Transcript of Interview with Dr. Randal Pinkett
Dan: Welcome to another episode of Shoulders of Titans. This is Dan Lok and today I have the privilege of bringing you a reality show star, a successful entrepreneur, author of multiple books, a community leader, the winner of the fourth season of Donald Trump’s ‘The Apprentice,’ Randal welcome to the show.
Randal: Dan, it’s a pleasure to be on the show. Thank you for the opportunity. Thanks for the invitation and I’m excited for the conversation we’re going to have today.
Dan: Now Randal, tell us a little about your background and how you got into what you do today?
Randal: Dan, I am a life-long entrepreneur. I say that from the standpoint that I was the kid who sold lemonade on the street corner. I was the kid who sold candy in the halls of his high school. I was the college student who sold compact discs out of his dormitory. That was back when we bought music from a compact disc, you probably remember those days Dan.
Dan: Yes. I remember the cassette tapes too.
Randal: Exactly. But you know what’s interesting Dan is if you ask me when I started college where I envisioned myself at the end of college, my answer would have been “I envision myself working in Corporate America.” That’s not a bad answer. There is a place in Corporate America for many of us, but it wasn’t my calling. It wasn’t until my junior year that a childhood friend of mine named Wayne Abbot took it upon himself to start his own business selling t-shirts.
While t-shirts may not sound like the most impressive of entrepreneurial undertakings, the fact that Wayne was somebody who I grew up with, who I can relate to, who looked like me, I had never seen anyone my age or around my age running a business, and it was Wayne and his example that prompted me to say “You know what, if he can do it, then why can’t I do it? Why do I have to wait until later in my life?” So, my next year, my senior year, it was when I launched that compact disc venture. Again, while compact disc might not impress people who are listening, I was 19 years old, I was buying wholesale product from a wholesaler at Philadelphia. I was taking orders from students in the dining hall, in the campus events, and I was delivering it to their dormitory doorstep. I was buying CDs Dan at about six to seven dollars, selling them for 15 dollars a pack. That was more money than I had made my entire life.
Dan: That’s good margin too.
Randal: That’s a good margin man. That’s where it catapulted me to where I am today. What you’ll find interesting Dan is that I engage three of my roommates in that venture. We’ve been in business now for 20 years. We sold CDs and now we sell, consulting, and information technology, and all of these fancy solutions that we bring to corporate and Federal Government clients. The seeds of our entrepreneurial spirit were sewn on the campus at Rutgers selling compact discs.
Dan: I’m curious Randal, what is it like growing up? What did your parents do? Were they entrepreneurs as well?
Randal: No. My parents were not entrepreneurs. My father was quite the over achiever. He was valedictorian of his high school class. He went on to attend Morgan State University. But from there, he was one of the early cadre of African-Americans that earned his MBA at the Wharton School of Business University of Pennsylvania. That was in 1960s. We’re talking about the tail end of the civil rights movement and he’s earning an MBA at Wharton. His first job out of his MBA program was at Goldman Sachs in New York. He was one of those early trailblazers. While people were marching to argue that Corporate America and the American political system needed to be more encompassing of all persons in America, he was one of those early trailblazers who took advantage of those opportunities.
My mother earned her associates degree from Temple also in Philadelphia, one of the most organized and hardworking people that I know. I learned a lot of great lessons from my parents, but neither of them were business owners. I’m the first in my immediate family to own a business. I’m proud to say that I’ve got some younger cousins who followed my lead and now own their own businesses and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of my children follows my footsteps as well. I’m the first generation entrepreneur in my family.
Dan: Outstanding. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from your parents? I’m curious.
Randal: From my father who also had a technical background, I believe that my skills in technology and in business I’ve derived from him. From my mother, I’ll say it again; my mother has got to be one of the most organized people on the planet. I’m not making this up when I say that every Sunday night, we had to have our clothes picked out for the entire week and organized in piles, seven piles for the next seven days. We couldn’t go to bed Sunday night unless our clothes were lined up and ready to go.
Here’s a lot of insight to the kind of household I grew up with. From that, I learned so many great lessons about hard work and being organized, and saying what you mean, and mean what you say, and the importance of your word. My parents really drove home the idea that it is not about being the smartest or the most talented, it’s about being the hardest working. I’ve always believed that if you’re willing to work hard, if you’re willing to put in the time, and the energy, and the effort, then good things are always going to come. That’s really been a testament to my success. That’s been just good old fashioned, don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves, and get your hands dirty hard work. I learned that my parents.
Dan: Now Randal, of course you’re best known for being on Donald Trump’s ‘The Apprentice Season 4’ in 2005. That was 10 years ago almost. Is there so much to know? I guess I want to get to know the man than the entrepreneur behind all of that. I want to ask first of all let’s go back to the show for a second. With ‘The Apprentice,’ what got you thinking? Why did you apply for the show and how did you get on the show? What was that like?
