Letting God order your steps takes a level of faith and understanding that Detavio Samuels has reached. As one of Corporate America’s youngest executives, he acknowledges it’s because of his allowance to let God take over and paint the path for what his life looks like and what’s to come. He’s now the President of iOne Digital, an author, a businessman of many sorts, and recently found a great escape in photography. What a journey to becoming the man he is today, and no regrets. Get to know Detavio.
You’ve already accomplished so much and one of corporate America’s youngest executives. What’s next?
When I was younger, I used to dream very detailed goals and dreams. I was very prescriptive about what I wanted and when I wanted it. As I’ve continued to progress through life, I’ve shifted to a place where I’m committed to the big dream but give God a lot more space for how it gets done and what it looks like. So what’s next for me? My God is a God of increase, and so I see an increased impact in my future: increases in the millions of dollars I touch, increases in terms of the number of people I reach, increases in regards to my impact on culture as well as the wealth I’m able to build for my family. What that all looks like, only God knows.
Talk about your journey to becoming President of iOne Digital.
I’ve had a great journey to the place where I am now. At 21, I decided I wanted to be a CMO and my path to get there was going to be through business school. I landed at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Two years later, I concentrated on marketing and entrepreneurship. After Stanford, I did global marketing at Johnson & Johnson but quickly saw that I wanted to jump to the agency side where it felt much more idea driven.
At the end of 2007, I moved to GlobalHue, the #1 multicultural advertising agency at the time, where I took over the US Navy account. I was quickly promoted and was the President of the Detroit office by 2013. Honestly, I owe GlobalHue and the people there like Don Coleman—the founder—and Allen Pugh—my boss and mentor—a ton for the opportunities they gave me and the storytelling and cultural expertise I built while there. By the end of my tenure at GlobalHue, I had fallen in love with branded entertainment and thus made a move to the media side at Urban One where I built an internal agency inside of a media company. After having success there, I was given the digital media division and had been running both divisions since 2016.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities and what does an average day look like for you from start to finish?
With two divisions and more than ten direct reports, no two days look the same. But right now I’m personally focused on driving revenue, managing costs, getting my teams to collaborate better together, plotting our next steps for value creation and ensuring we have the systems and protocols in place to maximize our efforts as we execute against this year’s plan.
What’s one lesson you’ve learned along the way in your position?
The team can make or break you. I know that having the right team in place can fundamentally change the business as well as my life.
When taking on the brands and companies that you work with, how do you decide which ones to work with and what are your goals towards them?
The client always sets our goals. We are a solutions-oriented group. That’s what separates us from many other media companies. We don’t come in trying to push this tentpole or that tv show. We start every conversation trying to understand what problem we can solve or dream we can bring to fruition; and that becomes the anchor point for any brand interaction.
Merging brands and black culture in the digital space, how important is that to you and how do you exude that?
First and foremost, I love Black culture—as does everyone else. Black culture is the only culture that I think is truly global. The problem is that the people who create that culture tends to benefit the least from it economically.
Consequently, I am very passionate about seeing the creators of culture profit off their genius. One of the best ways to do that in this day and age is by pairing the culture with a brand. The best brands are built on a cultural truth and black culture is rich with insights, trends, and truths for brands to mine through and leverage. Simultaneously, brands have big pockets; so there is such an opportunity to leverage their dollars to elevate ideas and people from within the culture and then also leverage those dollars to benefit the broader community. Honestly, it should be a match made in heaven.
Talk about your book you wrote and will there be any more in the future?
I wrote Exist No More because I wanted to help my friends navigate life. At the time, many of us were ten years out of college and wrestling with some significant life questions. Exist No More was never intended to be the answer to all of those questions, but rather to inspire people to be great and help them identify a few paths that could help unlock their magic. As far as new books, sure, one day. I think I may have a book in me on marriage, a book on this idea of “warring for one’s own happiness,” and a book on how to win the game of life as an adult.
I read that you are most proud of the man you’ve become. How so?
I don’t have any regrets. Every decision I’ve made has made me the man I am today. I don’t want to be anybody other than the man you see. There is much growth in store for me. Nonetheless, I’m proud of today’s version of myself. This version of me is nothing like what the 21 year old me ever imagined, but it’s a good version nonetheless.
What do you enjoy when you have downtime?
In September I discovered portrait photography and photography has now become my great escape. Right now I’m focused on taking pictures that celebrate the diversity of Black women, which is easy because I surrounded by so many dope Black women every day. And while taking pictures is cool, I love the editing process involved with photography. I can zone out for 1-2 hours and all of the stress of life and being a grown-up fades away. You can follow my portrait work on Instagram at @bydetavio
What advice do you give to the next young generation seeking a career in Corporate America?
Don’t assume you can break the rules before you’ve earned the right to break the rules. In the past, we acquired the right to break things based on experience. Experience still goes a long way but you can short cut it by gathering the right information and studying the right things. As an example, if a doctor told you that you were sick and only 1% of people survive, the first thing you would do is study the things that separate the 1% from the 99% in an attempt to position yourself to be one of the anomalies. The same thing goes for business. I get frustrated when young people show up trying to be part of the 1% and they haven’t done their homework and lack experiences. If you’re going to try to be a part of the 1% you need to study the existing conventions and why and how they work before you can design something that breaks those same conventions.