Comfort in the workplace boosts morale — Diversity in a company is very important because people feel comfortable and included when they see co-workers that look like them within the company which in turn increases productivity. My first ever corporate job was with a financial institution in New York and I was one of three black people in the whole company. This underrepresentation made me feel like I really didn’t belong there and was maybe not even appreciated, so even though I was a hard worker, I did the bare minimum of what was required of me at that position.
As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s, Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Catherine (Lady May) Hagan.
Lady May is a thirty-something Ghanaian — American entrepreneur who runs a boutique Connector Agency The R’ajwa Company. The R’ajwa Company services clients in the USA, Japan, and Ghana by providing Public Relations, Marketing, Social Media and Branding support.
Although Lady May was born in California, USA, she grew up in Ghana, West Africa and strongly believes everyone needs to visit Ghana at least once in their lifetime. This is the reason that Lady May started The R’ajwa Experience branch of The R’ajwa Company that offers one of a kind curated cultural experiences to Ghana.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Thanks so much for having me, I am a fan of this series and am honored to be featured.
This is my ‘backstory.’ The initial plan was to choose every African parent’s dream job for their child — to become either a doctor or a lawyer. To be fair, that was also my plan for myself — I loved the law and I still love the law. My plan was to get a Law Degree in International Law and become a Lawyer in the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
After I graduated from high school in Ghana, I moved to New York City to start college and I was working part-time at Victoria’s Secret and taking night classes. I was 18 years old, I had never done PR before, but for some reason, I had this urge to try and promote Ghanaian musicians in NYC. I came up with this grand idea to do a Ghanaian concert in NYC and after doing research, I found that similar concerts had been organized in London, UK. I went on to create a proposal and reached out to some of the organizers of similar concerts in London about possibly partnering up for the NYC concert. One of the promoters I reached out to, Emmelio from West Coast Entertainment, was so impressed with the proposal I sent that he hired me to be his PR person for West Coast Entertainment. So, this 18-year-old girl living in NYC was now working at Victoria’s Secret part-time during the week, going to school at night and working with a London based Events company on the weekend creating sponsorship proposals, scheduling press meetings, etc. Emmelio would fly me out from New York to London at least twice a month on the weekends to enjoy the events I created proposals for. I remember at first everyone thought it was a weird relationship, people were like, ‘you are 18 and this guy is flying you to London — that is weird.’ My mom used to call him from Ghana on the regular and he just always used to tell her how talented he thought I was and how much he needed me on his team. I am still in touch with Emmelio today and West Coast Entertainment is still thriving in London.
I later transferred from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City to Temple University Japan in Tokyo and when I was there I saw how much my Japanese classmates were in love with African and African American culture. This led me to start organizing African events on campus through an African club I created. Immediately after when I graduated from Temple University Japan, I started booking R&B and Hip-Hop Artists to perform in Japan and that is what developed into The R’ajwa Company.
So, in summary, the Law career never took off because I had a natural gift to connect and promote different brands and individuals.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
I actually have two stories.
The first one happened about 3 years into my career. Our client, Japanese video game company Namco Bandai, was interested in creating a video game with R&B musician Shaffer Chimere Smith commonly known as Ne-yo. We flew out from Tokyo to LA during Grammy weekend to meet with Ne-yo’s team, the Namco Bandai rep was there as well. However, about 5 minutes into the meeting we already knew the project wasn’t going to happen. Unfortunately, Ne-yo’s management was under the impression that Japanese companies were just throwing money at US artists and had unrealistic expectations for the collaboration, so my team and I knew that the deal was over before it even began. To say we were bummed is an understatement — I may or may have not gone to cry in the ladies’ room after the meeting. Before the Namco Bandai rep left, he mentioned to my team and I (in passing, very nonchalantly) that one of their video game characters PAC-MAN was actually celebrating its 30th anniversary told us to let him know if we had any projects that we could use to celebrate the anniversary.
While still in the ladies’ room after the meeting, I called my brother to vent about how bad the meeting went and also mentioned to him in passing that our client just told us about PAC-MAN’s birthday. About 2 minutes after hanging up from that call, my brother called back and told me about a meeting he had earlier that day about Sean Carter commonly known as Jay Z going on a US tour with various Rocnation Artist and will be doing a mobile pop up Rocnation shop and are looking for partners. We pitched that to our client Namco Bandai and that collaboration happened and has been one of the most fun and most lucrative projects we have done to date.