Randal: I can’t take credit for the idea of going into ‘The Apprentice.’ It was actually my wife’s idea. She was a big fan of the show. She watched the show. One night, while she was watching the show, out of nowhere she asked me if I’ve ever considered competing on ‘The Apprentice’ and my response was no. I’ve never considered reality television. I’ve certainly not considered the ‘The Apprentice.’ I had just finished my PhD at MIT. I just joined the company that we launched, the BCT Partners, full time. My sights were set on kind of launching my career and really focusing on growing BCT, but then I got to tell you man, she would not let it go. She was on me. She’s like “Have you thought about it?” I was like “No.” She was like “Could you think about it?” I was like “No!” She downloaded the application online and she printed that out and she made me fill it out Dan. She made me send it in.
I was shocked when I got a call a month later from the producers of the show saying “We got your application. We love your background. You know road scholar, MIT, PhD, Rutgers, undergrad, technology entrepreneur, track and field championship athlete. We want to talk to you some more.” Despite telling my wife that there is no chance of them putting me on ‘The Apprentice.’ I could have sent this application anyway just so you won’t bother me anymore. I went through the entire casting process which included a background check and on-camera interview and getting flown to Los Angeles and interviewing with the Donald himself and Mark Burnett from Mark Burnett Productions who produces ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘Survivor’ and many other reality shows. Out of the one million folks who applied that year, there were about 50 of us that got flown to LA, 18 of us that were chosen to compete on the show, and there was one winner and that was me Dan.
Dan: It’s amazing. I was just chatting with Randal before the call. We watch the entire season 4 last night just to prepare for this interview. Now of course, when you watch the show, they edited it, from the hours and hours and days of footage, you only see a glimpse of that. What is it like to be on the show?
Randal: I got to say I had a great time being on the show. It was a great experience. It was one of the most challenging experiences of my professional career. Not only kind of strategically, but it was physically demanding to be pulling consecutive all-nighters and running around New York City. But being on the show you know, if you can imagine having a business challenge presented to you every week. It may not tap into your strengths. Most of us in business there is something that we do really well, be it marketing, sales, technology, finance, accounting, operations, administration. Each week the task required different skills sets.
If you’re producing a commercial or for designing a fitness course, or for building a float, or a technology expo, or selling perfume on the streets of New York, each of those tasks draws on a different skills set. So, I think that my experience as a small business owner before the show was perhaps the best preparation to be on the show. Because you know as well as I do, when you’re running a small business or a start up, you have to do everything. You’ve got to do the marketing, the sales, the operations, the administration, the finance.
Dan: You’re the CEO, you’re the salesman, and you’re the janitor.
Randal: Exactly. You’re everything. I think that was a great preparation for ‘The Apprentice’ because if you weren’t versatile enough to find a way to make a valuable contribution, if you’re kind of stayed in your lane, or stayed in your box, it may be very difficult to distinguish yourself and you can easily be really good on something, or you can easily fail and find yourself in the boardroom. I think that what was one of the keys to my success on the show was two-fold; one was that versatility, the other was I treated people the way that I wanted to be treated. While that might sound cliché, and it might sound kind of old school, even in this contrived reality television environment where we were really only there to be on the show and to compete to work for Mr. Trump, to work for Donald, it’s still with the principle that applied even in that environment. When I was on somebody’s team, I worked hard for them, and I wanted to see them succeed. Conversely, when they were on my team and I was the project manager, they worked hard for me, and I really think that’s what put me in the winners circle Dan.
Dan: Yes. I could see that when I watched the show last night and you were always respectful. Like you said, unlike some of the other contestants they might try to sabotage their leader. I can understand also because they are under a lot of pressure. They’re not getting enough sleep. Some of them may be rude. They might get emotional. But you are just very consistent from day one. I watched the entire season and it’s amazing.
Randal: I appreciate that. I do. Honestly saying, it was a nerve wrecking, a bit intimidating experience at first to walk on the set in Trump Tower, you got Donald Trump, and all of the cameras pointing at you. But once I got through the first task and had a chance to kind of catch my breath, that’s when I think that my natural business instincts kicked in. The general principles of hard work and treating people fairly and to your point, not backstabbing people, I’m operating above the table. It worked for me. There is often a perception that to be successful in business, you have to be cut throat and you have to be kind of edgy, and you have to step on to people to step up. I don’t believe that. I really don’t. I believe that you can succeed in business believing that we can all make the pie bigger, that it doesn’t mean more for me is less for you, we can all make more together.
Working with Donald Trump
Dan: After you win, what is it like working with Donald Trump for a year?
