29-Jan-2009Published in: Ladue News Author: Trish Muyco-Tobin
For as long as he can remember, economist Benjamin Akande has been fascinated by success, specifically by what makes people successful. Given to perusing several books at a time, Akande is currently enjoying Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success. "It's a very interesting book about why people succeed," he says. "One thing is very clear: In many instances, success doesn't come because we're born with the intellectual capacity to be successful, it comes as a result of hard work."
Akande himself is an American success story. Born in Nigeria, he spent much of his childhood at boarding school, away from his parents and four sisters. He says having a certain level of independence allowed him to discover himself. "It was a time to grow up: to make mistakes and learn from them. It was all about education and preparation."
Education was the reason Akande came to the United States 30 years ago. He attended Wayland Baptist University as an undergraduate, received a doctorate in economics from the University of Oklahoma, and completed post-doctoral studies at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Akande's interest in economics began in his teens. "I wanted to understand how the economy worked, as well as what caused interruptions, when things don't work as they should," he says. A penchant for reading soon followed. "I read everything I could get my hands on, newspapers, magazines, fiction. Back then, we'd get most of the papers two days later. But it didn't matter. I'd read them as if they were new," he recalls. "Being able to see and read different writing styles helped me formulate my own. It also expanded my imagination and took me to places I'd never go."
Since 2000, Akande has been dean of Webster University's School of Business & Technology, overseeing 13,000 business students and working with 1,500 staff throughout the university's worldwide system. "My responsibility is to provide leadership in curriculum and innovation, as well as ensure that we're constantly challenging the most important people at Webster, the students."
Aside from his duties as dean, Akande also maintains a strong public presence in print, on the airwaves and around town. He's been recognized as one of the city's most influential leaders, serving on the boards of The PrivateBank, Newberry Group, Xiolink and Beyond Housing, and consulting with a number of Fortune 500 companies. "I'm constantly engaging the private sector, seeking input and building relationships," he says. "The experience has served as my laboratory of sorts, as it has enabled me to implement ideas that could grow and transform organizations."
When he's not making presentations to business and financial organizations or delegating academic directives, Akande can be found listening to jazz, reading a book or two, or spending time with his wife, Bola, and their daughters, ages 16, 13 and 8. "We hang out, play pick-up soccer in the backyard or ping-pong, the kids are not as good as me but they're getting there." He also enjoys storytelling. "It's having a conversation with my kids, and a way for me to stay connected with my past."