The lesson from this story is NEVER GIVE UP because you never know what is in store for you. My team and I were so bummed after that initial meeting, but we couldn’t give up. We had no idea about PAC-MAN before that meeting, but if the first meeting was successful, maybe the PAC-MAN project wouldn’t have even been mentioned
The second story happened just last year, 12 years into my career. Last year, 2019 was dubbed ‘The Year of Return’ by the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Akuffo Addo, because it marked 400 years since the first slave ships left the coast of West Africa for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Since I have been a fan of Conan O’Brien for as long as I can remember, I decided to use The Year of Return as an opportunity to pitch for him to visit Ghana for his ‘CONAN Without Borders’ travel show. I did this with total blind faith — I didn’t know anyone on his team and I hadn’t produced a show of this caliber before. So, imagine my surprise when they replied to my email agreeing to visit Ghana (the first country they had visited in Africa) with me as the producer.
The lesson I learned from this project is that Imposter Syndrome is real because, at every step during the process, that little voice in my head kept telling me I had no place being a part of such a project, but I was able to fight that voice and it was a success.
Clip from the Live taping of the Conan in Ghana episode:
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The R’ajwa Company is unique because we are experts in the culture of the different regions we work in, that is, for North America we know US Pop Culture, for Ghana we know the Ghanaian culture and for Japan we know Japanese culture. Because of this knowledge, we are able to collaborate seamlessly across all three regions and we have come to find that all three regions are more similar than different.
For example — One would think that a collaboration between Jay Z / RocNation/Hip hop artists and a Japanese video game PAC-MAN wouldn’t make sense. However, the reason we were able to pitch this deal successfully to our clients is that we are so familiar with US Hip Hop culture that we knew how much PAC-MAN means in the hip hop community. Many hip hop songs reference PAC-MAN and Ms.PAC-MAN and we included that in our pitch deck and our clients were sold.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
Yes, 2020 is quite exciting for us, because even though we have worked on projects in Ghana since 2012, we are officially setting up a physical office in Ghana where we will be hiring full-time in-house staff.
We also plan on curating more cultural experiences to Ghana for people in the diaspora and we are even taking that a bit further by introducing curated Ghana experienced for Japanese people as well.
Another thing we are doing is, we are delving seriously into storytelling through film. We dipped our toes in the pond with the 7 part Behind The Behind The Scenes docu-series we created describing how the CONAN in Ghana episode came about and everyone liked it so we have more stories highlighting Ghana and Africa that we would love to share.
These different projects will help people in different ways. We see the emotional reactions people from the Diaspora have when they participate in our cultural experience trips to Ghana, so we are happy to be a part of bringing those experiences to more people. Also, our offices in Ghana will create job opportunities and I am particularly looking forward to teaching my full-time staff the best practices I have learned along the way in the different regions I have worked in for example the discipline and attention to detail I have learned from my Japanese colleagues.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
My advice to other CEOs and Founders is to really let everyone on their team have a voice and feel that their voice and opinions matter. I have personally learned that when team members see their ideas or opinions reflected in the decision-making process of the overall company, there is a sense of confidence and ownership that they feel in the company. This makes them want to go harder and want the company to succeed because they feel that they are a part of it and not just working for a place that pays their bills.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders about how to manage a large team?
I have a fairly small team, but I do have clients that have large teams and I can say that what works for them is having an open-door policy and treating members of the team as individuals with different needs, different working styles and different modes of incentives.
Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Comfort in the workplace boosts morale — Diversity in a company is very important because people feel comfortable and included when they see co-workers that look like them within the company which in turn increases productivity. My first ever corporate job was with a financial institution in New York and I was one of three black people in the whole company. This underrepresentation made me feel like I really didn’t belong there and was maybe not even appreciated, so even though I was a hard worker, I did the bare minimum of what was required of me at that position.
- Increase in Creativity with different points of view — When there is diversity within a company, people are able to use their different backgrounds and experiences during brainstorming sessions and this leads to more appealing creative campaigns, products or services. Going back to the PAC-MAN / Rocnation deal I mentioned earlier, not everyone would have been able to see the opportunity in this collaboration, but the diversity of the team made it possible to link PAC-MAN and Hip-hop.
- Protecting Clients in this Cancel Culture Era — we are in an era now where brands are being ‘canceled’ or ‘blackballed’ when they slip up and run campaigns that are deemed discriminatory or racist. We saw this happen with H&M with the ‘Coolest Monkey in the Jungle’ hoodie, we also saw it with Gucci’s ‘black face.’ These could have been easily avoided if there were people of color in key roles within the respective companies. A few years ago, one of my clients was visiting Ghana to showcase progressive companies in Ghana. When they sent over the list of companies they wanted to feature, the first company was a white owned American company which happened to be operating in Ghana. It took one second for me to notice that and mention how problematic it was with a glaring ‘White Savior’ undertone to feature a white owned American company when the focus was Ghanaian companies. They immediately took that company off the list.
- Forward Thinking and Open Mindedness — USA and the world as a whole is very polarized today where it sometimes feels like we are going back in time and losing some of our fundamental Human Rights. Companies that show how diverse their employee pool is show that they see the importance of diversity in the workplace. There are still many places in America that don’t think women and especially black women need to be in the workforce. For the work we do, we oftentimes have to collaborate and partner up with other agencies, vendors etc. and immediately I visit a prospective partner with no diversity within the company, I decide not to work with them because I know that it will most likely be a longer process of them coming to terms that I even have a seat at the same table.