Randal: As the winner of the show I was given two projects. I chose a renovation project in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I worked for Trump Entertainment Resorts which is the public company that Donald sat on the board at the time and had an equity stake in the company. He since divested of that entity and they’ve had very difficult times with the properties. In fact, the whole city had its challenges. But when I was there, we were attempting to renovate all three casinos, to modernize them and make them more appealing to a younger demographic. The three properties were the Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Marina, and Trump Plaza.
If you walked in before my apprenticeship, you might have thought like you were walking into 1970. Glass chandeliers and mirrors everywhere and purple and gold colors on the carpet like that man. So we tore a lot of that out and we put in what they call spice colors, your browns, your beiges, your tans, your oranges to soften it up. Over the course of my year, we renovated an Asian noodle bar, a performance stage, a 24-hour café, a bar, and the promenade that connected the parking deck to the main casino floor. We did renovations to five of those projects over the course of my year. It was a 110 million dollar renovation that I was responsible for. At the end of the year, they asked “You know Randal we’d love you to stay longer.” But I had made a promise, now you can appreciate this, I made a promise to my business partners with whom I sold compact discs that I would do the year for Donald but I would come back to BCT so we could finish what we started.
Dan: Well, tell us a little bit about BCT Partners. I know you co-founded the company in 2001 I believe. You’ve already partnered in the company before you went on the show. Tell me a little bit about BCT Partners and what do you do there?
Randal: We’re a consulting firm. If you are familiar with the likes of Booz Allen Hamilton or Accenture, or Boston Consulting Group, or McKinsey, that’s the brand of consulting that we provide at BCT. We are management consultants that we help improve management practices. We are technology consultants that we use technology to deliver bottom line results. We are also expanding more recently into the realm of data analytics and what some people call ‘Big Data.’ We’re generating tons of data these days, everything from your phone, to your wearables, to health information that is being generated through your doctor’s visits, and the like.
We are expanding our practice into that arena. I’m looking at ways that we can harness the power of data to predict outcomes, to predict customer behavior, to predict the types of insights that our customer care about, and to be able to bring the analysis that can really add value in that space as well. We are management consultants, technology consultants. We are now expanding to data analytics and we provide these solutions for Fortunate 500 corporations and we also provided for the public sector, federal government, state government, and local government.
National Institute of Health
Dan: I also know that you landed up a pretty big government contract a couple of years ago. Tell us a little bit about that.
Randal: Yeah. You’ve done your homework Dan. I appreciate that. We were excited and we’re still excited. We landed a contract with the National Institute of Health also known as NIH and NIH is one of the branches of the government that is focused on health IT and that is using technology to modernize, optimize, and improve the delivery of health care services. So, we’re talking about mobile applications that can track and store your health data and information. We’re talking about integrating health systems. It begs the question, I don’t just being really simple now. Why is it that if I go to a doctor A and then doctor B and they’re not sharing information? They’re not accessing to the same information about when I came or what was diagnosed or my blood work, that I’ve got to may be carry a CD from one to the other. Why would I fill up the form to tell you what I’ve just been told by the other doctor?
Getting out of that soap box one of the other areas that our contract is focused on is integrating health systems and finding inter-operability between health systems. We are talking about electronic health records, electronic medical records, and when you think about the health exchanges that the federal government has rolled up under the affordable Care Act. There is so much happening in the health and health IT space that this contract was a two billion dollar contract over 10 years to deliver a range of health IT solutions to the federal government primarily. So, we are now about four years into that contract. It has been a great great opportunity for us to really grow the business, more importantly to not just grow the business but to deliver solutions that are making a difference in people’s lives.
The Public Sector: What it takes
Dan: Also Randal, I think for our listeners they might be thinking that “Well, with my business, sometimes how do I get through the gatekeeper or how do I get some of these government contracts?” What did you do to get through that and what does it take?
Randal: It’s a great question. In fact the public sector can often look as if it is a kind of level playing field of public procurement where if you respond to a request for proposal, then your proposal will be kind of equally weighed and evaluated against other proposals. There is a little bit of truth to that, but at the end of the day, what it really boils down to like anything else in business is relationships. You know the classic phrase ‘People do business with people that they like and then they figure out how to make it happen.’ For us it was a slow but deliberate process of building relationships and establishing a name in the federal sector. I’ve spent more time than I can measure going down to Washington DC and going to vendor fares, setting out meetings with decision makers, plowing through forecast of upcoming procurements, and finding points of contact, and getting in front of those points of contact before it’s released to market and to sell our capabilities.
Once that opportunity hits the street, where already a known quantity, where already a named organization, and so that when the proposal comes through, now here’s the key with the proposal, and they come to say, alright, I remember BCT Partners. They’re the folks who said that I’m with a couple of months ago. They’re the folks we met at that conference. They’re the folks who were referred to us by another organization that we worked with. Now, it’s not just a strong proposal, but it’s also a recognized name. We put in the work and the effort to get our name in front of federal decision makers. We were able to get our first big break in 2004, a year before ‘The Apprentice.’ It was our first government contract. As you said, we were founded in 2001, so it took as about three years to finally land our first contract. It was an 800,000-dollar contract with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. I’ll never forget it – we were dancing in the office Dan.
