The Managing Director of Afrinvest (West Africa) Limited, Ike Chioke, has provided an insight into menial jobs like dishwashing he had to do in the U.S. to survive.
Mr. Chioke also urged university graduates to display integrity and openness in order to earn the trust of people who would help them succeed in their life’s journey.
He spoke on Saturday while delivering a paper titled ‘Character, Values and Leadership: Lessons from My Life Journey’ at the 9th Commencement Ceremony of the American University of Nigeria in Yola.
“You will leave here today, armed with your freshly printed first class or 2:1 or 2:2 or even third class certificates,” said Mr. Chioke, a First Class graduate of Civil Engineering at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
“Some of you already know what you intend to do, others are yet on a voyage of discovery. Even so, always remember that building a career in the arena of life is a marathon not a sprint. As such there will be many ups as well as many downs. The important thing is to remain focused and committed and keep moving.”
There were 150 graduates from the university, with Immaculata Onuigbo, a Petroleum Chemistry major, emerging the best graduating student with a Cumulative Grade Point Average of 3.98 out of 4.00, the highest ever since the university was founded in 2003.
Mr. Chioke urged the graduates to think of their certificates as a ticket to enter a stadium to watch a football match.
“The first time you enter, you will notice that you are seated in the popular side of the stadium directly under the midday sun,” said Mr. Chioke, who is also a member of the AUN Board of Trustees.
“Those are the toughest seats and that is where life will test you. Your task is to continue to build on your character, focus on your goals and sustain your values as earn the right to get a seat under the under the covered stand.
“With hard work and a bit of luck, you may one day find yourself able to buy a ticket in the air-conditioned VIP section of the stadium. Even so, that might not be enough. At some point you may ask yourself, how do I move from being a spectator to the owner of the stadium. It is at that point you know you are ready to make your own mark in the annals of time.”
Mr. Chioke recalled his early days, graduating from the university, bagging a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University, and then deciding to pursue a career in investment banking.
“My first dilemma on my way out of Oxford was what to do next. Should I continue in accounting and tax advisory with Arthur Andersen before Oxford or pursue a new career in investment banking or management consulting.
“I definitely wanted a career in finance and perceived from my new exposure in the U.K. that investment bankers were the cream of the crop in the finance profession. So, I told myself: “If you are going to eat a frog, eat a fat and juicy one with warts on the back.’”
Mr. Chioke said despite his outstanding credentials, he was unable to secure a job at the blue-chip investment banking firm in London. And so, in 1991, he relocated to the United States. But while scouting for a job in the U.S., he suddenly found himself homeless when his host had to move out of New York.
“With nowhere else to go, I reached out to a fellow Rhodes Scholar, Kate Finkelstein, whose father gave me a loan to pay for three months of accommodations at the 92nd Street, a Jewish residential centre in Manhattan for young men,” he said.
“That singular act of generosity from a total stranger was a life saver. This was because while living for free in Hempstead, I could not get any casual jobs and I was two hours away by train from Manhattan where all the investment banks had their head offices. Hence, it was often difficult and expensive for me to make my way to and from their offices for interviews.
“However, from the YMHA, downtown Manhattan was only 10 minutes away by subway. In addition, given the density of commercial activity in New York City, I was immediately able to get a casual job which provided just enough income for me to survive.
“I started from washing dishes in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant. A month later I moved to the more prestigious job of selling kitchenware at Macy’s department store and finally to a desk job as an accounts clerk at Madison Square Garden.
“From the interactions with the new acquaintances I had met over the phone, I then got a deeper appreciation of how the labour laws work in the U.S. Essentially, a company cannot hire ‘an alien,’ a foreigner, unless they could demonstrate that there was no American that could do that job.”
Mr. Chioke challenged the graduates to prepare to come face to face with the realities of growing up in a society with declining values.
“Within AUN, you have been taught that hard work, commitment, focus and diligence is all that is needed for you to succeed in your chosen field…and rightly so. Outside AUN, however, you will face significant new challenges that will impose a strain on your values and character.”