- Social media tone — social media has become an increasingly important aspect of the voice of brands, companies and individuals and makes it easy for brands to speak directly to their customer base and clients. With social media, it doesn’t matter what part of the world one is in, because everyone has access to your page. This increase of visibility is a plus to a company if you are able to communicate effectively with the masses and this is easier when you have a diverse team that can assist in what words, phrases, images, etc. can be used.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Of all the places I work in, the USA, Japan and Ghana, Ghana is the only ‘developing country,’ the rest are pretty much developed. I grew up in Ghana, I am from Ghana, Ghana pretty much taught me everything I know. All the life lessons I live by were taught to me by Ghana and it’s been my goal, since I began my career to try and always put Ghana on the map for the world to see what I know Ghana to be. I have done this since the beginning of my career and I will continue to do it and I hope that as I get more successful and as we continue to grow, The R’ajwa Company will be seen as one of the companies that helped bring awareness to how amazing Ghana is.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Everything is ‘Figureoutable’” I try to live by this even though sometimes the chaos of the day to day makes me forget. However, in reality, as bleak as things may seem, it is never the end of the world until it is the end of the world and it isn’t. There is a solution to every problem — it may not be exactly how you pictured it in your ideal scenario, but it can be solved.
Another life quote I try to live by is ‘Be Humble and Be Nice to People’ because the only thing we can predict about life is that life is unpredictable, and I have experienced it first-hand where you are literally on top of the world one day and at the bottom the next day
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I can’t choose one person — I have 3 people I have to mention.
The first group of people is who I like to call ‘The Hagan Clan’ and this consists of my parents and my brothers. The Hagan Clan has stood by me since I made the decision to take the entrepreneurial route and have been there through the headaches and heartaches that have come with this decision. I know my parents would have loved for me to be happy in a full-time reliable job where I am assured a paycheck every month, but they know I love what I do so they love it too. There is this meme that I love that says ‘Entrepreneurship is no joke. You’ll cry real tears and still continue,’ and I have cried real tears on each parent and each brother and they have never said ‘I told you so..’ or told me to quit or give up. They always tell me what I need to hear and let me know that they I have their support no matter what and honestly that has been a leading reason I have been able to continue after all these years.
The second person I would like to mention is Tricia Maxey. Before I moved to Tokyo, I was living in New York City, I quit my job as a salesgirl at Victoria’s Secret and got a job as a temp Administrative Assistant for the Chief Compliance Officer of an Investment Management Firm Van Eck Global. I had never felt more out of place and more undeserving of a position till I started working at Van Eck. I had no idea what I was doing, I felt intimidated about the fact that I was from Ghana — I was one of three black people in the whole office and one of two black women and I was the youngest person in the whole company. It was pretty much a typical Wall Street (although the office was on Park Avenue) environment with all these white men walking around. However, from the first day, Tricia always made me feel like I belonged. On my lunch break, she would take us (just her and I) to get our nails done. She would ask me about the school, my plans for the future, etc. I remember when I told her I was leaving to Japan she was so sad and told me if I changed my mind and decided to stay she would have the company offer me a full-time position with a $60,000 salary, I was still in college, so this offer was very tempting, but I had to turn it down because Japan was on my heart. On my last day at Van Eck, Tricia told me to go to the company Accountant and there was a $10,000 check made out to me from Van Eck to help me get settled in Japan. That was the biggest check I had ever seen at that time. Tricia saw something I didn’t even see in myself and I appreciate her for that.
The third person is Tina Fitch, the CEO and Co-founder of Hawaiian based Tech start-up Hobnob. Tina hired me in 2016 to be the Marketing Director of Hobnob even though I had no Tech Marketing experience. She hired me even though I was in NYC and the office was in Hawaii; she made the position a remote position for me because she saw the vision I had for the company and she understood my type of creativity and she knew how important diversity was especially in the tech world. There were many times when I felt overwhelmed with tech lingo, tech ways of operating, etc. but she was always around to reassure me that I was on the right path and we were able to do great stuff together.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. 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 🙂
That is easy, I would love to have a full day with Michelle Obama — breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, dinner and drinks. I personally don’t know how Michelle Obama was able to ‘keep her cool’ for the eight years they were in office. Her grace is something I aspire to have. She recently sat down with Arianna Huffington and spoke about Impersonator Syndrome and how she deals with it. That conversation spoke to me because Impersonator Syndrome is something I continue to deal with and knowing someone like Michelle Obama still sometimes suffers from it gives me hope.
The company website is www.r-ajwa.com
LinkedIn Account is linkedin.com/in/catherinehagan