Dan: I think also for our listeners, they have to understand that maybe some of these government contracts are dealing with public companies, the sales cycle is longer. It takes them long because of so many layers. You’ve got to go through so many decision makers. They have to understand that it takes a little bit more time.
Randal: That’s exactly right. It is even longer now than it was say 10 years ago. What the government is doing, what the corporate sector is doing, and I’m sure you’ve seen this dynamic as well, it’s that they are trying to reduce the number of vendors that they do business with. It begs the questions of why would they do that? In an attempt to save money, and an attempt to find a greater efficiency, it is more efficient and more streamlined to do more business with fewer vendors. Because you can now find economies of scope, economies of scale, and cost savings, because you’re driving more business through the same companies.
They’re able to do it faster, quicker, and more efficient, and then save you money by doing so. You see a lot of efforts in both the public and private sector to pre-qualify companies to create a vendor list, to create short lists of companies that if you don’t make the list, then you don’t even see the opportunities that are coming out. Even the contract that we signed with the NIH, there are only 50 companies on that contract. Only those 50 companies see the opportunities and can bid on the opportunities that come out. Now it’s even harder because there are two steps. Before, you could find a bid, respond to the bid, now you got to get pre-qualified to even see that bid. Then, you get the bid, and then you bid on the bid. The cycle is becoming longer. There are more hurdles to jump over, but I don’t want that to intimidate or to dissuade your listeners. If you’re good at what you do, to your point, to your question, if you’re willing to be patient and work at getting your name out there and building relationships, then you too can do business in the public and or the private sector. But to your question, it does take time and this is not for the faint of heart, you’ve got to be in this thing for the long haul.
The Apprentice: Aftermath
Dan: How has your life changed after being on the show? Does that help your business now with the so-called new fame or now people can say “Oh yeah Randal I recognize you,” does that help in your business as well?
Randal: I thought initially that it would help more. I had this perception that being on a nationally televised program that the opportunities would just be flowing into our doorstep. Certain opportunities did flow. I mean opportunities for endorsements, for writing books, for doing speaking engagements, for doing paid appearances, that all came so quick and so fast I wasn’t even ready to respond to it. There’s a lesson here, on the business side, it didn’t come as fast. The reason why is because what the show did was it gave me name recognition, but I had to translate that into real relationships.
People knowing your name doesn’t mean that they know you. So, it took a little bit of time as I was traveling out to do these appearances and to promote the show, and to be a keynote speaker at some Fortune 500 corporation, I was mindful Dan. I want to meet with your executives while I’m here. I want to learn more about your business while I’m here. I want to tell you more about my business while I’m here. I want to follow up with you after I’m here, so that I can begin to build relationship with you and your organization. That’s when the fame or notoriety of being ‘The Apprentice’ now began to morph into BCT Partners being able to do business with organizations that I was exposed to as a result of ‘The Apprentice.’ It took some incubation time but with some deliberateness and with some strategy behind it. We have been able to really capitalize in some ways on the opportunity and the window of opportunity that was created by being on ‘The Apprentice.’
Dan: I have to ask this, so when you won, what did your wife say?
Randal: The better question is “What did I say?” I called her “You’re not going to believe this happen,” she said “what?” and I said “they actually chose me to be on the show” and she said “I told you.”
Dan: I guess the wife is always right.
Randal: That might be the best lesson from this conversation Dan.
Dan: That’s it. That’s the biggest take away.We’re going to take a quick break. We will be right back.
Dan: Welcome back and we are talking about entrepreneurship. We are having a conversation with Randal, the winner of the fourth season of the Donald Trump’s ‘The Apprentice.’ I also want to talk a little bit about entrepreneurship as well Randal. So, what would you say the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Randal: I would say that the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur, in fact I might even expand it, and I’ll tell you why. I talk a lot and I’ve written a lot about what I call, not just me, but what others call ‘the entrepreneur’s mindset.’ Stated simply, entrepreneurship is not just something you do, it’s also a way that you think. You can think like an entrepreneur and own a business, or you could think like an entrepreneur and you could be a teacher, or a librarian, or a lawyer, or a doctor that it’s much a way of thinking as is a way of doing.
When I talk about the entrepreneur’s mindset, I really talk about five characteristics. You could pick your top three from the five Dan. That will be the three for your question. I’m talking about passion, having balanced enthusiasm for whatever you do, creativity, a clever or inventive approach to what you do, resourcefulness, knowing how to make something out of nothing, courage, a belief that you could achieve whatever your mind can conceive, and then last resilience, the ability to overcome any challenge. I believe when you embody those five characteristics – passion, creativity, resourcefulness, courage, and resilience – that’s when you think entrepreneurialy.
