As part of our series of interviews with inspiring leaders, Vanessa Moon and Simon Quinn from Moon Consulting met with Clayton Planter, the founder of Street2Boardroom, to talk about what inspired him to create the company, what makes a hustler a great entrepreneur, how he hopes to challenge social norms and what the future holds.
Struck by his overriding ambition and enthusiasm to create a company that makes a difference, we asked Clayton what inspired him to create Street2Boardroom?
I’ve worked with young adults and people from the streets, urban neighbourhoods, projects and disadvantaged backgrounds for a long time, and I noticed that the current system didn’t provide them with opportunities to realise their full potential or to find positive role models that they could relate to.
I started Street2Boardroom because I wanted to change this. I wanted to provide a framework where young adults and people who have found themselves caught up in illegal activities or living on the fringes of employment can get the inspiration and know-how to create or expand their own businesses.
Street2Boardroom currently offers a four-week motivational course which teaches basic business skills, and also offers personal mentoring and support.
We then asked how did he come up with such a great idea for Street2Boadroom?
You only have to look at the world of music, look at someone like Jay-Z, who’s made it from the Brooklyn streets to a successful businessman, to see that the skills used to hustle on the street and being an entrepreneur aren’t that dissimilar. I wanted to dispel stereotypes and change the reality of who thrives in the business world.
People like Jay-Z just prove that it’s not where you’ve come from, it’s where you go that’s important. But we need to give young people a leg-up, somewhere to start from so they can create their own opportunities.
We can’t live in a society where people don’t get a second chance, it’s not good for the economy, it’s not good for the taxpayer and it’s definitely not good for the young people and their families, so it has to change.
Clayton, in your opinion, what makes a street hustler a good entrepreneur?
I grew up in St Paul’s and Easton and saw my fair share of friends turning to the wrong side of the law to make money. I never went down that route myself, but I’ve always been aware of the entrepreneurial spirit of those who had chosen that path – they’re often businesses geniuses because they have to be.
They’re ambitious, they’re sophisticated people managers, they’re strategic planners and they’re risk-takers – the only difference is that they’re making their money outside the law.
If you harness these skills in a more positive way, you can give them the confidence to develop a career within a corporate environment where they could really thrive. They just need that initial confidence boost to tell them that they can do it – that they too can thrive in a corporate environment. As I’ve said before, the big message is always that it’s not where you come from, it’s where you’re going that matters.
Surely that’s a better way of dealing with the problem than just ignoring what’s happening around you, the drug dealing on the streets, and hoping it will go away.
We also wondered how difficult is it to change the cultural stereotypes that your student may have?
I always start the course sitting amongst the students. When I stand up and they realise that I’m the one leading the course, their reaction is brilliant. You need to start with something like that to shift their cultural ideas of what’s possible.
My students grow up in Easton and St Paul’s in Bristol and their role models are most likely rappers or drug dealers but that doesn’t mean that’s how they want to end up. You’ve got to get them to think differently, to think outside their environment, because we all know there are people out there who’ve ignored the environment they grew up in and have gone on to have really successful careers, corporate careers.
And we’ve done that at Street2Boardroom. It started as an eight-week motivational course and the first course which ran in 2016 was a great success, two of the initial intake of eight people have made a leap from the drug trade to a corporate role and two more have taken up places at college to develop their path on the straight and narrow.
Clayton, how do you feel that Street2Boardroom can help challenge racial bias?
Everyone is talking about diversity and things are slowly changing but more needs to be done. I’ll sit in corporate meetings with my students and we’ll be the only ethnic people in the room. That put’s my students off, they might be learning valuable skills, but they don’t see how they’ll ever get the chance to apply them because they can’t see how they can break into that world.
Businesses need to come out into the community and show that the doors aren’t closed, that they really believe in diversity and will give young people from different backgrounds a chance rather than just hiring the same old same old.
Street2Board is built around workshops and visits from representatives of community groups and businesses. But more businesses need to get involved so that young people can start to build their own support networks which will help break down some of the barriers and give them the confidence to believe they can be a managing director, an accountant, an engineer – whatever they want.
Going forward, what does the future hold for Street2Boardroom?
We have our main office base in Central London and now I’m looking to scale-up the business. I genuinely believe Street2Boardroom could really change things – in businesses, in the community. If we can find a way to get people off the streets and into boardrooms, the implications for society are huge.
It’s all about building the scale and momentum so we can do more and more with this. Nobody else in the world is doing anything quite like this as far as I know, we’re fairly unique.
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