WHAT JAY-Z HAS TAUGHT ME ABOUT BUSINESS

Several years ago, a friend of mine and I visited the then recently opened 40/40 club in Manhattan, music mogul Jay-Z’s sports club. We weren’t there 10 minutes and who did we see? Mr. Jay-Z himself. I was then still new to New York and was completely starstruck at the idea of meeting a celebrity. I was content to just stay at our table and make furtive glances his way. But my friend grabbed my arm, pulled me over to him and introduced us to the superstar. Jay-Z was nothing short of warm, generous, and polite, graciously engaging us when he clearly was under no obligation to do so. Since then, I have carefully watched his career flourish to stratospheric levels. Most recently he has extended his already enviable brand to include sports agent. As I begin to build Think Young Media Group one of my “virtual mentors” has been Jay-Z. I find myself thinking back to his example often to find tried and tested strategies for taking myself and my career to where I want to be. Some of the most cogent business tips, courtesy of Jay-Z, include:

  1. Treat everyone with respect. He didn’t know me from a hole in the wall but the amount of respect he showed me coupled with the attention he gave to us has always stayed with me. I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
  2. Learn how to read people.  Jay-Z, to me, embodies someone who possesses a range of intelligences, one of which is social intelligence. In particular, he has honed the skill of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of most of those who come into his orbit. There’s this great Jay line in his song “Izzo (H.O.V.A)” that says, “I do this for my culture…Show them how to move in a room full of vultures, Industry is shady, it needs to be taken over, Label owners hate me, I’m raising the status quo up…” Let’s face it, when you are dealing with people you will deal with both the good and the bad. Learning how to “move in a room full of vultures” as well as distinguish those that can add value to you and your company from others is invaluable. 
  3. Protect yourself, your brand and your business. Always handle attacks to you, your brand & business swiftly and then move forward.
  4. Be inquisitive and identify smart, successful mentors who can offer you honest feedback. The video above is one that Forbes did with both Jay-Z and Warren Buffett (another of my idols)! Jay-Z has been very open about his curious nature and his desire to always learn. Smart questions are the lifeblood of knowledge.
  5. Focus first. Then apply this focus to the most feasible, realistic way to make money.
  6. Hard times make you into the person you’re supposed to be. You choose how you respond to the uncontrollable and controllable events in your life. Life from them and move on.
  7. True Renaissance men master one area first before moving on to another interest/business opportunity. Looking back, I think one of the things that has held me back was my lack of focus. I admire how Jay really solidified his reputation in music before moving on to the sports, fashion, and beverage industries. Build your reputation first and branching out becomes much easier.
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A NOTE ON MENTORSHIP

Never have I realized the importance of networking and making meaningful connections and relationships with people than when I decided to expand my brand and form my business, Think Young Media Group, LLC. Before I even knew the name of my business, incorporated myself or built a website, I leaned on acquaintances, both weak and strong, friends, family and colleagues for advice on securing potential clients, marketing, and the like.  During this period, a generous network was a godsend and I began to think about asking some of these people to be my mentor.  I’ve read a copious amount of material on mentorship that went into detail on the dos and don’ts of a good mentoring relationship,  how to make the ask, setting realistic expectations and so on.

As I began to think about who I would ask and, if he or she agreed, what I imagined the parameters of our relationship would be, I began to think of people who were already inspiring me in my quest for professional success. The Queen of all Media, Oprah Winfrey, has always been a personal and professional example to me particularly because she began as a journalist and parlayed her success into a billion dollar global platform. Others who I admire — Ursula Burns, Richard Branson, Warren Buffett — had always been “mentors” of a sort in the sense that although I’d never met them, I often leaned on their examples and personal journeys in order to inform my own.  I call them “virtual mentors.” Another one of those people is Melinda Emerson or Small Biz Lady. She successfully transitioned from corporate American to entrepreneurship, creating a public profile under the premise that she helps small business owners avoid failure.  This interview is a recent one where she talks about her journey to professional success. I think its these examples that can also create a form of mentorship. I’ve learned the importance of identifying both actual and “virtual” mentors, leveraging their knowledge, and pulling from it tools specific to your journey that will provide value to your professional path.