To be really specific, I remember when our daughter was born and I went to the hospital. We went to an information desk prior to her birth because we’re taking a parenting class and we asked the individual behind the information desk “Where’s the parenting class?” and the response that was given was “I don’t know, but people happen asking me that question all afternoon.” I said “Really? You mean to tell me that people had been asking you for the parenting class all afternoon and no point in time that you have the thought to go find out where the class is taking place, bring the information back to the booth and then not have any other parents have to ask the question where’s the class.” Thinking entrepreneurialy is about taking that initiative to see the opportunity, to seize the opportunity, and not wait to be told to go after the opportunity. So, that to me is entrepreneurial thinking and you can do that behind an information desk or you can do it owning a business.
Dan: That’s profound. Talking about is a way of thinking, it’s not a profession. It doesn’t mean that you have to own a business in order to take risk, to have courage, to think outside of the box, anybody can do that.
Randal: That’s exactly right. I have a business partner who decided to go into academia and become a professor, Dr. Jeffrey Robinson. I look at how he approaches being an academic. I mean he’s out there securing grants. He’s doing consulting work. He’s using grad students to work on projects. He’s a business school professor. He’s launching ventures and partnership with students. That is so entrepreneurial, but he’s a professor. To your point, it’s a mindset. It’s a way of thinking that entrepreneurship is not just something you do; it’s a way that you think. It transcends any profession. I believe it’s one of the defining mindsets of the 21st century.
Dan: That’s profound. I think it’s almost a way of living. Sometimes, when I go out for dinner with my wife and I would go into a restaurant and I will sit down and my mind would be going analyzing the place. I wonder how much they’re paying for rent. I wonder how much is the payroll? I wonder what’s the transaction size, the ticket size, and I would look the menu and would say “That’s a great way of describing the dish, and the waiter comes in, that’s a great way that he up sells me the wine.” I just can’t turn it off. My wife sometimes would say “Can you just like turn it off for a second here?” I can’t. It’s just who we are.
Randal: That’s right. That’s the passion that I talked about earlier. It’s boundless enthusiasm. I’m the same way. I take business cards everywhere, I take business cards to family reunions. I’m constantly looking out at gaps in the market, opportunities in the market, ways of doing things better in the market, and it’s just part of who I am. Nobody’s selling lemonade, I want to sell lemonade. Nobody’s selling CDs, I want to sell CDs. It is funny. You asked earlier a question about being a first generation, you know the number one predictor of whether you will own a business is whether your parents own a business.
It’s not your income, not your ethnicity, not your educational level, not your nationality, or geography, it’s whether your parents own a business. What’s the take away from that? The take away for me is that when you are exposed first hand to entrepreneurial thinking in the home, by your parents, but for me, from Wayne Abbot, who was a childhood friend, naturally is spills over to you, that you adapt that way of thinking. You kind of connect with that way of thinking. You’re influenced by that way of thinking. That’s why if you grew up in an entrepreneurial home; you are most likely to be an entrepreneur yourself.
Dan: That makes a lot of sense. Also I think we learn the work ethics from the parents. In fact you’re both street smart and school smart because for all listeners in case they don’t know you have two master’s degrees and a PhD as well.
Randal: Believe it or not Dan I’ve got three master’s degrees.
Dan: Three master’s degrees? My goodness and a PhD…
Randal: Yeah. I did my undergraduate at Rutgers in electrical engineering. I was the first and only African-American at Rutgers to win the Rhodes scholarship. I went to Oxford University. I studied there for my masters in computer science. Subsequently, I came back to the US and enrolled at MIT where I earned my masters in electrical engineering, my masters in business administration, and then my PhD in media technology.
Dan: Wow. Now even with street smart and school smart as an entrepreneur we all make mistakes. We’ve all had to learn with failures. What would you say maybe some of your failures and what have you learned from those?
Randal: I have a perspective on failure. I believe that if you want to be successful, you to have to have a healthy acceptance of failure as part and parcel of path to success. Then once I say a healthy acceptance of failure because there is such thing as having unhealthy acceptance of failure where you believe that failure says something negative about you. You believe that failure is a badge of shame. You believe that if you fail, you’ve done something wrong. I have a much different opinion around failure. There are two principles of failures that I do believe in – one is that you learn more from failure than you do from success and the second principle and I think this is a quote from Winston Churchill is that success is nothing more than going from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm.
