tcp conversation series | gregg b. | rising through the ranks

We were able to catch up with a top ranking official in New York City government. His agency is charged with overseeing the economic development within the five boroughs. We wanted know what it took to reach such a prestigious and powerful position in the country's largest city. Today's topic is: Rising Through The Ranks

tcp: Where are you originally from and where do you currently reside?

gregg: The Caribbean, specifically Grenada and I grew up in East Flatbush Brooklyn. I currently reside in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

tcp: Would you mind sharing your career journey (being sure to include any internship/work experience while you were in school)?

gregg: Well I hope you can keep up. So... I never really started in government. I actually started in technology. I learned coding at Brooklyn college and majored in computer science and did html work. I learned how to code and build websites. While doing this, I was a photographer for Vibe Magazine and received an email from their attorney basically saying what I was doing was against company policy and that I needed to come in to have a discussion. An interesting conversation ensued and long-story-short they ended up offering me an internship. I worked there for three months, but was not getting paid. Note, I did not finish college. At 19, I was offered a full-time job at Vibe for $22,000 and continued to work there for two years. At this time I was made aware that an online company that specializes in business and financial news called, TheStreet, needed a tech guy and they offered me a position. I told Vibe about the offer and they needed to raise my salary - and they did. TheStreet was able to match Vibe's counter-offer and I ended up going with them for $28,000. After working and building with them for a couple of years I got a call from the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the Oxygen network. I went in for a full day of interviews and by the day's end - they asked me my salary requirements. I told them $125,000. Shortly thereafter they offered me the position. It was here I found out that when you get paid a lot you are a liability to the company and usually the first to go. The terrorist attack on September 11th occurred and I was laid off. I found myself out of a job for an extended amount of time, doing some consulting work here and there. I decided to go back to school and majored in Business Administration at Florida A&M University. I was able to finish my undergraduate degree in three years and subsequently finished my graduate degree in Management Communications at Florida State University - finishing in two years with a GPA of 3.7. Out of school I got an offer with a non-profit organization recruited through the city of New York under the Bloomberg administration. This is where I felt my passion, giving back to the less fortunate. It made me feel good that I was doing better for my community, so from there I rose through the ranks and landed where I am now.

tcp: If you had to give a theme that ties your past experiences - what would it be and why?

gregg: There are so many I can name, simply because with my experiences I failed so much (laughs). A theme I would say is don’t be afraid to fail in life and take risk. In life you will never know the outcome and can never be too comfortable. Not taking the first step in anything you do is already an act of failing. 

tcp: What were some of your greatest obstacles and how did you overcome them?

gregg: Like I mentioned before, in 2001 I was laid off due to September 11th. I was fortunate enough to receive a six month compensation severance package, however I was unemployed much longer than that. In 2002, I was looking for a job without a college degree which made it extremely difficult. I decided to go back to school only to learn that school required a 2.5 GPA to gain admission. I had a 1.9 GPA. Luckily, I knew someone from my previous work experience and he helped me get my foot in the door and the rest is history.

tcp: Through your career journey how did your confidence [or lack thereof] play a role in your successes/failures? How did your overall confidence evolve over time?

gregg: I got hired for a company at nineteen making $22,000 and at that age that’s pretty good money. I worked there for two years and in 1996 I received the offer from the TheStreet.com. The bidding war between the two company's that I mentioned earlier taught me a valuable lesson. Always ask and demand your worth. If you have a skill you need to get paid for it. That really built my confidence when I got the call from the CTO of the Oxygen network to interview. They asked me what type of compensation was I looking for and told them. Knowing I was making $90,000 in my last position - I know I wanted more money but I did not want to appear greedy but also knew I was worth more. Do you know what I asked for?

tcp: $130,000?

gregg: That’s close, I asked for $125,000 and got it. If I asked for $110,000 they would’ve gave that to me too, but I would’ve been short $15,000. So you need to demand your worth.

tcp: Who has been one of your notable mentors? What makes them standout and why is it so important to have one? 

gregg: David Mullings who was one of my mentors. He started my interest in technology which is how my career started. Mentorship is extremely important because they usually have been where you're trying to go. They are able to advise and guide you on what to do and what not to do. 

tcp: If you had the opportunity to share one piece of advice to a college student who fits the corporate criteria of a diversity candidate, what would it be?

gregg: Do not be afraid to fail in life. I would also recommend anyone reading this to invest in two books, "Who Moved My Cheese" by Spencer Johnson and "Winning" by Jack Welch.