Last May, I delivered a keynote at the Liberian community celebration in the Hamilton Niagara region. I spoke about both challenges and opportunities of living in our new digitized world 2018. I emphasized human will and conviction and hinted that innovation was the silver lining.
After the standing ovation, audience members came to offer congratulations. But as the queue began to subside, a particularly well-dressed, well-groomed gentleman approached me and we eased into a brief conversation about innovation.
Michael’s eyes lit up as we spoke about what I would come to learn is his true passion. He spoke not just about a dream. No, he was well past that. He had already taken action. This conversation was about where he had come from; and where he was going.
He had only a few years earlier immigrated to Canada from Amsterdam; initially as a visitor, before changing his status to an international student at one of the very best colleges in the GTA, Mohawk.
He had escaped the brutal Liberian civil war having initially trekked to the Côte d’Ivoire. He then made his way to Ghana before being resettled to Amsterdam by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). But now safe and sound in Canada, a new land of opportunity, this brave entrepreneur was finding his way beyond the beaten path, trying to make something happen. His conviction had pushed him to find a way to invest scarce time and money with the hope of ultimately bringing his dream to reality.
He showed me his collar pin; his proud invention that combines innovation with pop culture fashion-savvy. As more of my greeters began waiting politely, Michael and I then exchanged numbers and pledged to continue our conversation in more conducive conditions.
The following day, mere hours later Michael phoned me during my commute back to Canada’s capital. He had followed up as he said he would. That was important. And that was when our sustained long-distance dialogue on entrepreneurism and business growth began.
By the following weekend, Michael had sent me his business plan. The more I learned about Michael’s invention, and what he had already done, the more optimistic I became about the inevitability of his success. And he was doing this while holding down a full-time job; chipping away at a full-time information technology degree program at York University, and raising a young family.
The collar pin is a unique, creative fashion accessory. Even though it is marketed to also double as a tie-clip, I believe its true promise remains in its originally intended purpose — an attractive eye-catching accessory to be worn on the collar. There are several different design options for the customer; as well as precious stone or other brandings that can be customized for the buyer.
Michael has already had some success outfitting wedding parties and other special occasions. The true breakthrough will be when businesspersons or professionals like myself wear the collar pin as an everyday fashion accent — similar to a finger ring.
In today’s convoluted world where distractions and miscues leave so many people short of their true aspirations, Michael’s story continues to be one of perseverance. He not only came up with a refreshing idea, he had the conviction and the discipline to do something about it. The last challenge will be how to find a way to allocate more of his precious time to the business — while holding down his full-time job to continue being a reliable provider for his young family.
The greater message is how to persevere in pursuit of your dreams while doing the right things along the way to get there. As a husband, father, provider, and entrepreneur, he is smelling the roses even as he jogs forward. These are virtues that I had spoken about in my keynote which Michael later confessed to me that he had missed. But his aunt had heard me speak, and immediately prodded a just-arriving Michael to go talk to me right away. He took immediate action. And I sense that we’ll be jogging forward together for many years to come.
It isn’t just a matter of ‘whether’ Michael and the collar pin will be a success, but rather, it is just a matter of ‘when’.
Fred Sherman, CEO
Hill Solutions Inc.
Hill Solutions Public Affairs