The connecting dot between failure and success is perseverance. Two people can have the same experience. We both fail a math test. I could look at that failure and say there is something for me to learn. I’m going to go learn it and I’m going to attack the next math test with all that I’ve learned. Somebody else could fail that math test and say “I’m a bad person. I’m not good at math. I’m never be good at math.” The next math test they fail again. Same experience, failure, two completely different responses. So, to me a healthy acceptance of failure says that there is something in this that I’ve got to learn. If I can take the time to learn the lesson, I’m a better person, I’m a better professional, and I’m a better entrepreneur. I’ve learned lots of lessons Dan.
Dan: Even with three master’s degrees and a PhD, still a lot of lessons.
Randal: Oh yeah. For me the biggest mistake that I’ve made Dan in the past is I have not been as discerning or as mindful of who I choose as business partners. I have had three partners over the course of my career, my roommates. But beyond Jeffrey, Dallas, and Lawrence, we’ve had partners that we’ve had to kick out. We’ve had partners who have chosen to walk out and we had partners that we had to escort out. We didn’t really do our due diligence on whether this person was a good fit, if they brought value to the table, if the equity we’re giving them was commensurate with what they’re bringing to the company. All those questions that now I know to ask, I didn’t ask those questions early on. I learned the hard way. I learned through the school of hard knocks. But the point is, is that I learned the lesson. I don’t make those mistakes now, and that’s why failure is so important.
Success and Greatness
Dan: Interesting. We talked about failure. How do you define success?
Randal: I’ve got lots of thoughts on these questions. My last book ‘The Subtitle’ was ten game changing strategies to achieve success and find greatness. There are two key words in there – key word number one is success and key word number two is greatness. I believe that success is what you do for yourself. I believe greatness is what you do for somebody else. I believe success is making a difference in your life. I believe greatness is making a difference in someone else’s life. So, you could be very successful – lots of money, nice car, nice home, successful business – and that all includes to you. In my opinion, for you to achieve greatness means what you are doing for somebody else. By comparison, you could be dedicating your life to helping people but you may not have any assets, any wealth, accouterments of success, but you have achieved a level of greatness.
For example Harriet Tubman died penniless. She was broke. By any societal measure, most people wouldn’t say she was successful but everyone would agree she was great. She helped incredible scores of people through the Underground Railroad. By comparison, I know people who are very wealthy, who’ve done very well for themselves, but do absolutely little to nothing for other people. To your question, I’m a big believer that society pushes us to be successful. If I were to put up a flyer that said ’10 sure fire ways to become successful,’ I’ll have a packed room, but I believe that we all have a higher calling Dan to be great. While the world may challenge us to want to be successful, I believe we must challenge ourselves to be great. While I’m not mad at anyone who wants to be successful, because I too want to be successful, let’s be clear, but I also respect and appreciate those of us who aspire to be great, to make a difference in other’s lives, because that to me is what is lasting.
Dan: I know that you are very active in the community. You are always looking for ways to give back. How has that been an important part of your life?
Randal: Yeah. That’s another thing that has been instilled in me since I was young which is the importance of giving back and just recognizing that whether we want to believe it or not nothing in life of any value is accomplished individually, on your own. We’ve all benefited from the sacrifices of others either folks that we know who sacrifice for us, people that we don’t know have sacrificed for you. I believe we all have an obligation to what some people call pay-it-forward or to give it back. However, you want to term it. I just think that’s our responsibility. I’ve sponsored business playing competitions for youth where we give them money, mentorship, and make connections. I sit in the boards of various non-profits or I donate my time to different charities. Even the work of my company BCT tries to strike the double bottom line of making money but also making a difference. I feel like I try to put as much emphasis on doing well as I do on doing good.
Dan: You also wrote a book ‘Campus CEO.’ I know you have a passion for helping entrepreneurs especially students.
Randal: You know you’re right. I was a campus CEO and didn’t have anyone to show me the ropes or to walk me through the ABCs and 123s of being a business owner. It may come as no surprise that’s my first book. I chose to write that book for young entrepreneurs. ‘Campus CEO: The Student Entrepreneur’s Guide to Launching A Multi-million Dollar Business and I wanted that book to be for other young people what I didn’t have, which was a one-stop shop that if you dreams to be a business owner, here’s how you can do it.
Here are the tips, here are the tools and here are some examples to motivate you, to believe that you can do it. If I dive back to the beginning of our conversation about Wayne Abbot and how he sold t-shirts and then inspired me. There is another lesson in that story which is – why didn’t I believe I could do it before I saw Wayne. The reason is I didn’t have that role model. I didn’t have that immediate example. I didn’t have that history within my family. When I want the book to do is to say “Hey, if you are in my shoes and you never thought that you can own a business.” Even though you’re selling lemonade, you’re selling candy, and you still don’t think you can own a business? I’m going to tell you can do it, that I did it, and that there are others who are doing it, and so you can draw inspiration from me and draw inspiration from them.
“Just do it.”
Dan: What would be the most important piece of advice you would give to college students who want to become entrepreneurs?
