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FUBU CEO Daymond John advises students on how to swim with the sharks

The ‘Shark Tank’ panelist says he’s learned that business success is not everything in life

Daymond John, FUBU CEO and one of the hosts of ABC’s Shark Tank, has a five-part business plan that works. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be on a network TV reality show or sharing it with students at North Carolina A&T University.

“I got a job at Red Lobster when it was the worst possible time in history, when they decided to introduce something called Cheddar Bay Biscuits,” John said during a talk on campus last week. “If you get paid 10 to 15 percent off the size of the check, but everybody keeps coming in asking for free biscuits and water and then bouncing on you … I thought, there has got to be a better way.”

John’s hourlong lecture was filled with humor, hip-hop references and talk of his personal and professional journey. He covered myriad topics, including his humble beginnings and his success in business.

John was inspired to co-create his clothing line FUBU, which stands for For Us By Us, with three partners after he heard about the reluctance of some clothing lines to sell to the urban community. The FUBU collection consists of T-shirts, sweat shirts, jerseys and hats. According to CNBC, the FUBU brand is worth $6 billion.

John opened his talk by trying to inspire students, saying that everyone has an inner “shark” and emphasizing that money and fame aren’t markers for success.

John said that when they created the idea for the brand, he identified an opportunity for himself to use his S.H.A.R.K. mentality. “Every person who I know that is successful, we have one thing in common: We love what we are doing,” John said.

His five S.H.A.R.K. points outline his approach to business development:

  • Set a goal: When John was still working eight-hour shifts at Red Lobster, he made sure he was dedicated to his goal of ensuring that FUBU became a multimillion-dollar company.
  • Homework: Research, long hours of preparation and analytics helped John notice the prime market for urban clothing when he helped create FUBU in 1992.
  • Adore: John spoke of the life lessons he learned after his wife left him and took his daughters. He explained that no matter what material things you might possess, love is a key component of true happiness in life.
  • Remember your brand: John alluded to the significance of self-knowledge and how vital it is to success.
  • Keep swimming: John emphasized the importance of persistence and determination in the working world.

“You must be able to accept the word ‘no’; you will hear that word the rest of your life,” he said. When John spoke about Shark Tank and the selection process for companies, the audience was rapt.

“We do not invest in companies, we invest in people,” he said. “We see people with some of the greatest numbers ever. We will go, ‘Oh, we love that company, but we are going to fire you tomorrow.’

“Then you see somebody there, blubbering and crying, but they’ve got the biggest heart. They have failed a bunch of times but still have a passion for this, and if we fail as a company, then we are going to start another company with them.”

John believes that if you fail to display a genuine passion for what you wish to pursue, then you are better off working with someone else.

He also offered advice on how young adults should ready themselves for the workforce.

“Don’t hide behind your headphones and your Twitter and all that kind of stuff,” John said. “Remember, you are the brand. Can you put yourself personally in two to five words?”

John was the second speaker in a town hall series on campus featuring prominent professionals and leaders.

“It’s a powerful message about success and, quite frankly, defining what success really means, because he suggested that success is not really about the glitz, the glitter, the money, the money, the buildings, the houses … but it is about doing things that you are passionate about and giving to those circumstances where you can make a contribution as well,” said N.C. A&T chancellor Harold Martin.

Freshman civil engineering major Christopher Lyles Jr. said he was pleased with John’s visit.

“I believe he was very inspirational, from his beginnings in New York how he came from a lower-income family to becoming one of the millionaires and billionaires in this world,” Lyles said.

John’s S.H.A.R.K. points and message will help him as a striving college student, he said.

“The biggest one I believe is love, because a lot of the time when people get big they forget their foundation in life,” Lyles said. “He really emphasized how he lost his connections with his ex-wife and children because he got so famous and was living the lavish life but forgot the people that put him there in the first place. I believe that is a lesson that many people could take for themselves.”

Donovan Dooley is a former Rhoden Fellow and a multimedia journalism major from Tuscaloosa, AL. He attends North Carolina Agricultural & Technical University.