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I started going to board meetings when I was 9. I would sit in the corner of the room, pile sugar into a cup, and then add some tea and milk. Sipping and watching awful conversations among serious men and women that looked uncomfortable in strangling neckties, I vowed never to be a part of that when I grew up. It wasn’t long until I ditched the tea and moved to coffee.
My mom and dad moved from the United States to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) during the Rhodesian Civil War (1979-80). They were moved with compassion to help build people and their dreams. I had no choice but to grow up “African.”
I went to a fine British school that enforced a uniform of high socks and garters, tight ties, and green floppy hats. Rules demanded that I say “good morning sir” or “ma’am” to every adult I walked past.
My dad (also named Tom) pioneered a building project in the nation during hyperinflation of 1,000%, when the Zimbabwe Dollar (now non existent) crashed. This building was (and still is) the largest community and performing arts center in Zimbabwe.
All the kids in my school would tell me that my dad was crazy to try and build something so gigantic in a failing economy. The news headlines at one point called the project “Tom’s White Elephant.” They didn’t know any better and I really was clueless. “Celebration Centre” is now packed on a weekly basis and used by embassies, famous artists, presidents, and local performers.
I grew up in a family of visionaries who have achieved the impossible when it comes to building dreams in Africa.
As I saw the impact that our family and the organizations we had created were having on communities, I realized that “sugar and tea” was not the most important thing at meetings at all. But that business was about creating a lasting impact.
My dad would make me speak to audiences wherever we went. It was his way of getting me out there and comfortable in front of crowds. I was a dismal speaker—I would say things on stage that caused people to give me lollipops and “good try” stickers when I finished speaking. (I may or may not have become slightly better...I did enjoy the lollipops.)
High school ended, business school in the USA began and led me to starting multiple companies by the time I was 24. Some failed, some have worked, but all of them have had an impact. It was during business school that Tim Bickers and I met and struck the chords of humor and vision and it all continued from there.
Many people thought that foreign aid was the best fit for Africa (you know, things like shoes, food, Super Bowl champion t-shirts from the loser of the game). Aid is a good short fix, but it doesn’t last. I was able to witness this first hand. I wanted to create long-term, sustainable solutions that made an economic impact and this is what lead to Emerging Ideas.
The tears that were shed because the poverty, disease, corruption, and war in Africa were nice (thank you to everyone out there who cried when they heard what was going on in Africa). But all of this really led me to this question: Who will take the risk and invest to make a difference in the mindset and self-belief of the people?
I was set up at a young age to be a part of the answer to this question (and maybe you are too).
I’m married to someone that loves me more than I deserve to be loved. I convinced her to marry me and move to Harare, Zimbabwe. She’s way more politically correct and tactful then I am, and would probably close more deals than I do. She spends most of her time raising our two remarkable children and teaching young girls “to see their value in life.”
Living in Africa breeds an adventurous spirit: whether it’s crocodile hunting, mountain climbing, or starting a new venture, I’ve definitely got the bug.