Randal: When I wrote ‘Campus CEO’ I interviewed dozens of student entrepreneurs. I asked them how they got started. I asked them what have been their challenges, what are the lessons they learned. The biggest take away from those interviews was there are so many of us that find ourselves on the fence of thinking that we might want to start a business, having an idea for a business, talking to friends about this venture that we might launch one day, and we find ourselves at this crossroad where you got to decide if you are going to go for it or not. My biggest lesson to those young entrepreneurs or for that matter any would be entrepreneurs is I say to you what Nike has been saying for years, “just do it”.
What differentiated the student entrepreneurs who made it from those who looked back and said “Oh wait, I had that idea 10 years ago and I should have moved on. Now it’s about them and now I’m paying them for the service that I could have provided.” The difference was they were just willing to do it. I’ll tell you my favorite story of a student entrepreneurship. Fred Smith, a student, wrote a paper in college about the concept of delivering mail overnight and the professor in that class – some people know the story – gave him a ‘C’ on the paper. He said to Fred Smith ‘You can’t deliver mail overnight, you’ve lost your mind. You get a C.” Fred Smith did what most entrepreneurs do. You can’t tell me what’s not possible. I’m going to show you what is possible and Fred Smith ended up founding FedEx. That professor knew then what you and I know now that I could have said “I will see you at the bank.”
Dan: I’ll fund your idea right now.
Randal: Exactly. There are so many stories like that of people who were told it’s not possible. The beauty of being young is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Like Fred Smith didn’t know that he shouldn’t have tried to do overnight mail. It was like “I don’t know any better. I’m just going to try it. He ends up doing it.”
Dan: That’s a profound lesson. I always tell entrepreneurs you don’t have to know how to do something before you do it. By definition, if anything that we want to achieve is outside of our realm of understanding anyways, so by definition you won’t know what the heck you’re doing.
Randal: That’s exactly right. You’re making a great point Dan. Entrepreneurship is predicated on doing something in the market that nobody else is doing. So to your point, that fundamentally suggests that you are not going to have all the answers. And again that idea of ‘just do it’ or ‘go or no go’ or ‘do it or don’t It.’ If you’re waiting for the perfect time to have all the perfect information, under the perfect circumstances, then you will never be an entrepreneur. There is no perfect storm of when to launch a venture. In fact some of the most successful ventures have been under the worst conditions, with the least information, but they are just willing to just go ahead and give it a try.
Dan: Exactly. What you said being one of the traits we have to be resourceful.
Randal: There you go. It’s exactly right. We got to be resourceful to know how to make something out of nothing and you’ve got to be resilient. You’ve got to be willing to get knocked down, to get knocked over, and know that failure is not falling down, failure is staying down.
Dan: Randal, I also want to hear about your thoughts about personal brand. Let’s say look at Donald Trump, he is a relentless promoter, and he is a personal brand, and you’ve worked with him. Now, you are a personal brand. How important is personal branding to an entrepreneur? How does someone go about building a personal brand?
Randal: Personal brand has become increasingly important in media, social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn world that we live in. Your personal brand is your mark. It is your distinguishing identity in the marketplace. Back in the day, you could be validated by who you worked for, you say “I work for Hewlett Packard or I work for IBM. I work for General Electric.” That was enough to kind of qualify you. Now, it’s more of “Who are you? What have you done? What impact have you made when you were at GE, when you were at IBM, or in the entrepreneurial space? What has been your track record?” That challenges us if not calls us to say “How do I communicate that to the world? How do I communicate to the world my value, my qualifications? What makes me and gives me a competitive advance over others?”
Personal brand is the answer, which means you got to think about your social media presence and think about your online profile. You’ve got to think about the characteristics that you want people to associate with you and how you reinforce those characteristics. So, if it’s for Randal Pinkett – hardworking, intelligent, problem solver, technologist – then, now I had to find the ways and means of which I communicate that, and how I also reinforce it, and how I validate that through my own accomplishments. I do that through my books, through my speaking, and through my social media, and through my profiles online, and through my personal interactions with people who give your 30 seconds elevator pitch.
You’re right. Donald has been a master of this. He arguably is one of the strongest examples of someone who has developed a personal brand through the simple name and word Trump. When you say Trump, you think real estate, you think casinos, you think Miss America, you think ‘The Apprentice,’ you think luxury. He’s been able to do that again through how he presented himself, through his ventures, through his accomplishments, through his appearances, and all those things have helped to cultivate and build the Trump brand. There is a lesson so we can all learn about how we do that for our own personal brand.
Dan: I’ve seen you on TV all the time and people might think “You know Randal, he’s not real. Well, no, he doesn’t need to promote himself,” but like you said “Family reunion I’m bringing business cards.”
