My Story

Ten Most Interesting: Benjamin Akande

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."

Dreams Do Come True

19-Jan-2009Published in: CNN AC360_ (Anderson Cooper 360) Author: Benjamin Ola. Akande

As a child growing up in Nigeria, I was a dreamer. My parents never dismissed my dreams. They were always encouraging. No matter how outright unbelievable my dreams were, they would assure me that dreams do come true. Dreams provide a glimpse of what the future will look like. I wish I could have recorded all those dreams.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was recorded. It was a dream that was played out in front of thousands of people and like most dreams, no one really knew how it would play out. As the dream was recalled over the years, it became clear that this was a significant and compelling vision of the future. Martin’s dream was in the form of a remarkable prose on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Most of us can hear him recite this dream in our subconscious. “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” It is a dream that visualizes a future where all those things that seemed impossible and improbable will happen despite overwhelming obstacles.

The election of Barack Obama was a manifestation of Martin’s dream. I would like to believe that Martin Luther King’s dream highlighted how difficult it is to make change happen. Martin spoke about how mountains and hills (obstacles) shall be made lower and rough places (institutional changes) will be made straight. The recognition was that monumental changes of this magnitude take considerable time. Indeed, it takes the force of nature to break through the harsh reality of status quo and history.

Dreaming enables us to transcend the present and position us on the balcony for a better view of the future. And, because dreaming offers no restrictions, the greatest dreamers are often characterized as crazy and out of touch with reality. What history has shown us is that you may vilify them, you can criticize them, and you may even assassinate them. But, you can’t kill a dreamer’s dream. MLK’s dream took a long time to come to fruition, with small significant steps and some big setbacks along the way. But on Nov. 4, 2008, the full realization of the great civil rights leader’s dream came to pass with the election of a junior senator from Illinois as the first African-American President of The United States.

Martin Luther King taught us that adversity is a lot easier to overcome than success. And that is the power of dreams. He knew it would happen. He even foresaw that his own demise may keep him from seeing his dream come true. “I’ve seen the promised land,” he said. “I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land.” Forty-five years later, his vision is still unfolding. But one thing is crystal clear. Dreams do come true.

Click here to read Dean Akande's story on AC360°.