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“True leaders are inspirational.” with David P.A. Mullings and Len Giancola

Leadership to me at its core is the ability to generate trust from people whether or not they work for you. Strategic partners, investors, attendees at a conference you speak at, all of those require some level of trust to be built if you are going to be taken seriously. True leaders are inspirational because […]

Leadership to me at its core is the ability to generate trust from people whether or not they work for you. Strategic partners, investors, attendees at a conference you speak at, all of those require some level of trust to be built if you are going to be taken seriously. True leaders are inspirational because they practice what they preach and admit that they are human, fallible and do not know it all. They also give credit to the team instead of trying to take all the credit for themselves.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing David P.A. Mullings, Founder and CEO of Blue Mahoe Partners and General Partner at Tessera Venture Partners.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My brother and I launched our first tech startup back in February 2002 during our MBA program at the University of Miami. Our chairman encouraged me to study Warren Buffett and get into private equity with a view to eventually running my own investment firm. I worked with him at his firm and then worked with a long-biased hedge fund after having worked for a large financial institution in Jamaica, reporting directly to the General Manager. I never stopped paying attention to early-stage technology opportunities.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The most interesting story to date is most certainly getting the chance to meet President Obama during his re-election campaign. I had helped to plan a Soccer for Obama fundraiser in Miami with Marlon Hill and then made a donation. We were 1 of 14 families that got to meet him backstage and it was his 51st birthday as well as Jamaica’s 50th year of Independence so my wife and I came up with the idea for her to design a Jamaica50 birthday card that he could sign and we could eventually donate to the Institute of Jamaica archives. Luke was our only child at the time and when we walked up he said “I don’t know what you are going to for the photo because I am holding him!” and then proceeded to play in his little mohawk. He was so down to earth and it surprised us. We gave him a Jamaica50 Pin of Pride for his birthday and he signed the card after. It made the papers in Jamaica and someone pointed out that we had met the President of the USA before Jamaica’s then Prime Minister (the Ambassador had already met him).

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Funny mistakes are common with me. My brother and I got to be extras in the 2 Fast, 2 Furious film shot in Miami thanks to John Singleton. We spent a week shooting the opening race scene and he allowed us to take lots of photos. We created a gallery on our website, hoping to attract people with the photos and have them stay to watch all the Caribbean music videos and interviews that we had. We reached out to a contact at IGN.com and they ran 3 of the photos then linked to the website.

Big mistake! The traffic spike caused us to go over our bandwidth limit in June and causing a bill of around $4,000 charged straight to the credit card. In July, it was 4x the limit and resulted in a charge somewhere around $6,000 for overages. Around August 3rd they called my brother to say the bandwidth was already done and what should be done. He told them to plug the server out of the wall so that we wouldn’t get a $10,000 bill! We shut the site down for 6 months and worked to pay off the debt.

The lesson is that scaling too quickly can drain your limited cash and so focus on revenue early because traction does not automatically mean that investors come knocking.

Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important for a business to have a diverse executive team?

Diversity of lived experiences, thought and background are crucial because customers are diverse and the world is diverse. Good ideas are not only the purview of someone with an MBA so we have a wide range of advisors that we can tap, male and female, business and non-business, to give us a different perspective on an issue we face or a deal we are considering.

More broadly can you describe how this can have an effect on our culture?

I will focus on our culture within Blue Mahoe Partners which is focused on investing in the Caribbean and managing capital from the Caribbean that is invested in the USA, mainly real estate. A diverse team has helped us to identify synergies that none of the core team thought about and changed our mind about a deal. It is good to have other eyes take a look because unique perspectives can identify value that the rest of the team misses.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership?

First, be willing to put in the work to learn and build a network. Dress for the job you want and network constantly. Secondly, be a voracious reader and ask the people you network for suggestions on books to read. Offer to repay the favor by recommending a book that was beneficial to you and why you found it beneficial. Thirdly, be visible and stand out. That means writing online, doing podcasts, interviews, sharing interesting articles on LinkedIn with the appropriate hashtags and stating your opinion. You have to go above and beyond what everyone else is doing if you want to stand out. You will eventually be able to build your own table and take a seat rather than waiting for someone to offer you a seat.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership to me at its core is the ability to generate trust from people whether or not they work for you. Strategic partners, investors, attendees at a conference you speak at, all of those require some level of trust to be built if you are going to be taken seriously. True leaders are inspirational because they practice what they preach and admit that they are human, fallible and do not know it all. They also give credit to the team instead of trying to take all the credit for themselves.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. I wish that I had gotten Michael Lee-Chin’s 3 Principles about sound framework, discipline within the framework and developing access.

2. Lee-Chin’s concept of wealth creation would also have been super helpful

3. Investors march to their own drum and rarely ever have your timing at heart so talk to many of them and do not expect them to come through in the time you need them to so plan accordingly with your capital

4. Some people are smooth talkers who cannot deliver and will be horrible for your business so stay far from them and finally

5. There is no such thing as “work-life balance” but instead focus on family at the center and everything else revolving around it.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My Biology background has always had me look to Nature for answers and if I could inspire a movement it would be one based on Mutualism, the concept of interacting in a way that everyone benefits. It is about working together for the common good with a shared long-term vision for a society. Singapore was a good example of that after Independence going through the 1960s to the mid-2000s. I understand that Chinese culture and especially Confucianism was a large part of that but I do believe that Western societies can learn a lot from those less individualistic societies that are lifting tens of millions out of poverty (I minored in Religion at university).

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

This can be a very tough one but one quote stands tall above the rest for me because it hits home in such a deeply personal way for me and minorities like me because I do not believe that anyone is self-made and it also reminds us of how recent things were drastically different:

“I was born in an era that gave me an opportunity to own a pair of shoes. Had I been born 250 years ago, I would have been owned, I would have been a slave, so I’m very, very aware that my being here has many factors that I had nothing to do with.” — Michael Lee-Chin

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Fortunately, I’ve been able to have private discussions with some very influential people in my life, including billionaire Michael Lee-Chin who I look up to and Paul C. Brunson who worked for Oprah. The brief discussion with President Barack Obama makes me want a full hour or two with him and hopefully Michele would come as well, especially to speak with my wife.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My website DavidMullings.com has all my social media links and is the best place to connect with me.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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