that they developed as habits, and I would just incorporate them into my life.

Tayo Rockson: [00:20:36] Huge tennis fan. For example, tennis, basketball. I did that with all the athletes that I liked. And I incorporated their routines into my life, and they played a role into how I grew up, because I think if you don't find people that you can identify with or can mentor you, whether it's physical or from afar, sometimes, it can feel like you're lost. And so, just having those guides, to me, certainly helped me, particularly with my media career because I model a lot of people's paths to do what I did today.

Andy Molinsky: [00:21:08] So, that's interesting. The person who you asked in Virginia, I assume they said yes?

Tayo Rockson: [00:21:15] Yes. They said yes. And we're still the good friends to this day.

Andy Molinsky: [00:21:20] Yeah. I imagine some listeners might feel, "Gosh, that feels like a real imposition. I'd be nervous asking someone to be a mentor like that." I mean, do you have a perspective on that? I mean, I'll share with you just briefly. I think, if it's someone who I think would be a great person to mentor, I'm often happy to do things like that.

Tayo Rockson: [00:21:47] Yeah.

Andy Molinsky: [00:21:47] But what do you think about that? Do you think people should feel intimidated to ask?

Tayo Rockson: [00:21:53] I certainly understand how it can be intimidating. I was nervous when I asked. But I think it depends how you approach it. You could — especially with somebody you work with, which was my case. I just said, "Hey, I know we're going out for lunch. Can I grab you for a few minutes? I have a few questions." And if you're clear about your goals and why you feel like they're good mentors, that's very important. So, I told him, "You're in a place where I want to be. I would love to be able to pick your brain occasionally once a while."

Tayo Rockson: [00:22:23] And you ought to make it flexible for them. So, I didn't give them any deadline like, "You have to meet me at 1:00 p.m. Saturdays." I said, "I'm happy to work with you on your schedule. I know you're very busy. Even if it's via e-mail and me having questions. Would that be something you're interested in?" So, providing options can help limit the nerves. But I'll just make it easy for them to be able to pick one of few things because you don't want to put them in a position where they feel like they have to do meet you at your own schedule, and ignore a family that they have, or things like that.

Andy Molinsky: [00:22:57] So, let's conclude here by talking a bit about your book. You've got a book coming out. I imagine by the time this episode launches, it will be very close to coming out, maybe already just came out. Tell us about the book and, also, about the experience of writing a book. I take it this is your first book?

Tayo Rockson: [00:23:15] This is, yeah. This is my first published book. So, I'll start off with the experience of writing the book. This book came about from a signature speech that I do. I give a particular speech often, and it's called How to Effectively Connect Across Cultures. And I remember even just coming up with that speech and thinking, "Okay, wow, this is a framework that I can use in my coaching and in my workshops."

Tayo Rockson: [00:23:38] And the idea to write a book came to me, I want to say two years ago. I've always wanted to write a book, but this particular idea came to me two years ago. And I started just outlining the book. The speech really gave me a framework. And so, just, I would outlining my Google Docs, and I'll be like, "Okay, for this imaginary book that I'm going to write, these are the things that I would put out on this section, and this section, and this section.

Tayo Rockson: [00:24:05] And then, for me, writing was easier than finding a publisher. The business of getting the book published was kind of what took the most time. It took me a year. I, actually, talked to you about the process-

Andy Molinsky: [00:24:22] Yeah.

Tayo Rockson: [00:24:22] ... because I was curious about it. It took me a year to find a publisher. And what I did initially was I reached out to — I knew someone in my network that they used to work at Houghton Mifflin — no, McGraw-Hill, rather. And it's like, "Hey, do you know any person that I could talk to maybe about my idea?" And she introduced me to an editor that was initially interested, and she was saying, "Yeah, you have a good story," da, da, da. And so, I was excited. I was like, "Yes, my first try! Wow!" 

Tayo Rockson: [00:24:51] And I eventually sent a page, and they said, "Yeah, I feel like this is something we can work with." And then, they just stopped responding. And after like the fourth follow up, I got the hint. And then, I started looking for more editors. And I think it went through four or five different people before one took a chance on me in December.

Tayo Rockson: [00:25:12] And once I had that, I just started writing. They gave me -- I got the deal in December last year. And then, they asked me if I could turn the manuscript in by March. No, by -- yeah, by March 1st. And I said, "Sure." And I just started writing that. And I ended up writing the book in a month and a half or so, which is about 250 pages or so.

Tayo Rockson: [00:25:40] But when I tell people the story, people always tell me, "That's crazy. I think six months." I don't know. I guess, I knew what I wanted to write, so I wrote it. But the writing wasn't as hard as the business of it because I just knew I want it to be traditionally published.

Tayo Rockson: [00:25:55] But the book is about connecting effectively across cultures in divisive times. And I really wrote it because I'm looking at the world today, and it seems like we have such extremes. There's no nuance. And people aren't equipped, particularly institutions aren't equipped to understand how to deal with people from different backgrounds. And, also, I didn't feel like people understood how to communicate ideas across different values.

Tayo Rockson: [00:26:20] And so, I call it Use Your Difference to Make a Difference, which is my mission statement, because I want us to get to a place where differences aren't used as barriers. They're used as gateways. They're bridges instead. And so, I was really looking at the landscape. And, to me, it's in response to a lot of what's been going on in the world. What is populism? What's with the isms, and the ignorance, and the fear? And I want us to get to a place of understanding and more nuance because that's the only way we can grow, and that's the only way we can be more effective. So, that's the genesis of how the book came.

Andy Molinsky: [00:26:56] Right. And I've checked out the book, and I think you have a great voice and a great message. And I'd encourage people to take a look, for sure. And an even more generally, how can people reach you or find you? I know you're not that hard to find on the internet. How can people find out about you if they listen to this, and they want to learn more? 

Tayo Rockson: [00:27:17] So, thank you for having me. And the best way to reach reach out to me is just at @tayorockson, T-A-Y-O-R-O-C-K-S-O-N. And that's Tayo Rockson on Twitter, on Instagram, or anywhere. I think I'm the only one that uses that name. But tayorockson.com is my digital home. You can subscribe to my newsletter. But if you search Tayo Rockson, you will definitely get a hold of me, for sure.

Andy Molinsky: [00:27:41] All right. Sounds great. Thanks so much for being on today.

Tayo Rockson: [00:27:45] Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.

Andy Molinsky: [00:27:49] Thank you for listening to From the Dorm Room to the Board Room. If you're interested in learning more about the work that I do in helping people step outside their comfort zones and transition successfully into the professional world, please visit my website, www.andymolinsky.com. That's A-N-D-Y-M-O-L-I-N-S-K-Y dot com. And, also, feel free to email me directly at andy@andymolinsky.com with any feedback or ideas for guests for future podcasts.

Andy Molinsky: [00:28:20] This podcast is brought to you by Brandeis University's International Business School. By teaching rigorous business, finance, and economics, connecting students to best practices, and immersing them in international experiences, Brandeis International Business School prepares exceptional individuals from around the globe to become principled professionals in companies and public institutions worldwide. Thank you so much for listening.