Randal: That’s right. I’ve continued to make appearances on television as a commentator or for special interest pieces and the like. I’ve hosted some shows. I’m developing a couple of shows right now. I continue to write books. I continue to be out on the lecture circuit. I’m mindful that my top priority is as chairman and CEO of BCT Partners, but I can’t ignore that fact that the Randal Pinkett brand is something I have to continue to cultivate. The beauty of that is by building the Randal Pinkett brand. It also builds my company BCT Partners.
Dan: So entrepreneurs even though they are doing marketing, they are promoting their companies, they’re promoting their products and services whatever industry they’re in. But what we’re saying is don’t neglect your personal brand. The truth is regardless if you think you have personal brand or you don’t have personal brand, you have a personal brand.
Randal: That’s exactly right. You can either accept it or you can ignore it to your peril. But at the end of the day, you can either define your personal brand or be proactive about it. Again, think about the adjectives you want people to associate with you. Now, how do you reinforce those adjectives? You can either do it deliberately or you can have others do it for you. What you don’t want is for people to start associating things like – he doesn’t get things done. You don’t want that to be your brand, then you’re doomed.
Donald Trump: For President?
Dan: That will not be good. Now Randal, I have to ask you this question and this is just maybe a form of personal amusement, Donald Trump running for president, the presidential campaign, what are your thoughts?
Randal: I mean to say Dan and I think I’m alone in saying this – I am surprised.
Dan: Is it shocked or surprised?
Randal: I’m shocked. Technically this is kind of I’m shocked. I’m shocked that Donald is doing this well. With each passing day, I’ve gone from saying “There is no way he could win the republican nomination,” to saying “I can’t believe that Donald is positioned to possibly win the republican nomination.” I think it says more about America than it does about him, because Donald is really just doing and being who Donald is. He said a lot of controversial things which I do not condone, do not agree with, and do not support about Mexicans as just rapist and criminals, about women as bimbos, about putting up a wall to separate us from Mexico, about Carly Fiorina having an inappropriate face, about John McCain not being a war hero. I don’t agree with any of that.
But as much as I don’t agree with it and I think that anyone who is fit to become president needs to have more inclusive language and more responsible language to be president of our free country. That’s my personal opinion. Putting that aside, I cannot help but acknowledge that at the end of the day, something Donald is saying is resonating with the American public. Part of that is I think America wants a straight shooter that they believe is giving them straight talk and not a contrived, prepared, attempt to tell people what they think they want to hear. I think part of it is also an anti-establishment response that people have grown weary of the grid lock and the inefficiencies, and the kind of in fighting that’s happening in Washington DC. Part of it is and I’m scared to say this Dan but I’ll say it anyway, I think some people actually agree with what he’s saying. Again, I don’t have to agree, I’m just saying that clearly something in what Donald is presenting is resonating, and time would only tell if that has staying power. We’ll see.
Back in Time
Dan: Randal, If you could travel back in time to one when you’re a start up or when you were younger and just have a five-minute conversation with your former self, what would you say to yourself?
Randal: It’s an easy answer Dan. I would say to my younger self “Young Randal Pinkett, know this, and do not forget this, write it down and put it on your wall and read it every day – relationships aren’t everything, relationships are the only thing. It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know.” Relationships drive business. I wish I had spent more time earlier in my life back in undergrad, back in business school, back in my PhD program, building and maintaining relationships.
Because I said it earlier and I’m going to say it again, people do business with people they know and like and they figure out how to make it happen. I can’t point to a single deal that I’ve done Dan, as single deal where there wasn’t a relationship somewhere in there. We’ve talked about it. You asked me has ‘The Apprentice’ helped? I said “Well, kind of,” but it only helped when I turned the name recognition into relationships. I would go back and sit myself down and have an hour long conversation where I just say the same thing over and over again. “Young Randal relationships are not everything, relationships are the only thing. Go build relationships.”
Dan: Fantastic. Randal, if our listeners they want to get in touch with you, if they want to find a little bit more about your company, what’s the best way to do that?
Randal: I’m so glad you asked. I’m all over social media @randalpinkett. I’m on Facebook Randal Pinkett, Twitter @randalpinkett, Instagram @randalpinkett. The only caveat is my website is RANDALPINKETT.COM. You can send me a message through social media. You can send me a message at my website. If you want to bring me in for a speaking engagement or make an appearance or just want to say “hey Randal, I love the interview with Dan,” go around at randalpinkett.com, send me a message, and I would love to hear from you.
Dan: Thank you so much Randal. Thank you so much for inspiring us today with your amazing story and your humor and your strategies. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. It was fantastic. I had a blast.
Randal: Thank you Dan. I appreciate it. We talked about this before the call. I appreciate all of what you’re doing. Continue success to you. You’re delivering a great message out to your audience around, just helping people to be what they’re called to be. I appreciate you and I thank you for having me on the program today.
Dan: Thank you so much.
Randal: Take care Dan.